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What can a technologist do about climate change? (2015) (worrydream.com)
46 points by saadalem 25 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 32 comments



> "The rest of this is more like retooling for World War II, except with everyone playing on the same team."

No, it isn't. They key problem is that it is absolutely not the case that everyone is on the same team. Beyond the usual international division and bickering, there are people profiting from high-CO2 industries who oppose change and promote denialism, people who aren't interested in solving the problem because they believe the consequences will land on other people, as well as a huge hinterland of conspiracists, denialists, and fake news vendors who just muddy the waters for whatever reason.

Covid-19 has highlighted all of these very sharply. There are countries which have decided to do what's necessary to fight the virus on one hand, and protestors making it very clear that they will not accept someone else's risk of death for a restriction on their liberties.


Yeah we can't even get people to wear a mask in public when it literally saves lives today. Good luck convincing everyone of the massive changes needed for climate change where the worst consequences won't appear for decades to come.


Are people actually not wearing masks? When I go to the grocery store 90% of people are wearing masks, and I live in a conservative state where it's not a requirement.


It depends strongly on which supermarket I go to. In the expensive supermarket almost everybody wears one, in the cheap supermarket it's only about 50% who wear one.


Worse, people will deliberately refuse to wear masks simply to spite you. Spite has become a distubingly important factor in Western politics.


I agree wholeheartedly, spite is an extremely significant but hard to see and often unmentioned motivating force behind people's actions. Significant enough that I believe something should be done about it.

But first:

- what might be the underlying causes of this spite?

- what might we do to decrease it?

The parent comment to yours says (somewhat spitefully, by my judgement):

>> Yeah we can't even get people to wear a mask in public when it literally saves lives today.

It's true that we can't currently do this, but saying that we can't do it at all is speculative and defeatist, in my opinion. There have been all sorts of things throughout history that we "couldn't" do...until we could, because some people chose to roll up their sleeves and figure out how to do it, rather than indulging in petty (but oh so enjoyable!) criticism of their outgroup, which makes the spite problem even worse.

What can we do to improve upon the current state of affairs?


I genuinely don't know. It's very difficult to discuss. We could do ideological epidemiology to find out, but in some cases it seems extremely plain. The study of ideology as a threat leads us to read Arendt, Altermeyer or Adorno. Fair enough. But then the people pleading for a return for sensible norms get steamrollered by those seizing power directly. Spite is an effective wedge issue, so it's going to get amplified or created out of nothing.

I'm reminded of how trans people in the UK have gone from a tiny minority whose treatment was gradually improving as part of the general process of queer liberation, to heavily attacked by high-publicity astroturf organisations, for no readily apparent reason. Is it really the case that mild criticism of a joke in Father Ted caused the writer to burn down all his public credibility and his marriage in a spite-driven counter-campaign against all trans people? It sounds extraordinary, but seems like the only reasonable explanation of what happened there.

Step 1 is undoubtedly: organize. Although organize what, exactly? Conventional political parties no longer seem the right vehicles for this kind of thing. Perhaps a paraparty organisation, like the environmentalist version of the Tea Party? But greens have been doing this for decades with limited effect.

The main failing of Green parties tends to be un-pragmatism. The big barrier is not so much "dark green" vs "bright green" vs "redgreen/watermelon", as scientific versus mystical. And the mystical people have more energy .. it just needs to be better directed.


> I'm reminded of how trans people in the UK have gone from a tiny minority whose treatment was gradually improving as part of the general process of queer liberation, to heavily attacked by high-publicity astroturf organisations, for no readily apparent reason. Is it really the case that mild criticism of a joke in Father Ted caused the writer to burn down all his public credibility and his marriage in a spite-driven counter-campaign against all trans people? It sounds extraordinary, but seems like the only reasonable explanation of what happened there.

Interesting, I had never heard that story before.

https://gcn.ie/graham-linehan-campaigns-against-trans-people...

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7982837/How-hated-m...

I don't doubt that there was some spite involved in this case, but "seems like the only reasonable explanation of what happened there." seems like a fairly hasty conclusion to me.

Not sure why you seem to have been downvoted (speaking of spite LOL...I upvoted you, FWIW), I wonder if it was that comment?

I wish HN would consider whether it might be beneficial to the planet to introduce a new "mode" of some sort for certain topics, so we could start to get some insight into why people behave the way they do....in this case, it would be informative to have some insight into why people downvote your comment. As far as I know, there is not a single website on the internet that does this, and yet:

a) the internet is where a lot of this polarized behavior takes place

b) we constantly wring our hands about the consequences of polarization (politics, climate change, etc) in thread after thread, often with implicit or explicit accusations of "why doesn't <some person or organization> dooooooooooo something, this is super duper important, why can't people be intelligent and mature like us!!!???". If it wasn't like watching a preventable tragedy unfolding in front of your eyes, one that our children will have to live through, it would be downright hilarious.


Slashdot used to have "flavoured" up/downvotes, and you could set the multipliers in your preferences! So you could turn everyone else's +1funny vote into a -2 in your view if you didn't like the site's sense of humor. That was 29 years ago. I expect my single downvote was factional.

Polarisation is a fight. "Doing something" is likely to get increasingly ugly before it gets better.

But for most websites and news organizations, polarisation is profit. Oddly not for HN, which is aggressively moderated instead.


1. Masks may be the wrong fight, since there's no evidence public usage offers protection. It might, but maybe the wrong fight?

2. Find the right solution!


> Masks may be the wrong fight, since there's no evidence public usage offers protection.

Really? No evidence whatsoever?

> Find the right solution!

Kind of like "don't be poor" is a solution to poverty?


Technology? Take a step back for the big picture.

GDP growth cannot be decoupled from greenhouse gas emission growth. Even tech services require building and running an infrastructure to back them up. The contribution of the sector to greenhouse gas emissions is non-trivial and increasing.

Continuing on a growth path inevitably leads us to total failure.

Unless we can manage degrowth for an extended period of time, we're done.

This is of course heresy and cannot even be discussed.

I know what you're thinking and no, there is simply not enough time left to implement a technical solution and/or decouple growth&energy, sorry.

Meanwhile - pr babble and CV19 pause aside - we as a species are ramping up fossil fuel extraction and getting ready to exploit the thawing arctic. I don't have to single out a nation or an energy company, because it's all of them. See investor letters and fossil market outlook communications.

We all must do everything we can to buy more time - but at this point in time technology can only be a plaster on gangrene.

Force policy change and force economists to come up with a new economic model. And force yourself to accept a cut in your standard of living.

Do you see it ever happening?


I'll take a step even further back.

Before economic growth we have population growth, and what you might call "standard of living growth." Even as the population growth eventually slows, Hollywood and such has been very busy exporting the vision of the American dream to people who now want cars and iPhones. If we waved our magic wand and froze the population at some number, that still won't stop people wanting to -- even demanding to -- live like people in first world countries.

I think we're well beyond our carrying capacity already, and it's even worse if you factor in trying to extend a first world lifestyle to everyone alive.


People have been predicting that the world was near carrying capacity since literal antiquity, and probably before. These predictions have an extremely poor track record.


Join the community at https://collective.energy or find a job at https://enviro.work working to help the environment! (disclaimer: I'm the founder)


I am recycling plastic into 3d printing filament with my home brewed machine:

https://medium.com/endless-filament/make-your-filament-at-ho...

Anyone who needs help building one for their community can reach out to me.

Plastic usually degrades when recycled, it loses its properties like strength. But 3d printing is a good area where recycled plastic can be used as lots of people use it for printing a show piece with artistic value, not for high stenght tasks.


Thanks for sharing, very nice!

Average power is 3kW for the setup producing 5kg per hour from what I understand. How much power is used for the electrical heating elements? Beside insulation, could waste-heat from cooling the filament be re-used to reduce power consumption, e.g. by using it to pre-heat the pellets in the funnel that feeds the machine (I'm aware that the phase transition will (most likely) require a lot more energy than heating the material to its melting point).

PS: the video was reversed, right?


300w*3 power usage is below 3kW.

It's in this article:

“Building Filament Extruder” https://medium.com/endless-filament/building-filament-extrud...

I didn't accurately measure it. My way of measurement is simply to run the extruder use current rating from clamp meter and multiply that by line voltage. So I guess the power usage goes down once heater reach target temperature. It's by no means accurate, only guarantee there is that the power usage will be below 3kilowatt.

Unfortunately I don't have good meter, the ones I order from AliExpress didn't arrive yet due to Coronavirus lockdown issues.

>Beside insulation, could waste-heat from cooling the filament

I've no idea. I've a water bath which in which there is a motor which simply moves the water from bucket into the bath then back the bucket.

>PS: the video was reversed, right?

No, the filament goes behind the spool so it appears as if the spool is unwinding.


As a chaser to this article, the technologist Saul Griffith at Otherlab has been consulting with presidential candidates and has a pretty strong case for optimism, provided we take massive coordinated action right now:

"Decarbonizing with massive electrification will bring about a new American abundance.": https://medium.com/otherlab-news/decarbonization-and-gnd-b8d...

"How do we decarbonize? We don’t need a miracle. Everything we need to solve climate change is already here.": https://medium.com/otherlab-news/how-do-we-decarbonize-7fc2f... Solar and wind have already won the market.

And his upcoming book, "In Climate Emergency Break Glass" has the first 3 chapters available for download free: https://www.breakglassbook.com/


I was having a conversation with a friend before lock down and she was saying that her and her partner have consciously decided to avoid flying. I pointed out that, while certainly agree it's a good thing to do, by not flying at the individual level you are only reducing the cost of flying at the margin. Where as regulatory and technical changes could change the impact across the whole industry.


Easy. Focus on the electrical power needed to run your computation. CPU seconds are a good proxy for this. Webdevs can make enormous contributions here by cutting the megabytes of JavaScript they include in the simplest web pages that are only a few K of useful content. The data centre industry emits more CO2 than aviation so backend devs have a role to play too.


Interesting page, but quite extensive and not particularly easy to read.

For developers who are interested in recommendations by scientists how they can personally make an effective contribution, here are two interesting publications:

https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aa7541 (the most effective individual actions)

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/320436353_Energy_ef... (energy efficiency across programming languages)


> How do we get public perception and public discussion of energy and climate centered around evidence-grounded models, instead of tips, soundbites, factoids, and emotional rhetoric?

> Furthermore, the point of embedding a model is that the reader can explore scenarios within the context of the document. This requires tools for authoring “dynamic documents” — documents whose contents change as the reader explores the model.

I've long-appreciated Victor's perspective in this article. But the general public understands very little about how models work and what they promise. I've seen little evidence that making them explorable in the New York Times has done much to move the public (and thus lawmakers) in the United States to move on gun violence or climate change.

Technologists can build better tools for storytellers and whistle-blowers. This mostly involves facilitating the disclosure, formatting (cleaning), and analysis of data.


Get involved in policy making.


Yes, that or just plain politics, which is what will enable policy.

I recently watched this talk by Dan Kamman to the Northern Ca MIT club, and though his background is all technical, he argues that we need far more political action now:

https://youtu.be/fmzfRTzN8Rk


I can also suggest joining the community/Slack channels at: https://climateaction.tech/


Build a gigantic floating barge in the middle of the pacific that uses obscenely large nuclear reactors to power direct carbon capture / fuel production and then sell the fuel to become the next petro power.


Well, if you produce fuel with the carbon you capture you still release it into the atmosphere, so there's no benefit there. Plus you have to add the carbon and the cost of developing/manufacturing/operating your insanely large nuclear reactor (including mining the uranium), you still have to transport your fuel around the world, and now you have to deal with nuclear waste, proliferation issues, vulnerability to attacks and environmental catastrophes.

On the scale of bad solutions from 1 to 10, this probably reach 11.


> Well, if you produce fuel with the carbon you capture you still release it into the atmosphere, so there's no benefit there.

It's just like EVs in that regard.

Unlike EVs, it ramps DCC tech to industrial scale, making it dirt cheap to go carbon negative if we can ever work up the political will.

> Plus you have to add the carbon and the cost of developing/manufacturing/operating your insanely large nuclear reactor (including mining the uranium)

Whether you're building a nuclear plant or a wind mill, either way you build a gigantic edifice of steel and concrete, but if it's a wind mill it will power a neighborhood some of the time and if it's a nuclear plant it will power a city, a large one, all of the time.

> On the scale of bad solutions from 1 to 10, this probably reach 11.

20% of our power already comes from nuclear. Solar only broke 1% in the last year or two. If we hadn't stopped deploying nuclear in the 80s, our energy would be roughly carbon neutral today. Not 50 years from now, today.

Instead, we pumped the atmosphere full of CO2 for 40 years (optimistically, 60 by the time solar is deployed), waiting for solar to become economical, all while we had a perfectly workable solution in hand that self-styled environmentalists effectively torpedoed.

On the scale of bad solutions from 1 to 10, that probably reaches 11.


I fail to grasp how EV are "just like" releasing captured carbon in the atmosphere. Sure, building them has a carbon footprint, but so does an ICE vehicle, and over it's lifecycle an EV release a fraction of the carbon of a traditional car.

In any case the best solution to transport-related carbon release is not to simply replace ICE vehicles by EV, it's to reduce car and plane usage massively, and promote walking, bicycling, public transport, remote working and shared rides.

Wind mills and solar farms are built today much faster and at a cheaper price and carbon emissions than nuclear stations. We are not 50 years ago, we are now. Combined with existing hydroelectric dams, which act as giant batteries, and other forms of utility scale power storage (actual batteries), existing renewable energy grids have proven to be just as dependable as other sources of energy.

I'm not fundamentally opposed to nuclear either. Give me a secure design that can be built in less than 10 years, with reasonable costs, that private insurers will accept to cover, with proper waste management and control of nuclear proliferation, total operating transparency, that is actually possible to dismantle at the end of it's lifecycle, and a strong risk mitigation plan in case of external events (earthquake, floods, droughts, bombing), and I'll say sure, bring it on.

In the meantime blaming environmentalism for climate change is a bit far-fetched. Nuclear energy has been effectively torpedoed by itself, due to bad management, the fossil fuel industry and spiraling costs, much more than environmentalists (is there any place in the world where Greens have significant political power?)

The bad solution I was referring to is about building a giant barge loaded with nuclear stations in the middle of the Pacific ocean capturing atmospheric CO2 in order to convert it into fuel that is going to be released in the atmosphere again a few days later. Let's just say there's fundamental inefficiencies in that plan.


Dig subway tunnels under major cities without permission.


Where the stations go can still be decided democratically after the fact.




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