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[flagged] On Behalf of Environmentalists, I Apologize for the Climate Scare (environmentalprogress.org)
43 points by mudil 39 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 52 comments



This is a really misleading piece, by the way. This person has been speaking against environmentalism for over a decade now; he literally wrote a book about it sixteen years ago that attracted an amount of controversy. He doesn't deserve to speak for environmentalists; his actions for the past decade are pro-capital, any pro-environment effect was secondary. He's an economist, not an environmentalist, and he's trying to sell you a book, not fix anything.


I tried to find the source for the AOC quote.... I want (as always, whether Trump or AOC, to see the exact quote in context) and encountered a interesting new form of obfuscation... Proof by reference to a 4 hours long video!



Please don't be a jerk on HN, even when someone didn't Google.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Ask the person to Google is being a jerk? Wow, what a time to be alive.


I call that one "Proof by Reference to Pay Walled Article".

That article could say absolutely anything for all I can see....


So I guess the fact that he went to live in the jungle as a kid is supposed to prove he isn't a crank now, 20+ years later? That's really, really not how it works.

I definitely think a lot of the climate alarm is hyperbolic and misrepresentative, but not so much in the sense that it isn't a problem as that it's a problem that will only become obvious to laypeople long after the chance to prevent it from killing a lot of them is past.

If he wants to convince me, he needs to do a lot less talking about how virtuous he is, less talking about his new book, and more showing me real data and scientific results.


It appears the author wants to convince us of his credentials as a progressive and then use any good will that generates to try and persuade us that environmentally progressive ideas are wrong. He claims we have been 'badly misinformed' by people with 'unsavory or unhealthy motivations'. But this synopsis of his book makes it look like it could have been written by a coalition of lobbyists from the meat and nuclear industries. Who are we to trust?

Also I think it's interesting that the only positive review he includes is from Richard Rhodes. I have never read anything from Richard Rhodes, but the second amazon review of his book Energy: A Human History has this to say 'the author is highly skeptical about renewable sources like wind and solar, waxing instead about the lost promise of nuclear'.


It always seemed to me like the greatest hedge we could have is having human colonies on other planets. Because global disasters of so many kinds could sum up to extinction. While I realize that could be many decades away, it does seem like prioritizing it would make it happen much faster.

> The most important thing for reducing air pollution and carbon emissions is moving from wood to coal to petroleum to natural gas to uranium

This seems to match my intuition.

> Greenpeace didn’t save the whales, switching from whale oil to petroleum and palm oil did

What was the motivation for that switch? Petroleum/palm oil was cheaper?

> 100% renewables would require increasing the land used for energy from today’s 0.5% to 50%

That seems astonishing, not just that it would require so much but that our current use is already so much area.


> Greenpeace didn’t save the whales, switching from whale oil to petroleum and palm oil did

According to [1]: The depletion of some whale species to near extinction led to the banning of whaling in many countries by 1969, and to a worldwide cessation of whaling as an industry in the late 1980s.

This does sound more like Greenpeace (founded 1971) being the reason than switching to petroleum (no reason to expect much use for whale oil past WW2) to me. But surely Greenpeace is not the only reason.

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


There are quite a few remnants of the Whaling industry around NZ... it's clear that one of the major reasons was they were so damn near extinct it wasn't anywhere close to energy profitable to hunt them anymore.

For some phantasmagorical stubborn up yours world, various nations continue to hunt them. Sea shepherds have been fighting that sort of crassness.


> It always seemed to me like the greatest hedge we could have is having human colonies on other planets... While I realize that could be many decades away, it does seem like prioritizing it would make it happen much faster.

Greatest in the sense of absolute scale, or with sufficiently long planning horizons, perhaps. But I doubt that any quantity of attainable prioritization will deliver any of that value, on the scale of the time we have before climate change starts inflicting drastic damage on our overall stability and way of life.

Put another way, I wish Musk the best. He's absolutely mad, and a terrible person to have as a superior, but for all of that... he's accomplishing far more than I think anyone had right to expect. I think it will still amount to too little as a "climate change lifeboat", but if we adequately mitigate our immediate woes while we wait, and his successors can maintain his vision, drive, and disrespect for petty things like work/life balance, they might actually take us somewhere a few generations down the line.


> It always seemed to me like the greatest hedge we could have is having human colonies on other planets. Because global disasters of so many kinds could sum up to extinction. While I realize that could be many decades away, it does seem like prioritizing it would make it happen much faster.

I don't understand how setting up a colony on Mars, space, or the moon can be cheaper or more sustainable than the equivalent infrastructure on Earth, delusions of public figures aside. I also find it alarming that these aspirations are so frequently repeated by others without any critical evaluation.

Even in the face of catastrophe like another that caused the Great Extinction Event.


If you put it on earth, it has to survive whatever renders the earth uninhabitable. Given the very large number of potential bad things that could happen, something that can confidently survive all of them would be very difficult to make.

If it's on another world, it is obviously already in a pretty inhospitable environment that is expensive to access, but that environment is unlikely to get catastrophically worse at the same time as the earth, and the costs of building it can be reasonably estimated.

If you take out a 500k life insurance policy, if you take into account the time value of money it will on average cost you more over the course of your life than the policy actually pays out. You are technically losing money by having the insurance. However in exchange you put a known upper bound on the amount that you lose as opposed to the person who makes the rational choice to forego the policy and assumes unlimited risk. Likewise beefing up the one basket we keep all our eggs in is almost certainly more economical than getting another basket, but it is inevitably still a single point of failure.


But what catastrophes could render the Earth so much more uninhabitable than Mars everyday?


You don't design safety systems for every day, you design them for the worst day. For example, on earth there are nuclear weapons, so anything designed to last has to be able to survive a direct hit by a nuclear weapon. Even though a post-nuclear earth would still be nicer than mars, it's easier to survive on mars for centuries than survive that fraction of a second of nuclear fire. And it's not just nuclear - if you are going to have a single point of failure, it has to survive every possible thing - it needs to be nuke proof, germ proof, chemical proof, earthquake proof... Redundancy is much cheaper.

Presumably the martian back-ups would return to earth as soon as the danger of the calamity had passed, so you still get all the benefits of Earth's habitability afterwards. Only the pre-catastrophe society needs to build and support a mars base.


> it's easier to survive on mars for centuries than survive that fraction of a second of nuclear fire.

I disagree. To the extent that you can stockpile supplies to survive on mars through the nuclear event, moreso it is easier to stockpile supplies to survive in underground bunkers.

> And it's not just nuclear - if you are going to have a single point of failure, it has to survive every possible thing - it needs to be nuke proof, germ proof, chemical proof, earthquake proof... Redundancy is much cheaper.

I agree, and it's easier to design separate Earth shelters to withstand different catastrophe scenarios than elsewhere.

> Presumably the martian back-ups would return to earth as soon as the danger of the calamity had passed, so you still get all the benefits of Earth's habitability afterwards. Only the pre-catastrophe society needs to build and support a mars base.

Likewise for Earth-based shelters.

And let's not forget that there are far more failure scenarios and it's harder to recover from them for a shelter based in Mars than for one on Earth.


So many sweeping unsubstantiated claims in this piece — and from a non-scientist. Enough straw men in this article to populate a city.


Is there even a shred of credible evidence for any of the following:

> Humans are not causing a “sixth mass extinction”

> The Amazon is not “the lungs of the world”

> Climate change is not making natural disasters worse

> Fires have declined 25% around the world since 2003

> The amount of land we use for meat — humankind’s biggest use of land — has declined by an area nearly as large as Alaska

> The build-up of wood fuel and more houses near forests, not climate change, explain why there are more, and more dangerous, fires in Australia and California

> Carbon emissions are declining in most rich nations and have been declining in Britain, Germany, and France since the mid-1970s

> Netherlands became rich not poor while adapting to life below sea level

> We produce 25% more food than we need and food surpluses will continue to rise as the world gets hotter

> Habitat loss and the direct killing of wild animals are bigger threats to species than climate change

> Wood fuel is far worse for people and wildlife than fossil fuels

> Preventing future pandemics requires more not less “industrial” agriculture

Beyond the literal truth or falsity of the claims, how do they fit together into an argument that shows climate change is not an existential threat to human civilization? Last I checked, there was broad scientific consensus that climate change was real, caused (or, at least exacerbated) by humans, and would have massive impacts on human civilization. And then there's this person coming along and saying "Nahhh, none of this is a problem."

Who should I believe?


> The Amazon is not “the lungs of the world”

50-80% of atmospheric oxygen are estimated to come from algae and cyanobacteria in the ocean. This seems pretty clear cut. - http://www.greenlineprint.com/blog/where-are-the-lungs-of-th...

> Habitat loss and the direct killing of wild animals are bigger threats to species than climate change

1: Illegal wildlife trade, 2: Habitat destruction, 3: Invasive species, 4: Pollution, 5: climate change. While I could see an argument that the ordering is incorrect depending on scope, the numbers from 1-3 is pretty clear from an short term perspective as being the major issues right now. - https://www.wanderlust.co.uk/content/biggest-threats-to-wild...

The other ones I am more unsure about. I would had guessed that Netherlands status as a rich country came from their past as a colonial empire, but it might be correct that it is because their current status as an massive exporter of farmed food. That statement is likely scope dependent.


I get the impression that this guy is primarily out to sell his book, which he spends quite a bit of time talking about how great it is. As for the points he mentions, some are clearly false.

> The amount of land we use for meat — humankind’s biggest use of land — has declined by an area nearly as large as Alaska

With global population trends, even if average meat consumption is starting to decrease, the amount of livestock raised will still increase. I actually found it difficult to find a good measurement, but this site seemed to be credible https://ourworldindata.org/land-use

> Fires have declined 25% around the world since 2003

This seems to be untrue, at least in the US - https://www.epa.gov/climate-indicators/climate-change-indica...

> Habitat loss and the direct killing of wild animals are bigger threats to species than climate change

> Humans are not causing a “sixth mass extinction”

Which is it? Are we not causing any issues, or are we destroying native habitats?

In the end, I don't really know who this guy is, but for all the fundraising he did as a teenager, I don't think he's doing environmentalists any favors anymore.


Developed nations are shrinking. Why won't global population do the same, long term?


Bold of you to assume we'll reach the long term.


I believe there's a "broad scientific consensus" that the climate isn't staying exactly the same and human's effect on it is existent, but could someone please cite a source claiming there's "broad scientific consensus" that it "would have massive impacts on human civilization"?

Edit: Here's an oldish article: "Climate Scientists Agree on Warming, Disagree on Dangers, and Don’t Trust the Media’s Coverage of Climate Change" https://web.archive.org/web/20100111104946/http://stats.org/...

Edit 2: "In 2007, Harris Interactive surveyed 489 randomly selected members of either the American Meteorological Society or the American Geophysical Union for the Statistical Assessment Service (STATS) at George Mason University. 97% of the scientists surveyed agreed that global temperatures had increased during the past 100 years; 84% said they personally believed human-induced warming was occurring, and 74% agreed that "currently available scientific evidence" substantiated its occurrence. Catastrophic effects in 50–100 years would likely be observed according to 41%, while 44% thought the effects would be moderate and about 13 percent saw relatively little danger. 5% said they thought human activity did not contribute to greenhouse warming." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_consensus_on_climat... (Edit²: emphasis added)


What would you accept as evidence of a "broad scientific consensus" that climate change "would have massive effects on human civilization"? It's not 84% like the number you cite who believe humans contribute, but the 41% figure you cite does tell me that roughly 1 in 2 climate scientists think we're doomed if we do nothing. I would call that a broad consensus, given that a huge majority believe there will be at least a "moderate" effect on human civilization.

Incidentally, why are the choices "catastrophic effect," "moderate effect," "relatively little danger," and "humans aren't contributing to climate change, anyway?" Why is there nothing in between "moderate" and "catastrophic" effect? That seems a little suspect to me.


This is the key point - even if all these claims are true, they don’t add up to any coherent argument about the substance of climate change.

At best they seem to be arguing against some cultural sub-trends, such as those who argue for “organic farming” or are “anti-nuclear”, or those who make some mistakes such as overestimating the contribution of the Amazon to global oxygen production.

Perhaps some of the more breathless claims are overstated, but none of that materially changes the climate change argument.

I wonder what he is trying to achieve.


The very article makes it clear that one thing he's trying to achieve is to sell his book.


FTA:

"In reality, the above facts come from the best-available scientific studies, including those conducted by or accepted by the IPCC, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and other leading scientific bodies."

I would like to see those studies as well; wish the claims were better sourced.


I think the "fires have declined 25% around the world since 2003" is referring to this:

https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/90493/researchers-d...

It's till 2015, not till 2020, and the explanation for the fall is 4 paragraphs in. It seems to be a move away from slash and burn agriculture and towards more modern, permanent farming.


> Humans are not causing a “sixth mass extinction”

Just from skimming about the Holocene extinction[1], with mountains of documented evidences from every continent, denying its existence seems untenable. I'm not even sure why the author started with this line, because it instantly cuts his reliability by 90%.

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


> Netherlands became rich not poor while adapting to life below sea level

Yes, there is credible evidence, at least for that one.


I believe it, but this is the least relevant of any of the rather broad claims the author is making without citation other than "see my book." What happened in a single, tiny European country that wasn't exactly poor to begin with is unlikely to scale worldwide as sea levels rise.


Agree - some of these really, really need some sources - e.g. humans are not causing a "sixth mass extinction"? Is he arguing that there's not a threat of mass extinction, or that it's not human caused? Either way I'd love to see the reassuring evidence.

Some of these seem true(ish) but misleading - isn't habitat loss often driven by climate change? And as far as I know no one is advocating a switch from fossil fuels to wood fuels; the fact that wood is worse is orthogonal to the fact that fossil fuels are problematic and nuclear, wind, and/or solar are often a better solution.


I’d like to think it is true. But who do I ask? Who do I believe? Combatant environmentalists who look at vegetarians with hate? Climate change deniers? Institutions who have vested interests? Scientists with conflicting views?

We’re so deep into a world where “truth” is merely an instrument of debate, bent and shaped into whatever point is trying to make, that I don’t know where to start...


Who exactly is Michael Shellenberger and what is his game? It's pretty clear that he is not a trained scientist or a journalist. What qualifies him to speak for those of us who are concerned about climate change and issue an apology on our behalf? Seems rather grandiose to me. I'm thinking pundit with political ambitions.


He ran for governor of California a bit ago. His career has been built around selling books.


#1) it's good to see alternative viewpoints on global warming, Michael is excellent for sharpening yourself on it #2) reading michael is an exercise in the limits of the slippery slope: he will show the Amazon isn't the "lungs of the earth", in that he will show why eliminating it doesn't mean we'll run out of oxygen, but he won't show that it is meaningless #3) after swimming around his arguments for a few months, your focus may (or may not!) turn to "well, even if we can say each part is overwrought, the whole effect and trend line is a major problem - swallowing a 5 degree celsius increase in temperature is, rather intuitively, a problem, particularly when we still have the _3rd_ derivative increasing"


"Netherlands became rich not poor while adapting to life below sea level "

LOL, we can all relax and look forward to a prosperous future then.


> Wood fuel is far worse for people and wildlife than fossil fuels.

Can someone help me with this? I just moved and have both a fireplace and natural gas furnace. I had intended to supplement the furnace with wood heat in the winter. In what ways is wood worse than natural gas?

I can imagine a few but I’m not sure they are right:

Wood disadvantages:

Local air quality

Removal of trees

Wood advantages:

Renewable

Neutral greenhouse gas emissions (?)

Abundant (in my area)

Natural gas disadvantages:

Finite resource

Greenhouse gas emissions(?)

Natural gas advantages:

Better local air quality than wood(?)


Renewable isn't really accurate for wood, at least not in human time scales. A maple takes about 25 years to mature. It's about three maple trees to a cord. Assuming 5 cords per winter, we're talking 375 trees before the first tree cut can be reharvested (assuming it was replanted immediately). That doesn't into account soil depletion and carbon release.


Thanks, this is something else I have always wondered about.

Quick quack suggests 400-800 trees per acre is possible. That actually seems pretty sustainable in a forested area.


My understanding is that the particulates caused by wood fires are terrible for our lungs, especially inside houses: https://samharris.org/the-fireplace-delusion/


Anecdote from my grandmother. She said the local doctor back in the 20's had a story about med school. Helped out on an autopsy of an old Chinese sailor who spent most of his life on sailing ships. His professor pointed out that the mans lungs were pinkish and asked the students what condition might have caused that unusual condition. Ans: Man hadn't spent his life breathing smoke.


Thanks, this is exactly the kind of starting point I was looking for.


You're welcome :-)


Michael Crichton's famous speech "Alien's cause global warming" is reprised in [1]. Is there truth in the environmental claims. I am sure there is. The environmental movement and climate scientists have shifted to activism that it is hard to differentiate truth and science from activism and propaganda.

They environmentalists and their activism appears like a cross between Big Tobacco marketing, PETA and the Westboro baptist Church with a dash of Scientology thrown in for good measure.

Tell me about that other planet colonization thing again ;)

In all seriousness, who here really thinks we will have mass deaths, upwards of 10% of the population of the earth in the next 10 year timeframe from global warming? What about 15 years? 20 years?

How about 5%? What odds are you proffering and how much would you like to wager on it?

[1] https://mindmatters.ai/2020/06/twenty-years-on-aliens-still-...


> and climate scientists have shifted to activism that it is hard to differentiate truth and science from activism and propaganda.

Any example of this?


Climate alarm-ism has honestly set back the whole movement in my opinion. For decades, we've only been 10 years away from extinction and it gave conservatives all the ammo needed to write climate change off as fake. Heck, even The Simpsons mocked this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=epKaBv6ALcI


That's not The Simpsons. That's some sort of surrogate that was snuck into the same time slot many years ago. Some viewers didn't notice. B'oh.


Except that’s entirely the denialist straw man. It’s not we’re going to face a cosmic ray style annihilation in 10 years, but rather that we’re cavalierly approaching tipping points that will likely have repercussions for 10,000 years.


But it's a fact the situation, while serious, was massively overblown and became politicised. We may all be killed by climate change one day, and we need to act now, but we aren't going to die in ten years if nothing changes.

Making the situation out to be the end of the world, short term, is how you lose the support of the general public.


Well, some environmentalists overstating their case ("alarmism") have made that not exactly a strawman.




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