Global Warming's Terrifying New Math
July 19, 2012 11:15 AM   Subscribe

Global Warming's Terrifying New Math, Bill McKibben

1. Total amount of carbon needed to bring global temps above 2 degrees C (the generally accepted safe limit): 565 gigatons (6 beers)
2. Total amount of carbon currently owned by the worlds oil and coal companies: 2,795 gigatons (36 beers)
Think of two degrees Celsius as the legal drinking limit – equivalent to the 0.08 blood-alcohol level below which you might get away with driving home. The 565 gigatons is how many drinks you could have and still stay below that limit – the six beers, say, you might consume in an evening. And the 2,795 gigatons? That's the three 12-packs the fossil-fuel industry has on the table, already opened and ready to pour.
Yes, this coal and gas and oil is still technically in the soil. But it's already economically aboveground – it's figured into share prices, companies are borrowing money against it, nations are basing their budgets on the presumed returns from their patrimony. It explains why the big fossil-fuel companies have fought so hard to prevent the regulation of carbon dioxide – those reserves are their primary asset, the holding that gives their companies their value. If you told Exxon or Lukoil that, in order to avoid wrecking the climate, they couldn't pump out their reserves, the value of their companies would plummet. John Fullerton, a former managing director at JP Morgan who now runs the Capital Institute, calculates that at today's market value, those 2,795 gigatons of carbon emissions are worth about $27 trillion. Which is to say, if you paid attention to the scientists and kept 80 percent of it underground, you'd be writing off $20 trillion in assets. The numbers aren't exact, of course, but that carbon bubble makes the housing bubble look small by comparison. It won't necessarily burst – we might well burn all that carbon, in which case investors will do fine. But if we do, the planet will crater.
The Carbon Tracker Initiative breaks it down who owns the carbon.
posted by stbalbach (242 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's like we're the characters in Luis Bunuel's The Exterminating Angel. We're all stuck in this situation and unable to do anything to change it and we don't really understand why.

Time to get drunk.
posted by perhapses at 11:19 AM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Words like "terrifying" always motivate people to click on a link. Too bad it's Rolling Stone and not Science or Nature magazine.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:22 AM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


You can still legally drive after drinking six beers? That is terrifying
posted by dng at 11:28 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can still legally drive after drinking six beers? That is terrifying

If it is over the course of a few hours, and you have eaten, and you are of average or above weight, then yeah.
posted by vibrotronica at 11:30 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kill the messenger, if you like, but this problem is the greatest challenge of our generation--and potentially, our last.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:34 AM on July 19, 2012 [25 favorites]


Crude oil: wort
Fuel oil: Russian imperial stouts
Diesel oil: Guinness
Kerosene: Fat Tire Ale
Gasoline: Bud, Coors, Miller

I guess we need a diagram of an actual carboy cracking rig.
posted by crapmatic at 11:34 AM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


From paragraph 1:
"That followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere – the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average, the odds of which occurring by simple chance were 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe."
3.7 x 10^ 0 =3.7
3.7 x 10^-1 =0.37
3.7 x 10^-2 =0.037
3.7 x 10^-5 =0.000037
3.7 x 10^-10= really really small number you get it right???

So 3.7 x 10^-99 = number of stars in the universe? There are like, no stars? Or alternatively, no one at RS knows a dang thing about math, doesn't understand what they're writing about, and has shot themselves in the foot so hard that it discredits the very real and troublesome prospect of anthropogenic climate change.

You have to get the math right or people can call bullshit on you. Someone please tell me I misread this? My eyes are all fuzzy from a combination of now-I-have-to-wear-glasses (what's up, 31) and trying to align a Ti-Sapph laser this morning. Please tell me I just embarrassed myself on Metafilter, because otherwise someone has embarrassed him- or herself very badly in RS.
posted by samofidelis at 11:34 AM on July 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


I KNOW WHAT HE MEANT TO SAY that's not the gd point. The point is you have to get it right.
posted by samofidelis at 11:35 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


What's wrong with Rolling Stone? Can anyone name a better mainstream American publication? I mean hell, at least it's not TIME.

They fucked up decimal notation and that's destroyed the possibility of action on climate change? I'm pretty sure intransigence on climate change has absolutely nothing to do with facts, at this point. Other than the simple fact of money, of course.
posted by mek at 11:38 AM on July 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


You can still legally drive after drinking six beers? That is terrifying

He's talking about the U.S. limit, which is in turn referencing U.S. beers, which are incredibly shitty.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:40 AM on July 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


Someone point me to the scifi novel in which the aliens push us towards our climate / peak oil crisis from behind the scenes because they only made it to the stars after learning non-exponential growth, and they're terrified of what will become of the universe if we make it before we get the lesson.
posted by jepler at 11:40 AM on July 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


So 3.7 x 10^-99 = number of stars in the universe?

I read this to mean that, if this were represented as the fraction 1/x, the denominator would be larger than the number of stars in the universe.
posted by swift at 11:44 AM on July 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


That looks like a formatting issue, not a math issue -- I'm guessing that the "99" appears as superscript in print and the HTML web version got fucked somehow.

Bill McKibben has been writing lucidly about climate change for over twenty years, it's kind of sad that this thread is just rolling stone lol
posted by theodolite at 11:45 AM on July 19, 2012 [20 favorites]


Jepler, The Gods Themselves is pretty good from a global warming standpoint. In essence aliens have us using a "free" source of energy that will eventually cause our sun to go nova.

I don't know what story you're thinking of though.
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 11:45 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


David Brin's EARTH is a bit like that, jepler, though I suspect you might be slightly misremembering the Robert Charles Wilson SPIN series.
posted by gerryblog at 11:45 AM on July 19, 2012


This is a long and deadly serious article written about probably the most important issue of our generation, by a man the Boston Globe described as "probably the nation's leading environmentalist"

Could people maybe fucking read it and write some actual thoughts about how to avert the worst global catastrophe in history, rather than post these bullshit comments? Please?
Some context: So far, we've raised the average temperature of the planet just under 0.8 degrees Celsius, and that has caused far more damage than most scientists expected. (A third of summer sea ice in the Arctic is gone, the oceans are 30 percent more acidic, and since warm air holds more water vapor than cold, the atmosphere over the oceans is a shocking five percent wetter, loading the dice for devastating floods.)
posted by crayz at 11:47 AM on July 19, 2012 [44 favorites]


It's much easier to make accusations of bias or incompetence in reporting than it is to confront the actual issues the article is about.

It really seems like climate change is ultimately just a symptom of the larger disease, which is this cancerous form of capitalism that's taken over the global economic establishment. There are no serious arguments against action on the basis of science. If you remove money from this equation, this is about as controversial as declaring war after Pearl Harbor.
posted by feloniousmonk at 11:47 AM on July 19, 2012 [19 favorites]


People will point out anything to take their minds off the fact that humanity is a meaningless blip on the geological timeline.
posted by perhapses at 11:51 AM on July 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


It's much easier to make accusations of bias or incompetence in reporting than it is to confront the actual issues the article is about.

Look, if this were a serious issue we obviously would have heard something about it before now.
posted by gerryblog at 11:52 AM on July 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


feloniousmonk, there is strong evidence humans have been contributing to global warming since the dawn of civilization. It's picked up pace due to technological innovation and demographics. Not sure it's an ideological issue. Even the Soviets promised citizens unlimited wealth and prosperity, just were not good at delivering it. Ultimately it's a technological problem so has to be solved with technology, if at all.
posted by stbalbach at 11:54 AM on July 19, 2012


You have to get the math right or people can call bullshit on you. Someone please tell me I misread this? My eyes are all fuzzy from a combination of now-I-have-to-wear-glasses (what's up, 31) and trying to align a Ti-Sapph laser this morning. Please tell me I just embarrassed myself on Metafilter, because otherwise someone has embarrassed him- or herself very badly in RS.

This is also a big problem with the anti-nuclear/pro-solar movement. Science is frequently mangled, which discredits the cause.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:55 AM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


"That followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere – the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average, the odds of which occurring by simple chance were 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe."

0.5 ^ 327 = 3.65755965210328×10-99

So this is his null hypothesis, or the assumption that there's a 50/50 chance each month that the record will be broken. Since the odds of a monthly record being broken are certainly way lower than that, he's saying that the Earth is definitely warmer.

Kind of misleading, since he's choosing an arbitrary time interval of one month. He could have chosen a five year interval and the odds would be about 2% (based on his null hypothesis). Still pretty good odds, but no longer astronomical.

Or he could have said "since 1985, the global temperature has been higher than the 20th century average" and left it at that.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:57 AM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


So 3.7 x 10^-99 = number of stars in the universe?

I read this to mean that, if this were represented as the fraction 1/x, the denominator would be larger than the number of stars in the universe.
posted by swift at 13:44 on July 19 [+] [!]


That looks like a formatting issue, not a math issue -- I'm guessing that the "99" appears as superscript in print and the HTML web version got fucked somehow.

Bill McKibben has been writing lucidly about climate change for over twenty years, it's kind of sad that this thread is just rolling stone lol
posted by theodolite at 13:45 on July 19 [+] [!]

I suspect that what he wanted to say was something along the lines of, " a chance of 1 part in 2.7 x 10^98, where 2.7 x 10^98 is a number greater than the number of stars in the known universe." That is not what he said. He compared quantity A to quantity B, and should have compared the 1/A to B, or A to 1/B. He did not do this. It seems obvious that this is what he intended, but to screw this up, and to have all of your editorial staff screw this up, is a huge, huge mistake -- because it takes the scientific literacy of a fourth grader to get this right.

Unless I've just misread it myself. I totally put that forward as a possibility. I stared at it for long enough that the sentence stopped having any meaning. I'm tired and my eyes hurt and I'm dipping work in two hours. I hope I screwed this up, because otherwise he, and everyone at RS made a real boneheaded mistake.
People will point out anything to take their minds off the fact that humanity is a meaningless blip on the geological timeline.
posted by perhapses at 13:51 on July 19 [+] [!]
I'm a scientist. There is no scientific debate that global climate change is real. We trust the method. We get things right. That is how we win the argument.

This guy shoot himself in the damn foot, and shot a bunch of the rest of us in our feet, because he will inadvertently throw plenty of fuel on the fire that those who wish to effect changes in policy to combat climate change are scientific illiterates.

JUST BECAUSE HE IS ON OUR SIDE DOES NOT MEAN YOU GIVE HIM A PASS. God, I hope I'm the one screwing this up, and not the author plus umpteen editors.
posted by samofidelis at 11:57 AM on July 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


It's much easier to make accusations of bias or incompetence in reporting than it is to confront the actual issues the article is about.
We, who believe in AGW, are very quick to argue that there is no scientific debate about global climate change. That requires us to be scientifically literate. Or we look like buffoons.
posted by samofidelis at 11:58 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ultimately it's a technological problem so has to be solved with technology

That doesn't follow. See: nuclear proliferation, acid rain, ozone thinning, industrial pollution more generally, food and drug regulation, desertification, and umm, well, I'm sure there are more "technological porblems" which required non-technological solutions. Generally we have seen the greatest success in overcoming technological problems via top-down policy solutions. We didn't technology our way out of any of these problems, we decided the technology had to be regulated to prevent bad things from happening and we did that and it worked.
posted by mek at 11:58 AM on July 19, 2012 [12 favorites]


"Could people maybe fucking read it and write some actual thoughts about how to avert the worst global catastrophe in history, rather than post these bullshit comments? Please?"

First, the comments have been fine and you're being rude.

Second, I'm not happy telling you this, but this catastrophe will not be averted. There is nothing in human history that demonstrates that any such calamity will ever be avoided when the time-frame is this extended and remote (relative to normal human concerns), where the costs are distributed across large populations and not exclusively to those responsible, and where personal benefit so immediately accrues to both those responsible and everyone else as they fail avert the calamity.

Action will occur only when costs are direct, immediate, and large. And that will be far, far too late.

The Earth's temperature will rise by at least five degrees C over the next 150 years. This will happen. It will kill billions of people, result in mass extinctions, destroy many of Earth's ecosystems and alter the rest, utterly change global politics and economics in chaotic and militaristic fashion, and the survivors will probably curse our generation for the next thousand years. This is our future.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:59 AM on July 19, 2012 [78 favorites]


I'm not sure how you got that I disagree with you out of my comment, stbalbach. It's obviously a science problem, but it's also obvious that the solution isn't being blocked by science but by capital.
posted by feloniousmonk at 12:01 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


write some actual thoughts about how to avert the worst global catastrophe in history

Okay, free association here:

Nuclear war
Poison ice cream sandwiches
Superman
Censored thermometers
Baby-eating contests
God, pointing with his stick
Series of public service announcements
A really good folk song
Uglier cars
Everybody wishes at the same time
Spermicidal toothpaste
MS Project
Yelling I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore out the window
Assault all the gas stations and burn them down
Talking about our feelings
posted by swift at 12:01 PM on July 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


Geez Ivan, some of us are trying not to start drinking at noon over here. (Not that the beer analogy helped either, Bill.)
posted by mek at 12:01 PM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Exciting times! I'll miss Africa.
posted by Rory Marinich at 12:03 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


E85: Mich Ultra

Oh, and yeah we're doomed.
posted by LordSludge at 12:05 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


People will point out anything to take their minds off the fact that humanity is a meaningless blip on the geological timeline.

My son and daughter and my friends and loved ones and their families are not a "meaningless blip" on any kind of equally human constructed timeline, thanks. Geologic time is as much a made-up human conception as any of the more important and pressing social ones this kind of hateful formulation attempts to deconstruct.

What you're espousing is old fashioned anti-social nihilism dressed up as cold, clear-eyed rationality. Most actual scientists I know (and I've known a couple) get red in the face when they hear their ideas appropriated in service to such inhuman nonsense.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:08 PM on July 19, 2012 [20 favorites]


"Could people maybe fucking read it and write some actual thoughts about how to avert the worst global catastrophe in history, rather than post these bullshit comments? Please?"

How about "turn off and walk away from your computer"? The global IT infrastructure (that brings you MetaFilter) is a major source of GHG.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:08 PM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


There is nothing in human history that demonstrates that any such calamity will ever be avoided when the time-frame is this extended and remote (relative to normal human concerns), where the costs are distributed across large populations and not exclusively to those responsible, and where personal benefit so immediately accrues to both those responsible and everyone else as they fail avert the calamity.

True! But we also have modes of communication that didn't exist in any other period of human history, political systems which while nowhere near perfect still allow for more of a political dialogue to exist (that is, they allow a dialogue to exist at all), and a certain small-but-vocal part of society that does indeed try to look at the big picture — vocal enough that their views make their way into quite a few major publications.

Bad shit is on the way, and in fact is already here. But while the response to said bad shit is nowhere near good enough, the fact that there's even a response to begin with is somewhat heartening, that this is a part of the political conversation means that perhaps, somewhere, the tide is turning.

It will be interesting to watch this unfold. I don't think things will be quite so easy to predict, though I may be wrong.
posted by Rory Marinich at 12:12 PM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Guys, climate deniers aren't debating in good faith -- when they're not breaking into people's email systems and hounding them with nuisance FOIA requests, they just openly make stuff up. They aren't even going to get out of bed for a subtle (but still perfectly comprehendible) writing error in which the denominator of a fraction is confused with the whole fraction.

Don't worry about it.
posted by gerryblog at 12:13 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


feloniousmonk, I was just responding to your comment because you said the issue is "this cancerous form of capitalism", but global warming started long before capitalism existed, even the Romans contributed to it. Is it really the fault of capitalism? Seems to me even North Korea burns coal and oil, the problem is something else at heart. It's our tools that allow us to make and consume energy beyond natural hunting and gathering. So we have two choices: get rid of the tools, or make better tools; or as Mek said, better regulate the tools which I think is just another way of saying make better tools since regulation leads to innovation.
posted by stbalbach at 12:13 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


The global IT infrastructure (that brings you MetaFilter) is a major source of GHG.

No, as far as human activities go, it's pretty miniscule, when measured over total time spent. It's also small in absolute terms, dwarfed by transportation, agriculture, mining, and of course energy.
posted by mek at 12:14 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Should I bother turning off the air conditioning? Or it's all really just too late, isn't it?
posted by incessant at 12:15 PM on July 19, 2012


Cooling a Warming Planet: A Global Air Conditioning Surge. The U.S. has long used more energy for air conditioning than all other nations combined. But as demand increases in the world’s warmer regions, global energy consumption for air conditioning is expected to continue to rise dramatically and could have a major impact on climate change.
posted by homunculus at 12:16 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


So long as McKibben has the math right on the value and extent of the fossil reserves - and I have no reason to believe that he hasn't - then I think his way of phrasing this challenge is a very good one. It ties directly into human cognitive and behavioural biases: we're far more likely to take from the rewards right in front of us, even if those rewards are dwindling, even if they are bad for us, rather than investing in the long-term... even if the long term bet has better outcomes.

We essentially have to make the choice, as an entire species, between eating the warm chocolate cake that is sitting on the kitchen counter and going outside to grow a vegetable garden. It is possible to transition between the two... but how much more likely are we to lose patience, come back inside, and gorge ourselves?

Turning away from fossil fuels is the equivalent of telling Cortez "I know you came all this way, and there really is plenty of silver here in the New World, and mining it all out will make you wealthy beyond your wildest dreams... but it will also bring human misery, needless wars, and an inflationary bubble that will eventually end your empire. Here's a potato instead."
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 12:20 PM on July 19, 2012 [25 favorites]


Also here
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:20 PM on July 19, 2012


Ah, I see. I don't mean that the phenomenon itself is the result of capitalism, but our current response to it definitely is.

I think the ultimate cause has to do with the very reason we've been so successful as a species: we've always been quicker to exploit natural resources to our advantage than the competition. This obviously had significant positive impacts when it came to moving off the savannnah, but today we exploit for exploitation's sake rather than for survival. I think this is a strong argument in favor of a technological solution (such as could be found at this late date) but any solution requires the assent of the capitalist class, who will probably soon be too busy building domed invite-only cities to bother with it. I'm just not very optimistic.
posted by feloniousmonk at 12:21 PM on July 19, 2012


In the Threads, uhhh, thread the other day, a few people speculated that part of the appeal of post-nuke and zombie/contagion apocalypse stories was to make folks feel like they could prepare for and possibly survive in those worlds.

Is there anything comparable for the looming environmental catastrophe? Nothing comes to mind right away, so I wonder if it's the case that the depth of our denial about it is such that we won't even make apocalypse-porn about it. And in a weird way, I feel even more helpless about it than I do about some of the more unlikely things like zombies, asteroids and other rogue space bodies, and even nukes.
posted by lord_wolf at 12:22 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Tiny Rooftop Turbine Could Make Urban Wind Farms A Reality
posted by homunculus at 12:23 PM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Is there anything comparable for the looming environmental catastrophe?"

Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood deal with this almost directly and have scared me shitless. It's far from 'apocalypse porn' and closer to the stark reality of Threads.
posted by Tevin at 12:24 PM on July 19, 2012


"Should I bother turning off the air conditioning? Or it's all really just too late, isn't it?"

Phsh, I know. I don't think there's any possible way that global warming can be resolved through the reduction of carbon emissions. There's too much money involved. Collectively joining together and deciding not to use carbon emitting resources would require waaaay too much cooperation.

The only thing that I can think of that would stop this would be some kind of scientific discovery that made actually cleaning the atmosphere into something feasible. The reduction angle doesn't seem to be making enough headway. Maybe additional cleaning methods would?
posted by jumelle at 12:24 PM on July 19, 2012


The problem, incessant, is that turning off your AC would be a meaningless gesture. You would be sweaty, and nothing would be any different for it. The discomfort would probably outweigh any satisfaction or sense of agency you got out of the act, although that's really a matter for personal assessment.

This isn't an individual action problem, but a collective action problem. A collective action problem that the entire social, political, and economic apparatus of the modern world is structured to perpetuate, not fix.

If you want to make a difference, start looking for ways to radically undermine the systems that have put us on a path to slow, horrible destruction.
posted by zjacreman at 12:24 PM on July 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


In other news: ClimateGate Email Hack Was "A Sophisticated and Carefully Orchestrated Attack"
posted by homunculus at 12:25 PM on July 19, 2012


>The global IT infrastructure (that brings you MetaFilter) is a major source of GHG.

No, as far as human activities go, it's pretty miniscule, when measured over total time spent. It's also small in absolute terms, dwarfed by transportation, agriculture, mining, and of course energy.


...Do you have the math for that?
posted by KokuRyu at 12:25 PM on July 19, 2012


"True! But we also have modes of communication that didn't exist in any other period of human history, political systems which while nowhere near perfect still allow for more of a political dialogue to exist (that is, they allow a dialogue to exist at all), and a certain small-but-vocal part of society that does indeed try to look at the big picture — vocal enough that their views make their way into quite a few major publications."

I'd be happy to be proven wrong and I think we should care and work to reduce AGW. And I'm not generally inclined to be either pessimistic or cynical (though I'd not describe myself as their opposites, either), so this isn't a default position at all. I just honestly think that too much of most everyone's immediate self-interest is in continuing to burn fossil fuels and too little of the costs for doing so are either immediate or direct. I simply can't see any real possibility of real, deliberate solution. I think that too little, too late will be the continuing reality of efforts against AGW.

On the other hand, I can totally see a real possibility of a large nuclear war or pandemic or something that forces sufficient changes as a side-effect. Basically, something that kills off a third or more of the human race. Which would be a Pyrrhic victory, as I personally care about 80% about the people and only 20% about preserving the contemporary climate and ecologies for their own sakes.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:26 PM on July 19, 2012


By the way, when an article has the title "Global Warming's Terrifying New Math", it's really, really important that the math in the article be accurate.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:28 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Come to think of it, collapsing the global economy again would go a long way toward reducing carbon emissions. Maybe the ECB is on to something after all.
posted by zjacreman at 12:28 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Is there anything comparable for the looming environmental catastrophe?"

In addition to the Atwood books mentioned, The Wind-Up Girl is the gold standard. Kim Stanley Robinson's 2312 (my review) is a good read too.
posted by gerryblog at 12:30 PM on July 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


2312 felt like a work of unbelievable, wild-eyed optimism.

Which was of course why I loved it so goddamn much.
posted by Sokka shot first at 12:32 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


People will point out anything to take their minds off the fact that humanity is a meaningless blip on the geological timeline.

Well, it'll be a pretty dramatic blip to anyone who happens to look at an ice core a few million years from now. So at least we've got that.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:33 PM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm not as pessimistic as Ivan Fyodorovich, but I do think it'll take a massive heat wave with thousands (or tens of thousands) of deaths for governments to take action.

I think I read that the current one in the eastern US has claimed ~120 lives. That's not enough to spur collective action, I don't think - the costs are too dispersed.

On the other hand, if I were President, I'd borrow a trillion dollars now and plow it into R&D. Even if you don't solve the problem, I'd be willing to bet that a huge research effort could at least put a dent in it. I'm normally of the opinion that only collective action can solve collective action problems, but collective action is a lot easier when the action is "switch from fuel source A to fuel source B", rather than "stop growing".
posted by downing street memo at 12:34 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


For comparison, what is the mass of the earth's atmosphere?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:35 PM on July 19, 2012


Yes, this coal and gas and oil is still technically in the soil. But it's already economically aboveground – it's figured into share prices, companies are borrowing money against it, nations are basing their budgets on the presumed returns from their patrimony.

...which is why the World Economy will collapse before the World Environment, but one won't prevent the other.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:37 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I suspect it'll take something like CA's rolling brownouts up and down the East Coast for anyone to take any action beyond berating Pepco over these heat waves. That being said, I don't think we're all that far away from such a scenario. This heat wave has brought storms and they've shown us just how precarious our power grid can be, even miles away from the seat of Federal power.
posted by feloniousmonk at 12:38 PM on July 19, 2012


yes you should turn off the air conditioning!

also, where should i move to? where in canada am i likeliest to survive global catastrophic meltdown? also with good art scene, natural access to freshwater, river/trade routes, etc...was considering KC,MO, but now I don't think it's far enough north, at all...chicago is likely to be uninhabitable as well due to wildly occilating weather conditions...anything on the coast is prob a bad idea...what's Calgary like?
posted by sexyrobot at 12:39 PM on July 19, 2012


KokuRyu, the one study that went around on IT GHG emissions pegged it at 2% of total, equivalent to aviation. Obviously if you divide that over total man hours spent on each, the per-hour contribution of IT is absolutely microscopic. As far as time spent doing things, surfing the web isn't as good as home gardening, but it's much better than commuting by car.

IT GHG emissions are probably not a trend that can be meaningfully projected outwards, either; computers are trending towards smaller, more efficient, and with longer battery life, rather than bigger faster and hotter. Consider the changes in the phone-to-workstation ratio that have occurred since the study was done in 2007.

It's also notable that aviation is a much stronger climate forcing than quantity of emissions would indicate, as studies have noted that emissions at high altitudes are much more powerful.
posted by mek at 12:39 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


By the way, when an article has the title "Global Warming's Terrifying New Math", it's really, really important that the math in the article be accurate.

But no one's really saying that he made an error in his math. They're saying that there's a minor error in the subediting of the article. I hesitate to say that there is a level of cravenness to which even global warming deniers wouldn't sink, but I will say that even a global warming denier would find this pretty thin gruel for an "aha! gotcha! your get-on-the-global-warming-gravy-train mathematics doesn't even add up!" moment.
posted by yoink at 12:39 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


ZenMasterThis, why compare? The chemistry of global warming says it only takes a few parts per billion for CO2 to have a big impact.
posted by stbalbach at 12:40 PM on July 19, 2012


After reading this and many other things like it, the one things I always wonder if whether the green revolution of the 70's will be reversed within my lifetime or after it.

I fully expect a reduction of at least 1/3rd of the world's population (current levels) if not more before this gets worked out.

I think I should look into moving to NZ, perhaps, as some of the people we're pissing off have some sort of access to nuclear weapons.
posted by Hactar at 12:44 PM on July 19, 2012


sexyrobot, you want Nelson. The town was basically founded by draft dodgers.
posted by mek at 12:46 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


It really seems like climate change is ultimately just a symptom of the larger disease, which is this cancerous form of capitalism that's taken over the global economic establishment.

No, climate change is substantially larger than any given governing style or economic system. Communists burn coal. Dictators drill for oil. Micronesian fishermen use motorboats.

Our energy system, and the biosphere it draws all its power from, is the literal foundation on which all other human endeavour rests. Framing it as a late-capitalist bacchanal ties into a pointless, self-defeating narrative in which action on climate change is a Trojan horse for socialist one-world government.
posted by gompa at 12:46 PM on July 19, 2012 [15 favorites]


That's being needlessly pessimistic. There is enough for all on our planet. It's just how resources are distributed that's the problem. Stop eating meat, for example, and you have enough grains for everyone.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:46 PM on July 19, 2012


where in canada am i likeliest to survive global catastrophic meltdown?

Northern hemisphere is overall bad because the north pole is so rapidly heating up it's effecting the jet stream and other things. Canada's forests are disappearing due to infestations and fires. The southern hemisphere has a giant ice cube, Antarctica, which is keeping weather more stable. Except for areas impacted by El Nino such as Australia. I suspect New Zealand or southern South America are good bets for stable weather in our lifetime.
posted by stbalbach at 12:46 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I cannot half or more of this thread is arguing over a typo ("-" instead of "^"). The article's author should come take a look in here, it's the global warming debate writ small.
posted by maxwelton at 12:47 PM on July 19, 2012 [10 favorites]


Florida's screwed isn't it? I've been afraid to think about it given how permanently we're now wedded to our (already underwater without any sea-level rise) home thanks to the real estate crash...
posted by saulgoodman at 12:48 PM on July 19, 2012


"...so I wonder if it's the case that the depth of our denial about it is such that we won't even make apocalypse-porn about it."

I've read a very small number of post-apocalyptic global climate change books. The first was, I think, Strieber and Kunetka's Nature's End. (Yeah, I know — but I'd just read Warday and really liked it and was impressed by it, hadn't otherwise heard of Streiber, and it was 1984, man, and I was only 21.)

Mostly, I think, the reason why there's not an equivalent fascination is because the disaster is very, very different. Well, and because of that the psychosocial context too is different — people like me grew up with a visceral fear that the world could end in a nuclear inferno overnight. And the sudden nature of the nuclear apocalypse makes it particularly attractive for a before/after comparison. Put another way, it's a synecdoche for all of life's traumatic events — things were one way, something awful happens, and now things are a completely different way that's like and unlike. Post-apocalyptic fiction, like horror in general, is a way of trying to accommodate onseself to one's fears and to rehearse and practice coping with expected trauma.

But with global warming, the apocalypse is very slow moving. It's not like the traumas of life, it's like growing old and eventually become elderly and infirm and facing death. We mostly don't rehearse in stories our fear of aging and implied imminent death — it's simultaneously too near and too remote, too frightening and too mundane. The post-apocalyptic world of global warming is just difficult and unpleasant and doomed, like being bedridden with a stroke at the age of 79 where the only heroism available is personal and private and daily — like struggling through a conversation with a grandchild. In the heated and flooded world, it will be finding food at the market or a roof over your head. It most certainly will not be a libertarian fantasy of self-reliance, it will be a collective struggle for survival among shared misery.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:49 PM on July 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


As I clarified previously, I didn't mean climate change the phenomenon, I meant to say our response to it is the result of capitalism.
posted by feloniousmonk at 12:49 PM on July 19, 2012


I meant to say our response to it is the result of capitalism.

No, the response (or lack thereof) is about human beings' basic desire for better circumstances. People are reluctant to change their lifestyles or change their expectations of growth. (Communism is all about growth, btw)
posted by downing street memo at 12:53 PM on July 19, 2012


FTA: "When I look at this data, the trend is perfectly in line with a temperature increase of about six degrees." That's almost 11 degrees Fahrenheit, which would create a planet straight out of science fiction.

Christ. WTF? Seriously, what am I supposed to do here? I think the author of the article lays out a clear and easily understood case, but...now what? The global petro-econonmy is a massive ship and it cannot slow down or turn with anything even faintly reminiscent of nimbleness.

Seems like the only thing, in all seriousness, that I can do is apologize to my children for bringing them into this world when I go home tonight and advise them not to have kids of their own.
posted by lord_wolf at 12:54 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


ZenMasterThis: For comparison, what is the mass of the earth's atmosphere?

From Wikipedia:
The average mass of the atmosphere is about 5 quadrillion (5×1015) tonnes or 1/1,200,000 the mass of Earth. According to the American National Center for Atmospheric Research, "The total mean mass of the atmosphere is 5.1480×1018 kg with an annual range due to water vapor of 1.2 or 1.5×1015 kg depending on whether surface pressure or water vapor data are used; somewhat smaller than the previous estimate. The mean mass of water vapor is estimated as 1.27×1016 kg and the dry air mass as 5.1352 ±0.0003×1018 kg."
posted by gilrain at 12:57 PM on July 19, 2012


Our present form of capitalism creates unique challenges for tackling the problem is how I might put it. Though the difficulties weren't quite on the same scale, we were once able to implement rules that eliminated lead from our fuel stock and that sharply curtailed the use of particularly ozone-depleting aerosols. What's changed is that our political systems have been more completely captured by economic interests that stand to gain by maintaining the energy status quo. We've done practically nothing but deregulate or undercut previously effective regulatory systems for something like 20 years now. And we keep electing Republican officials at local levels of government who exploit the autonomy provided by Federalism to largely ignore pollution regulations already on the books.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:58 PM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Oops, the powers got stripped out... 5x1015 should be 5 x 10^15, and so on.
posted by gilrain at 12:58 PM on July 19, 2012


jepler: Someone point me to the scifi novel in which the aliens push us towards our climate / peak oil crisis from behind the scenes because they only made it to the stars after learning non-exponential growth, and they're terrified of what will become of the universe if we make it before we get the lesson.

Now, this, this, is a positivist SF scenario I'd read.
posted by lodurr at 12:59 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


As I also said previously, the fundamental reason for this problem is, as you say, certainly human nature. However, the specifics of the implementation of our response are the result of the capitalist economy that enables the response, such as it is. This is, as I said, why I am not optimistic about there being a solution.
posted by feloniousmonk at 12:59 PM on July 19, 2012


Climate was HOTTER in Roman, medieval times than now
posted by 13twelve at 1:00 PM on July 19, 2012


If you want to make a difference, start looking for ways to radically undermine the systems that have put us on a path to slow, horrible destruction.

That assumes the thing-causing-the-problem is alterable -- and I'm not sure it is. "Capitalist system" is alterable. "The economy" is alterable. "Industry" is alterable. "Humans consuming carbon-based energy" isn't really alterable, at least not fast enough to fix things.

Let's say we invent clean energy tomorrow -- clean, sustainable, magic energy. Let's say it's cold fusion.

OK, so now we have to implement it, stick it into our infrastructure. We have to build cold fusion plants -- and we can't use cold fusion energy to do that yet, because we're building them, right? They haven't come on-line. And while we're doing all this, we're still burning oil and coal at terrible rates, and ten years from now, how many plants have we built in the US? What percentage of the infrastructure has been flipped to non-CO2-producing magic cold fusion? 30% maybe? That's being generous. And what about China? What about Europe? What about Russia? How many magic cold fusion plants can we build in ten years around the world? Realistically?

But how many magic cold fusion plants would replace current carbon-producing plants? Or how many magic cold fusion plants would just satiate skyrocketing demand?

Man, this conversation is gonna turn me into a prepper, isn't it?
posted by incessant at 1:00 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Climate was HOTTER in Roman, medieval times than now

did I miss the href? duh
posted by 13twelve at 1:01 PM on July 19, 2012



Climate was HOTTER in Roman, medieval times than now


Local, transient temperatures are not climate, they are weather.

The heat we're talking about here is what drives the weather systems. It doesn't necessarily equate to local, transient ambient temperatures, anymore than the heat involved in an A/C units operations translate to a hotter house.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:02 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


The heat increase that matters is in the longer-term atmospheric averages, not just local weather.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:03 PM on July 19, 2012


Stop eating meat, for example, and you have enough grains for everyone.

That's not really the problem. It's not that there's a shortage, but actually quite the opposite. We have access to a lot more coal and oil and other fossil fuels than we can safely burn without probably crashing the biosphere.

Looking back historically, I don't really see any evidence that humans are capable of declining to exploit resources when they are available, even if there is a long-term downside, when there is a short-term benefit. We don't seem to be wired to make those sort of tradeoffs very well, and it's unsurprising that history is full of societies burning themselves out by overexploitation of a key resource. It's just that, this time around, were managing to threaten the entire global civilization rather than a local one.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:04 PM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


zjacreman: If you want to make a difference, start looking for ways to radically undermine the systems that have put us on a path to slow, horrible destruction.

Just "undermine radically", that's all?

What happens when that system is radically destabilized? What then? Got something to replace it with?

Because I'm thinking what it's likely to be replaced with is a system based on the cheapest, lowest-tech, highest-output energy available -- which is probably going to be fossile fuels. And which puts us in even deeper shit, because we've undermined the system that could have given us access to higher-technology tools.
posted by lodurr at 1:04 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


13twelve, that article misrepresents the paper: "Of course the Mail has gone too far. Our paper is for northern Scandinavian summer temperatures so extrapolating to large scale annual temperatures is not really correct."

And even if it didn't, it's one paper out of tens of thousands. You're grasping at straws.
posted by anthill at 1:05 PM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


So long as McKibben has the math right on the value and extent of the fossil reserves - and I have no reason to believe that he hasn't ...

He hasn't. He's relied on someone else to do it, but they haven't either. They've relied on other people to do it, who in turn have relied on proprietary sources of data, the accuracy of which I've no idea, but it's apparent at least that the stated oil reserves of all those middle-eastern countries were taken at face value which is just nonsense, and they account for a large fraction of the total for oil. Coal is even more notoriously difficult to get right than oil and accounts for a much larger share of the estimated reserves, so I'm going to guess it contributes even more inaccuracy.

But it makes no difference to his main points. There is also reserve growth to consider and whatever the real sum total of fossil fuels available might be, I think it's reasonable to guess that it's closer to 2795 than to 565.
posted by sfenders at 1:05 PM on July 19, 2012


And even if it didn't, it's one paper out of tens of thousands. You're grasping at straws.

And you'd also have to look at the frequency of high-energy weather events (weather system heat expressed in more energetic storm systems, for example) to get a meaningful picture for comparison.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:08 PM on July 19, 2012


Is there any way to believe that any possible thing or series of things I personally can do could combat this? I don't feel ready to just give up*. Really. Any way?

*which giving up includes "hoping" for a nuclear war or a global pandemic.
posted by davidjmcgee at 1:11 PM on July 19, 2012


I always thought coal was the real villain here. Oil at least is used in ways that sequester carbon, such as paint, plastics, furniture, duvets, pharmaceuticals, Kraft foods...
posted by KokuRyu at 1:12 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Kim Stanley Robinson's 2312 (my review) is a good read too."

Heh, I'm actually in the middle of that right now. Just started it two days ago. I thought of mentioning it because the depiction of the Earth is pretty gloomy (and you can obviously see some of its influence on my negativity in this thread now — not that what I wrote is substantially different from what I've thought for a long while now) but in many other respects it's post-post-apocalyptic and generally very utopian, in that particular niche combination technology/politically/economic sense that characterizes KSR and a few others.

I'm kind of ambivalent about it because, very much like Brin's Existence which I read a couple of weeks ago, I admire its ambition but also am annoyed by how much his reach exceeds his grasp and that he, like Brin, is way too impressed with and overestimates his scientific and technical acumen. Both sort of bludgeon their readers with technical detail that's intended to impress the reader as being authoritative — and I just can't decide what I think about this because while on the one hand I prefer my science fiction to have more reliable science in it rather than less reliable science, what ends up happening is that almost all of these authors just end up misleading their readers at a different level.

At least when it's obvious bullshit, you know it's obvious bullshit. But when it gives you QM and describes entanglement to explain ansibles and instantaneous communication, then people believe (as they have ever since EPR presented it as a reductio) that FTL communication has a valid scientific basis. That's just one example. And 2312 is filled to the brim with science of this kind.

It's especially problematic in the context of technologically utopian science-fiction because such SF influences, as it long has, its readers into swallowing a very naive and ahistorical view of the social and economic effects of technological progress.

KSR seems to be using the protagonist Swan as a foil for the reader to some degree, and I have some hope that part of the point of the book is to mock her self-indulgent naivete, a la Candide, but so far I see a strong thread in the book as a whole that validates Swan's intuitive belief that technologically solving the problem of material scarcity is equivalent to solving the problem of social inequality and related injustice. So far, the argument seems to be that Earth's problems could be solved technologically if it weren't for its pesky cultural entrenchment — but that's such a deceptive and ultimately anti-human view. I felt this way about his Mars trilogy, too, way back when, because it seemed to me like KSR has a view of human nature like a high-functioning autistic anarcho-libertarian. In this respect, KSR is only different from the long line of naive science-fiction techno-utopians with a fetish for engineering and Big Science in that he's politically leftish instead of rightish.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:17 PM on July 19, 2012


This is a long and deadly serious article written about probably the most important issue of our generation, by a man the Boston Globe described as "probably the nation's leading environmentalist"

Could people maybe fucking read it and write some actual thoughts about how to avert the worst global catastrophe in history, rather than post these bullshit comments? Please?


It's called "whistling past the graveyard," because what the fuck else can we do? I have one lousy, mostly useless vote in an ultra-red state full of people who think science is the devil and taxes are his tool and who will refuse to believe in climate change until the day acid rain eats their cars, and even then, even then, those assholes are gonna blame it on liberals, somehow.

I salute and appreciate the good work scientists are doing in documenting the atrocity. I hope that we discover some technologies that will mitigate the effects of climate change and oil depletion, and soon. But I can't do a damn thing about it otherwise except wait and see what happens. Like most of the world.
posted by emjaybee at 1:17 PM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oil at least is used in ways that sequester carbon, such as paint, plastics, furniture, duvets, pharmaceuticals, Kraft foods...

Aren't landfills (where some of these and other consumer goods generally end up) a large source of methane, a major greenhouse gas?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:19 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


We're all stuck in this situation and unable to do anything to change it and we don't really understand why. Time to get drunk.

summer sea-ice extent (possible shipping routes)
undiscovered deposits (probability of oil/gas field)
Greenland's government will soon distribute exploration licences for its icy offshore north-east, for which three or four big oil companies are expected to bid; yet according to Ake Rohlen, an Arctic-shipping expert, there is not enough commercial ice-breaking capacity available for even one of them to begin exploration...
-Iceberg twice Manhattan's size breaks off Greenland glacier
-Global drought is damaging crops; will have a destabilizing geopolitical effect [1,2,3]
-Elon Musk on Changing the Energy Sector

cf. "the continental US has already set temperature records for the warmest spring, largest seasonal departure from average, warmest year-to-date, and warmest 12-month period - all the hottest since records began in 1895"

viz. "The definitive NOAA-led U.S. climate impact report from 2010 warns of scorching 9 to 11°F warming over most of inland U.S. by 2090 with Kansas above 90°F some 120 days a year with 850 ppm. By 2090, it'll be above 90°F some 120 days a year in Kansas — more than the entire summer. Much of Florida and Texas will exceed 90°F half the days of the year. These won't be called heat waves anymore. It'll just be the 'normal' climate."
posted by kliuless at 1:19 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


> It's obviously a science problem, but it's also obvious that the solution isn't being blocked
> by science but by capital.

The IPCC and a great many other green and scientific organizations are in agreement that what must happen is a reduction of greenhouse gas generation to 20% of 1990 emissions levels by 2050. Policy makers just don't realise the scale of the changes needed to deliver the reductions required.

Emissions closely track energy use. Energy use closely tracks economic activity. To achieve that kind of target by reducing economic activity to 20% of 1990 levels obviously requires mass unemployment, world social turmoil, and starvation. Imagine, if you will, cutting away 80% of everything you own and everything you do (e.g., eating) that is ultimately made possible by the modern world's energy-use habits. To hope we can meet the target while not having mass unemployment, world social turmoil, and starvation you're not hoping for technical and conservation breakthroughs, you're hoping for miracles. You aren't going to get miracles.

Speaking just for greener-than-thou jfuller, I'm fine with meeting the target through mass unemployment, world social turmoil, and starvation. But real progress toward the target (if it happened, a big if) would have the effect of making the true cost of radical CO2 reduction a lot clearer than it now is, to a lot more people--clear as to how big a hit the world will have to take, and clear as to who will be hardest hit. Given that clarity I expect it will not just be the evil corporations owned by the evil 1% that suddenly discover they have big problems with the reduction.
posted by jfuller at 1:19 PM on July 19, 2012


maxwelton: "I cannot half or more of this thread is arguing over a typo ("-" instead of "^"). The article's author should come take a look in here, it's the global warming debate writ small."

You mean "I cannot believe half or more..."

Now I think I meta'd the hell out of it all.
posted by symbioid at 1:21 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


To hope we can meet the target while not having mass unemployment, world social turmoil, and starvation you're not hoping for technical and conservation breakthroughs, you're hoping for miracles. You aren't going to get miracles.

I don't think this is anymore true than it's true that Mitt Romney (for example) created economic value equivalent to his continuing six figure for those three years he so publicly did nothing at Bain capital. Our economies are more social in nature than wedded to real natural resources these days. If we up-end a lot of our bad old Economics-as-fact-of-nature assumptions, we can do better.

For instance, a 10 hour work week--less time spent working on an individual basis--could relieve some of that unemployment.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:25 PM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Aren't landfills (where some of these and other consumer goods generally end up) a large source of methane, a major greenhouse gas?

Actually, landfill operators tend to dislike the contemporary movement to remove plastic bottles from trash for recycling, and separating organics for composting. Why? Because trash is a great net-neutral way to generate electricity.

For example, drink bottles make excellent fuel for small-scale thermal plants - they burn at a high heat, and contain a lot of energy. By removing them, it means you can't easily burn trash for power.

On the organic side, many landfills now actually capture methane for small-scale electricity generation. It's pretty easy - stick a membrane over the trash pile, stick in some tubes to capture the methane, and burn it for electricity.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:27 PM on July 19, 2012


Good article, crap discussion (at least so far) in the blue. Not that I have anything to say to elevate it. I'm as gutted as the next person when it comes to forcing myself to think this logic through. So I understand the uneasy avoidance and the general angst and the looming panic.

What I do know is what makes this a little more tolerable, for me: getting my hands working on an urban solution. Off to the community garden.
posted by ecourbanist at 1:30 PM on July 19, 2012


For instance, a 10 hour work week--less time spent working on an individual basis--could relieve some of that unemployment.

That would just spread the unemployment around.

People are simply not going to comply with policies that make them materially less secure and/or poorer. You could be a dictator and tell everyone with a 40-hour-a-week job that they'll now be getting paid a quarter of what they used to, just to employ the ~8% of people without work, and they'd revolt.
posted by downing street memo at 1:31 PM on July 19, 2012


Maybe Nietzsche went mad because he understood the future:
“What I relate is the history of the next two centuries. I describe what
is coming, what can no longer come differently: the advent of nihilism.
This history can be related even now; for necessity itself is at work
here. This future speaks even now in a hundred signs, this destiny
announces itself everywhere; for this music of the future all ears are
cocked even now. For some time now, our whole European culture has been
moving as toward a catastrophe, with a tortured tension that is growing
from decade to decade: restlessly, violently, headlong, like a river
that wants to reach the end, that no longer reflects, that is afraid to
reflect.”
posted by perhapses at 1:31 PM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


I say, if you are going to dream, dream big: Geoengineering
posted by BeeDo at 1:33 PM on July 19, 2012


That would just spread the unemployment around.

How so? More individuals working fewer hours for the same compensation (since monetary value is more a set of social conventions and fictions than anything directly tied to reality) = more people employed, as long as we don't mind spending more for less work.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:34 PM on July 19, 2012


More individuals working fewer hours for the same compensation [...] more people employed, as long as we don't mind spending more for less work.

"First, assume a can opener."
posted by downing street memo at 1:36 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Less snarkily, money is an abstraction but value is not.
posted by downing street memo at 1:37 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is yet another voice echoing the same message, with some new details and quotes, that has been getting louder and louder from the leading experts over the past couple years. McKibben cites Copenhagen as the moment of failure, which is probably as good a date to put on it as any
"But what this shows is that so far the effects have been marginal." In fact, study after study predicts that carbon emissions will keep growing by roughly three percent a year – and at that rate, we'll blow through our 565-gigaton allowance in 16 years, around the time today's preschoolers will be graduating from high school. "The new data provide further evidence that the door to a two-degree trajectory is about to close,"
And yet another analogy to probable "science fiction" conditions as a result of our current trajectory. This really is it. It may be possible to whip up some magic self-replicating carbon sequestration tech at the last minute, but we're going to be making that effort against the backdrop of a collapsing society and ecosystem. That is the rapidly solidifying scientific consensus - the destruction of this planet's capability to support anything like life as we know it

The severe weather we're already beginning to see is the effect of carbon burned before most of us were alive. McKibben says we'd be on track to double the warming we've had so far even if we shut the entire economy off tomorrow, and the severe weather effects are going to be nonlinear relative to the warming

I think the most important thing this piece does is put credible estimates on just how close we are to the brink, and pointing out the impossibility of stopping without blowing a huge hole in the economy, something we now need to admit is necessary:
If you told Exxon or Lukoil that, in order to avoid wrecking the climate, they couldn't pump out their reserves, the value of their companies would plummet. John Fullerton, a former managing director at JP Morgan who now runs the Capital Institute, calculates that at today's market value, those 2,795 gigatons of carbon emissions are worth about $27 trillion. Which is to say, if you paid attention to the scientists and kept 80 percent of it underground, you'd be writing off $20 trillion in assets.
The fact that oil companies and governments are now making plans to expand arctic drilling as warming they're causing melts back the ice is just so exponentially, mind-numbingly beyond the suicidal idiocy of any decision the Easter Islanders ever made. Humans are dumber than yeast
posted by crayz at 1:37 PM on July 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


Good article, crap discussion (at least so far) in the blue. Not that I have anything to say to elevate it.

Well, thanks for stopping by and gracing us with your intellect!
posted by KokuRyu at 1:38 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Related to the discussion at large: "... not all weather events are created equal. When it comes to things like flood and droughts, most people seem to have accurately registered the recent trends in their area. But when the subject shifts to temperatures, the actual trends become irrelevant, and ideology and political beliefs shape how people perceive things."
posted by filthy light thief at 1:38 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Aren't landfills (where some of these and other consumer goods generally end up) a large source of methane, a major greenhouse gas?"

It's not the plastics that create the methane, anyway. There are biodegradable plastics, but they account for a small portion of petrochemical plastics that end up in landfills.

Methane is produced by anaerobic bacteria munching on food waste, paper, and other biodegradable stuff in a landfill. Methane is produced because landfills are buried, there's little or no oxygen, so it's anaerobic bacteria involved and they produce methane. When there's oxygen, then aerobic bacteria reduce the same stuff, only producing CO2 instead. Either way, it's carbon and greenhouse gases. But only with the petrochemical plastics does it matter because that stuff had been sequestered from the atmosphere until we dug it up. The other stuff's carbon came from the atmosphere in the first place (well, so did that in the petrochemicals, but not recently).
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:40 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm imagining a way of doing and thinking about economics/enterprise that's intentionally designed rather than left to chance here. Not central management, but new cultural axioms we would stipulate for the way we do business and reckon value that would place much more of a premium on the long term good of society. Which, you're right, is probably a fantasy.

And value is most certainly a cultural construct. Try convincing a four year old that a cup of black coffee has any economic value whatsoever and you'll see what I mean.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:41 PM on July 19, 2012


And yet battles have been fought to keep coffee supplies open!
posted by saulgoodman at 1:41 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is there any way to believe that any possible thing or series of things I personally can do could combat this? I don't feel ready to just give up*. Really. Any way?

Some things that you can do:

- Keep plants and trees
- Minimize your garbage profile
- Recycle as much as you can
- Limit your electricity usage and investigate renewable, sustainable, clean (non-nuclear) energy
- Insulate your home, install energy-saving windows
- For short trips, walk or bike instead of drive
- If your employer sponsors it, sign up for and use car-sharing and mass transit programs
- Teach your kids good energy and consumption habits
- Support politicians at all levels, from the top on down, who will actually do more than pay lip service to ecological ideals

Giving up is what climate change deniers and "job creator" pundits and politicians want, if they can't brainwash you into believing their nonsense, because giving up allows them to get away with maintaining the status quo. Whether the human species makes it through or not, we shouldn't let the bullies win without at least putting up a fight.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:42 PM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


And this: Iron fertilization.

Hopefully before someone jumps my case about it, I'm not trying to say "science will solve all our problems so don't make any changes. I'm just pointing out that there are things we can try, so it is good to be educated about it when it comes time to pull the voting handle. Or touch the voting touch screen, which is not nearly as exciting.
posted by BeeDo at 1:42 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I cannot half or more of this thread is arguing over a typo

Yeah, well, I could ignore that one, but just noticed this, right there in the fpp: "Yes, this coal and gas and oil is still technically in the soil." In the soil. Right.

And while we are complaining about the weather: I'm currently experiencing drought for the first time ever. I'm not a farmer, so I never really noticed whatever less-severe dryness has come and gone in the past. Some wells are running dry, my lawn is all crunchy and brown, the creek downstream of the local golf course is practically dry. There seem to be horseflies everywhere, perhaps the weather killed whatever normally eats them. It's getting apocalyptic out there. The heat wave was bad enough, it occurs to me that not having drinking water might be worse. Not that it's necessarily due to climate change, but it's the sort of thing climate change could do some day. Down with global temperatures.
posted by sfenders at 1:53 PM on July 19, 2012


$20 trillion? So my share is $3000? Super, I'll write a cheque. I'll even pick some guy in Rwanda and write a cheque for him too. Do we get dog tags or tattoos or RFID chips or whatever to show that we've paid? Great, whatever.

Now can we FIX THIS FUCKING PROBLEM please?
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:00 PM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Is this where I chime in with my half-baked analysis of the problem and a naive incomplete solution?

Part One: Too much carbon already up there... even if we quit everything now. (Yikes!)

Part Two: Who doesn't like trees?

Realistically, it is doom and gloom even at the extreme end of the emission-reduction spectrum (zero emissions NOW). Achieving even minor reductions in carbon dioxide emissions is something we, as a global population, have not demonstrated the will to implement. Maybe we are now stuck in a position where technological innovation is our only hope.

And it is kind of fun to imagine massive towers covered in artificial trees dotting the horizon(NIMBY, of course).
posted by bastionofsanity at 2:01 PM on July 19, 2012


There are three solutions to the problem of climate change.

1. Cut down all carbon emissions immediately to some low, low value (which might not be achievable given our incredible dependence on carbon emitting processes for large scale agriculture).

2. Hope that emerging technologies (sulfate distribution, iron fertilization, etc) can hold off warming. Personally, I see this as being as serious as the Futurama Ice Cube solution.

3. Entrenched monetary interests keep action against climate change from proceeding. Temperatures soar, large areas of agricultural land become unusable (drought, flooding, freezing, you name it). Large portions of the human population starve to death. Carbon levels slowly fall as a drastically reduced human population ekes out a living in what land is left livable.
posted by Slackermagee at 2:02 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


In my semi-informed opinion, it is far too late to stop run-away climate change.

We have tipped.

There is no going back.

Unfortunately, we have wasted at least two solid decades denying the truth instead of busting our asses preparing for erratic, powerful, destructive weather patterns.

Global humanity is up shit creek and we refuse to paddle.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:12 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is there any way to believe that any possible thing or series of things I personally can do could combat this? I don't feel ready to just give up*. Really. Any way?

If you're on the fence about being a parent, then don't have children, and support your friends and relatives who also decided to not have children. If you want to be a parent, adopt or foster. If you want biological children, have just one if you would've had two, or have two if you would've had three. Consider getting a vasectomy or Essure if you are done having kids. Make sure your kids have access to birth control and know how to avoid pregnancy. Don't pressure them to give you grandchildren. Lobby for good sexual education in the schools and support public clinics.

(I'm not trying to be pessimistic- Having children brings high carbon impact)
posted by castlebravo at 2:17 PM on July 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Stop eating meat, for example, and you have enough grains for everyone.

Good idea! Insulin resistance for all!
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:19 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Erm. Meat consumption has increased exponentially in the last 50 years, and only done so in a geographically specific fashion. We certainly have enough food to feed everyone, we're just feeding more and more of it to cows and pigs.
posted by mek at 2:22 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is so utterly depressing sitting here running through the various scenarios - Widespread adoption of fully-electric cars? Even putting aside the manufacturing issues, we have a huge spike in coal consumption to generate the electricity… Ok, but if solar cells get more and more effective, people could charge at home or at solar stations that don't draw from the grid… Ok, but we still need to manufacture these cells and the supporting architecture. And even if the wires just run from the roof to the driveway instead of across hundreds or thousands of miles, where's all this copper coming from? Etc. etc. etc, round and round it goes.

As much of a pipe dream as it may be, I guess I have to hope for technological innovation, because as remote as the solutions seem to be, the maddening part is just how much energy is right here, right now, all around us. The solar energy reaching the earth is what, something like 6000 times world energy consumption? It's incredible to ponder something so abundant that's so hard to harness in any sort of efficient, cost-effective and carbon-easing way.
posted by jalexei at 2:25 PM on July 19, 2012


If you want to be a parent, adopt or foster. If you want biological children, have just one if you would've had two, or have two if you would've had three.

Strangely enough, the biggest challenge facing China right now is the demographic transition caused by the single-child policy. That country is hooped.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:25 PM on July 19, 2012


Oil at least is used in ways that sequester carbon, such as paint, plastics, furniture, duvets, pharmaceuticals, Kraft foods..."

Thanks be given to our Velveeta Saviour.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:29 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


We are in the same position the cyanobacteria were 3.5 billion years ago when their oxygen-excreting ways began to spell their doom. Will we make the better choice? I'm guessing NO.
posted by Renoroc at 2:36 PM on July 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


Good timing on the article... Gwynne Dyer, whom I've referenced before (linked articles are germane to this discussion, btw...), has just (July.8) put out an article called Wild Weather... "You can’t prove that all this means we are sliding into a new and steadily worsening climate right now – that the long-threatened future has arrived. The statistics aren’t good enough to support that conclusion yet. But if you have to put your money down now, bet yes."

Oh, and five fresh fish: the recognised point of no return is 2C/4F. I believe we're slated to get there about 2040, and up to 4C/7.2F in 2060.
"Plus two degrees C is the point of no return (and every government has recognised it as such) because after that the additional warmth triggers natural processes that speed the warming. The permafrost melts and emits enormous amounts of greenhouse gases. The warming oceans lose their ability to absorb carbon dioxide. After that, just cutting human emissions won’t stop the warming." cite.
It's not irreversible. Yet.
posted by Zack_Replica at 2:44 PM on July 19, 2012


Is there any way to believe that any possible thing or series of things I personally can do could combat this? I don't feel ready to just give up*. Really. Any way?

You could vote/work for Jill Stein of the Green Party in this year's presidential election. She seems far more likely to effectively address the coming catastrophe than either candidate of the Wall Street party. From her People's State of the Union:

At the recent UN climate conference in South Africa, the Obama administration worked to delay international agreements on carbon emissions until 2020. This delay will allow critical climate tipping points to be passed that will accelerate warming to the point it cannot be controlled. As renown NASA scientist James Hanson puts it, delaying action to aggressively lower carbon would mean game over for the climate and therefore for civilization as we know it. For that reason the Green New Deal will address these problems with a World War II-scale mobilization to transform the way we produce and use energy. We will provide leadership along the way to binding international agreements that will return the carbon burden in our atmosphere to safe levels. We will proceed with utmost urgency, and put the United States 30 years ahead of the global curve. Let the rest of the world catch up with us!
posted by Karmadillo at 2:48 PM on July 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


My pet theory? We're surrounded by an advanced, enlightened, interplanetary society. We scare the shit out of them what with all the nuclear detonations, Hitler broadcasts, and dramatically changing the spectrography of our atmosphere over the course of 100 planetary revolutions, so they give Sol a wide berth.
posted by eurypteris at 3:08 PM on July 19, 2012


Persuasive (if you fall on the warming camp) or alarmist (if you err on the skeptic side) statistics do not "new math" make. There is no new modeling technique or even boundary/inequality theorem.

5.75 x 1011 tons = 2.4 x 1021 is mighty high though. Considering that the population of the earth is short of 1010, you get an average daily consumption per person on the order of 109 joules -- something like 103 american exceptionalist ounces-equivalent of oil.

This almost makes sense for, dunno, Arizona, but certainly not for Kinshasa. This is supposed to be an average; american standards are supposed to be over the top, not near the trendline!

I know I'm new to the place and already so smug, but can I be in charge of taking journalists to task for their sloppy reporting?
posted by syntaxfree at 3:19 PM on July 19, 2012


Oh dear god no. Voting Green is the way to feel clean. Which sounds great and all, but sometimes fixing things requires getting dirty. The best way as an American is to join the Democratic party and work to push it toward more environmentally responsible positions. I guess you could try joining the Republican party and pushing it toward more environmentally responsible positions... but, uh, good luck.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:35 PM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Considering that the population of the earth is short of 10^10, you get an average daily consumption per person...

The 565 gigaton figure is the amount of carbon all of human civilization can burn for the foreseeable future without committing the planet to an irreversible feedback loop of catastrophic warming. Thus, your math is nonsensical and you can not be in charge of taking journalists to task
posted by crayz at 3:39 PM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


> is the amount of carbon all of human civilization can burn for the foreseeable future

I thought it was gigatons of energy. My fup.

I still score for pointing out that appealing, simple numbers are not "new math". I'm waiting to see the irreversible feedback model. I know the model that Jay Forrester made for the Club of Rome in the 70s (triggering the "sustainability" fad), and it's interesting, just miscalibrated. Does not address climate at all, though -- until a political stink was made, it wasn't even clear whether the planet would freeze or fry...
posted by syntaxfree at 3:44 PM on July 19, 2012


Whether or not the feedback is irreversible is basically irrelevant, as the longer change is delayed the more expensive and harmful it will be when it is attempted. And if it's never attempted at all, well, that's effectively identical to being irreversible.
posted by mek at 3:46 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hey hey if you think I'm pedantically derailing this convo, skip this next bit because I'm finna pedant right up your butts, but this is NOT JUST A SIMPLE TYPO ISSUE.

1 x 10-99 is kind of obviously a typo, because it simplifies to 10-99=-89.

What is meant is almost certainly 1 x 10^-99.

BUT BUT BUT

THAT IS NOT A BIG NUMBER, LIKE THE NUMBER OF STARS IN THE UNIVERSE. IT IS A VERY SMALL NUMBER.

Everyone involved in editing this article looked at that sentence and said "oh wow looks scientific must be serious jeez."

Not a single one of them said "wait a minute, something's not right. OH, I see the obvious error, I shall fix it and inform the author."

Ergo, either none of them actually stopped to connect these digits to an actual numerical concept, in which case they are being intellectually lazy, or they failed to understand what those numbers mean, in which case they were insufficiently educated to interpret them.

Ergo they cannot be competent to edit and fact check the rest of the article.

This allows the reader to dismiss the arguments contained therein, and provides evidence to support the claim made by those people, whether malovelently self-serving or simply dumbos, that the media are creating a global warming panic that is fabricated.

Publishing this article thus hurts the cause of those who wish to combat AGW.

And if you are willing to brush this issue aside, and to say that it's an obvious mistake and can we just get to the sexy business of grinding up the nuggets of what kind of cinematic doomsungroman can you concoct, then you are part of the problem because you are ignoring an error that points to clear scientific incompetency on the part of the publishers. It's embarrassing. It's an obvious mistake. But you fix the obvious mistakes.

Questions. (1) Thomas, you're being supes dickish: what???
(A) Yes. Because numbers have meaning. You don't simply get to smear them into something to make it look smart. That is the kind of technique used by someone attempting deceit.

(2) T, you're just an internet weirdo. I'm sure the scientists who study this stuff will get it all sorted.

(A) have you ever watched television news. Do you know what the Republican party is. Have you seen naturalists' sketches of Sensenbrenner Americanus. You have to make your case airtight. You cannot lead with something that is so obviously wrong. This wasn't page twenty-nine, this was in paragraph 1.

(3) Are you making any friends with this diatribe?

(A) NO

(4) So?

(A) if, in my oral qualifiers, I had made this kind if mistake, I would have been expelled from my phd program. This is an article about the science of global warming. To show that your thoughts on the subject have merit, you must demonstrate an understanding of science and mathematics exceeding that of a fourth grader.

This is a bad article. The editorial team here is incompetent. I am certain the politics of an RS article on global climate change are quite likely congruent to my own -- but this article weakens my position, and poisons the discourse, because everyone who proofed this article for the web lacks basic scientific competency.

Shame.
posted by samofidelis at 3:53 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, I'm totally cool with being wrong. I'm tired and dyslexic and dumb. Please feel free to show me I got it backwards.
posted by samofidelis at 4:06 PM on July 19, 2012


The more and more I think about this, the more I wonder if something like this wouldn't put a dent in climate change:

Fossil fuel extraction - like the rest of the energy sector - is a capital-intense business. It is very, very expensive to exploit untapped coal, oil, or natural gas. As such, energy companies are dependent on access to capital markets to continue expanding their extraction efforts. And while it's expensive to fund new extraction ventures, generally investors are glad to do it since a good return is nearly guaranteed.

Those investors are other companies, by and large: financial firms, institutional investors like pension funds and university endowments, etc. These are the Job Creators Metafilter (with good reason) likes to mock. The trouble is, the Job Creators aren't as stupid and venal as a lot of lefties think. Yes, they are out to make money, but in general they operate in a superstructure just like everyone else: they have to keep making money to keep their jobs. In my experience, they generally believe in climate change, they see it affecting other parts of their portfolio; they're also not idiots with numbers and can make as much sense of articles like these as random internet people can. The trouble has always been the pressure on those investors to make money: why ditch a stock or bond with a near-guaranteed positive return? And so, short-term considerations overrule the far-off cost of climate change.

The problem is that energy firms generate positive returns in part because of the huge scale of capital available to them. They are able to turn profits (and influence politics) in part because so many people line up to invest their money with them. That creates a huge constituency of people naturally opposed to efforts to limit fossil fuel extraction.

By the same token, alternative energy has a the opposite problem: it's unsuccessful and doesn't operate at scale in part because investors see positive, guaranteed returns coming from fossil fuel companies, so why bother trying something new and untested? That gives it no political constituency, no lobbying clout, and most importantly no new capital for R&D. Then it has to rely on government largesse to innovate; that's a questionable pipeline of funds.

So, how about this: triggered divestment from fossil fuel companies. Go to the biggest shareholders of the biggest fossil fuel extractors and tell them, look: climate change is real (as you know), but we also know that you're on the hook for financial results every quarter. We know that the future of alternative energy is very uncertain and you're understandably wary about investing there. So sign this document that says, if more than half of the top 10 shareholders of Exxon (or whatever) agree to liquidate their holdings and move the money into a balanced fund of alternative energy and public transportation companies, you'll do it too.

That way, no one's sticking their neck out alone to invest in alt-energy; but if enough people do it, those companies will get a massive influx of capital that'll allow them to beef up all of their operations and make it much more likely their efforts will succeed. You also create a huge natural constituency and lobby for alternative energy, making it likely we'll get regulatory changes that benefit those companies (and also help slow global warming).

It would be a tough - but certainly not impossible - sell. The only issue I can think of is antitrust, and I know little about antitrust law. Any lawyers want to weigh in?
posted by downing street memo at 4:16 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Orrr... the original article was written and formatted correctly, fact-checked and vetted, and whatever processing they do to format the article for the web made a "-" out of a "^".
posted by LordSludge at 4:19 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


samofidelis, let's look at the sentence again.
That followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere – the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average, the odds of which occurring by simple chance were 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe.
I may be wrong, but maybe the real error is that there is no meaningful unit here. When he says/implies the "odds by simple chance are 3.7 x 10^-99" what does that mean? Is it a percentage? Does he mean "odds" as in "1 in a billion chance of winning the lottery?" You don't normally say "the odds are 0.58" or "the odds are 0.0003."

It looks like the number is written to express a percentage, like 0.00...0037%, but language like "odds of which occurring by simple chance" imply that it should be read like "1/x".

So in terms of percentage, it's a tiny number, but in terms of the usual expression of odds, it's a big number. You might respond to someone who says "I have a one in three million chance of winning" by saying "my, that's a tiny chance" but it wouldn't be wrong to say "that's a mighty big number," because it's the denominator that matters when you're talking about odds.

It seems like there isn't enough information here to know whether the number is too big or too small because it's not expressed in the correct way to begin with.
posted by swift at 4:19 PM on July 19, 2012


What is meant is almost certainly 1 x 10^-99.

That would be the bit you got wrong. 10^99, 10E99, 1099 is more likely what was meant. Or more precisely, odds against of 3.7 x 10^99 to 1.
posted by sfenders at 4:19 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


At any rate the slightest lick of common sense allows the sentence to be parsed properly.
posted by mek at 4:22 PM on July 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


That creates a huge constituency of people naturally opposed to efforts to limit fossil fuel extraction.

You know what creates an even larger mass of people opposed to those efforts? High prices at the gasoline pumps. Liquid fuels from oil are immensely popular because they are just amazingly good stuff.

Coal on the other hand, there are more practical alternatives that would work except for big money problems. End users wouldn't know the difference. Nuclear for instance isn't *that* much more expensive that people couldn't deal with it.
posted by sfenders at 4:25 PM on July 19, 2012


Hoo-boy.
1. Assume you believe there is no climate trend and furthermore that the baseline for monthly average temperatures over the last century is normal. This will be our null hypothesis, and that gives us 100 exemplars of each month, so we've got a good data set.
2. Temperatures fluctuate. The probability of any one month being above average under our null hypothesis is 1/2.
3. Our null hypothesis assumes no trend, so monthly temperature fluctuations should be independent. The probability of a string of 327 months being above average is thus (1/2)^372 = 3.7*10^-99
4. This is exactly how scientists and mathematicians represent probabilities, as a number between 0 and 1.
5. This number is ridiculously small. This indicates that our null hypothesis is almost certainly wrong, and thus that there is a climate trend.
6. Stop claiming that the article got the math wrong. It got it right.
posted by Humanzee at 4:33 PM on July 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


We are living a disaster movie.
posted by stbalbach at 4:33 PM on July 19, 2012


How about "turn off and walk away from your computer"? The global IT infrastructure (that brings you MetaFilter) is a major source of GHG.
Holy shit that's stunningly innumerate. A 13 watt laptop, or a 500mW tablet are supposed to be worse than a 100+kW car, or a 1.5kw Air conditioner?

Comments like that probably do more harm than good, just telling people the solution is to SACRAFICE whatever it is they like doing regardless of how much damage it actually does. Is by far the stupidest way to go about fixing the problem? Just like how idiotic conservatives love to blather about how hybrid cars and solar panels are the real greenhouse emitters.

Rather than focusing on the actual problems, there are tons of people obsessed with pushing this bizarre neo-puritanism where what really matters it that people just stop doing anything fun. The more fun it is, the more it needs to be stopped! Sure, a lack of insulation for the winter might be responsible for 1000x as much CO2 being emitted, but a lack of insulation isn't fun so it's much more important that people just stop surfing the web instead.

Because it isn't insulation for the winter, solar powered AC for the summer and Tesla Model X's to drive around in that people need. What they need is to SUFFER!!!!
...Do you have the math for that?
He gave as much math as you bothered to provide for your claims.
Emissions closely track energy use. Energy use closely tracks economic activity. To achieve that kind of target by reducing economic activity to 20% of 1990 levels obviously requires mass unemployment, world social turmoil, and starvation.
OMG IT'S OS OBVIOUS. CORRELATION IMPLIES CAUSATION, SO OBVIOUSLY IF WE ALL GET SOLAR PANELS AND INSULATION AND ELECTRIC CARS, PEOPLE WILL LOSE THEIR JOBS AND STARVE TO DEATH!!! THAT'S JUST LOGIC.
On the other hand, severe droughts that kill people in developing countries or raise food prices in developed ones, or epic flooding or wildfires that kills people and whipes out vast numbers of homes won't cause any economic problems at all. Again, that's just logic people.

Seriously. Many of the 'critics' of global warming mitigation seem to be completely unable to process basic math or understand the world at all.

IF the investment to mitigate global emissions were made, it would be profitable The cost of energy would go down, and the amount needed to warm your home in the winter or drive around would be greatly reduced.

The only problem is making the investment in the first place, and the lobbying dollars of the oil companies.
5.75 x 1011 tons = 2.4 x 1021 is mighty high though. Considering that the population of the earth is short of 1010, you get an average daily consumption per person on the order of 109 joules -- something like 103 american exceptionalist ounces-equivalent of oil.
You could just look up the annual energy consumption if you wanted too. Google helpfully measures it in kg/person/year. In 2008 it was about 1872 kg per person per year (yes, almost two metric tons). That comes out to about 5.2 kilograms per day, or about 182 ounces per day. That's less then the 1,000 you estimated

PROBABLY BECAUSE YOU USED THE ENERGY/TON OF TNT IN YOUR CALCULATIONS INSTEAD OF OIL.

Again, completely ridiculous math. It says TNT right on the wolfram alpha page you linked too.

posted by delmoi at 4:35 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I really shouldn't have read that article and this thread first thing in the morning.

It's a race, and we're all way behind. The only thing that can save us is, in short, renewable energy. Wind, solar, geothermal, etc etc*. Solar in particular is getting more and more efficient (thanks China and Germany). If we as a planet can focus on zero emission, renewable energy, I suppose we have a fighting chance. I might throw my hands up if it weren't for my young child, and it saddens me to no end to think the world he will inherit could be a waking nightmare.

*And "safe" thorium plants, but from what I understand the engineering isn't all there yet.
posted by zardoz at 4:35 PM on July 19, 2012


Hey hey if you think I'm pedantically derailing this convo, skip this next bit because I'm finna pedant right up your butts, but this is NOT JUST A SIMPLE TYPO ISSUE.
Yes, it's pedantic. He obviously meant that it was reciprocal the of a very large number. 1/x where is is the number of stars in the universe. "A number as small as the number of stars in the universe is large" or "One out of a number larger then the number of stars in the universe"

Instead of making the obvious correction in your head, you're just ranting about how he made a mistake and wasting everyone's time.
posted by delmoi at 4:38 PM on July 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


At any rate the slightest lick of common sense allows the sentence to be parsed properly.
posted by mek at 18:22 on 7/19
[+] [!]


So no one gives a shit that the editorial team lacks the slightest lick of common sense?

I didn't fine tooth this. I looked at the first paragraph, and then unsaid what the actual eff, this is backwards. That is not how you report about math. You can't get things wrong and say it's all fine.

Tell you what: my education was largely based on being able to approximate quantities, such that my back-of-the-envelope estimates would inform my choices about what phenomena I would reasonably be expected to be able to observe. Essentially, I got really good at Fermi problems. I submit to you I'm probably far better at applying one lick of sense to problems than you are because I know that numbers actually mean something.

I may be wrong, but maybe the real error is that there is no meaningful unit here. When he says/implies the "odds by simple chance are 3.7 x 10^-99" what does that mean? Is it a percentage? Does he mean "odds" as in "1 in a billion chance of winning the lottery?" You don't normally say "the odds are 0.58" or "the odds are 0.0003."

On the contrary, probability is expressed as a dimensionless number. Unity (1) denotes a certainty that some event shall occur. 0.5 indicates it is 50% likely to occur. Expressing a probability as 3.7 x 10^-99 is perfectly fine. That is fine by me. That is how most scientists would report a probability. But to say that this number is large is incorrect, as the exact opposite is true.

What is meant is almost certainly 1 x 10^-99.

That would be the bit you got wrong. 10^99, 10E99, 1099 is more likely what was meant. Or more precisely, odds against of 3.7 x 10^99 to 1.
posted by sfenders at 18:19 on 7/19
[+] [!]


The odds could also be represented as one in some other number; specifically, the inverse of the probability -- look at the next post I'm quoting for a response to that.

This is all from Humanzine, with my remarks in plain text interspersed:

Hoo-boy.
1. Assume you believe there is no climate trend and furthermore that the baseline for monthly average temperatures over the last century is normal. This will be our null hypothesis, and that gives us 100 exemplars of each month, so we've got a good data set.
2. Temperatures fluctuate. The probability of any one month being above average under our null hypothesis is 1/2.
3. Our null hypothesis assumes no trend, so monthly temperature fluctuations should be independent. The probability of a string of 327 months being above average is thus (1/2)^372 = 3.7*10^-99


Ok. Yes.


4. This is exactly how scientists and mathematicians represent probabilities, as a number between 0 and 1.


Again, absolutely correct.

5. This number is ridiculously small. This indicates that our null hypothesis is almost certainly wrong, and thus that there is a climate trend.


Sure. Yes.


6. Stop claiming that the article got the math wrong. It got it right.
posted by Humanzee at 18:33 on 7/19
[+] [!]


Did you read a single thing I wrote. No? Because. Y complaint is that this astonishingly small number was said to be an astronomically large number, comparable to the number of stars in the universe. His number is fine. But it is stupid to say that 10^-99 is a large number.

You might want to be more careful with your own scientific literacy, since you did not respond to my argument at all, and now your arrogance makes you look like a jerk.

Hey hey if you think I'm pedantically derailing this convo, skip this next bit because I'm finna pedant right up your butts, but this is NOT JUST A SIMPLE TYPO ISSUE.
Yes, it's pedantic. He obviously meant that it was reciprocal the of a very large number. 1/x where is is the number of stars in the universe. "A number as small as the number of stars in the universe is large" or "One out of a number larger then the number of stars in the universe"

Instead of making the obvious correction in your head, you're just ranting about how he made a mistake and wasting everyone's time.
posted by delmoi at 18:38 on 7/19
[+] [!]


What are editors and fact checkers for.
posted by samofidelis at 4:46 PM on July 19, 2012


You know what creates an even larger mass of people opposed to those efforts? High prices at the gasoline pumps. Liquid fuels from oil are immensely popular because they are just amazingly good stuff.

Coal on the other hand, there are more practical alternatives that would work except for big money problems. End users wouldn't know the difference. Nuclear for instance isn't *that* much more expensive that people couldn't deal with it.
In the US coal is already getting replaced by natural gas in the US. It's on pace to replace coal soon, which is good since it emitts less CO2 per useable kWh. The problem is that methane itself is a greenhouse gas, so if there are a lot of leaks, it could end up being worse. You can use natural gas in cars if you want.

Anyway, Nuclear is obsolete. Solar energy is already cheaper.
posted by delmoi at 4:47 PM on July 19, 2012


> everyone who proofed this article for the web lacks basic scientific competency.

It's Rolling Stone. Probably nobody proofed the article for the web.

> At any rate the slightest lick of common sense allows the sentence to be parsed properly.

Or edited properly.


The article's subhead, ...and that make clear who the real enemy is, is just as much Rolling stone rubbish as the garbled numbers. The enemy of effective action against warming is everybody. Some don't want to change the status quo because it's profitable. A great many others just have different priorities and don't agree the warming is the greatest challenge facing us. Exhibit A: remember the Rio+20 environmental summit (can't have forgotten about it already, can we? It was what, three weeks ago?) The Rio+20 "Outcome of the conference" document, The Future We Want, named eradicating poverty as its #1 issue and "the greatest global challenge facing the world today ." It didn't get around to listing climate change until item #25 on page three. That's not Exxon talking, that's the developing world.
posted by jfuller at 4:47 PM on July 19, 2012


Did you read a single thing I wrote. No?
I read the first paragraph where you said it mattered. I'm pointing out that it doesn't.
this astonishingly small number was said to be an astronomically large number ... But it is stupid to say that 10^-99 is a large number.
Yes, it was a minor error. Get over it.
What are editors and fact checkers for.
My guess is that an editor probably introduced this error, by trying to 'clean up' the language they likely simplified it and accidentally inverted the figure. They're almost certainly responsible for fucking up the superscript.

Again, it doesn't matter. It's obvious what he meant. It was probably an editor who messed it up, and even if it wasn't people make minor errors like this from time to time, and it doesn't impact his other calculations. Who cares?
posted by delmoi at 4:53 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


So dump a trillion dollars into making solar cells in poor areas.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:55 PM on July 19, 2012


Delmoi, you're being a prat. People who care about the integrity of scientific arguments care. Don't be condescending.
posted by samofidelis at 4:57 PM on July 19, 2012


The Future We Want, named eradicating poverty as its #1 issue and "the greatest global challenge facing the world today ." It didn't get around to listing climate change until item #25 on page three. That's not Exxon talking, that's the developing world.
Yes, what we need to eradicate poverty is global warming. Once droughts caused by global warming kill all the poor people, no more poverty!

The most ridiculous lie peddled by psudo-deniers is that somehow stopping climate change will negatively impact poor people, while globla warming somehow won't.
posted by delmoi at 4:57 PM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Poverty and climate change are not in opposition, they are inextricably linked. See the Climate Justice Project.
posted by mek at 4:59 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Delmoi, you're being a prat. People who care about the integrity of scientific arguments care. Don't be condescending.
What you're writing has nothing to do with scientific integrity. It was a minor error that only applies to the linguistic description of a particular number, not the calculation itself. People who know math will see the number and know what it means in the context of probability theory. People who don't know math wouldn't understand the probability figure anyway and understand the passage to mean extremely unlikely, which is still correct.

Again. It was a minor error, that should be fixed. But ranting about it here is really just a waste of everyone's time.
posted by delmoi at 5:03 PM on July 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


You might want to be more careful with your own scientific literacy, since you did not respond to my argument at all, and now your arrogance makes you look like a jerk.

Heh. The numbers argument was obviously directed at the numerous people saying the numbers were wrong. Your "number of stars" argument was in my opinion not worth responding to because you're obsessing over a minor miss-wording, a point already made repeatedly by other people. Sorry to be such an arrogant jerk, continue your humble and gracious discussion.
posted by Humanzee at 5:04 PM on July 19, 2012


"You can’t prove that all this means we are sliding into a new and steadily worsening climate right now – that the long-threatened future has arrived. The statistics aren’t good enough to support that conclusion yet. But if you have to put your money down now, bet yes."

The future really does seem to have arrived quicker than expected - the wild weather, the heat, all that stuff.

And food security. Apparently it's going to be a very bad crop year globally, and one can only guess what this means for the unstable regimes across the globe.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:10 PM on July 19, 2012


And food security. Apparently it's going to be a very bad crop year globally, and one can only guess what this means for the unstable regimes across the globe.
Well, if there's one "ray of sunshine" in all of this beleif in global warming in the US has spiked along with incidence of extreme heat-related events (wildfires, droughts, etc)

Apparently it's getting a little too obvious to deny these days.
posted by delmoi at 5:14 PM on July 19, 2012


samofidelis, you are a professional physicists (I assume) so these things matter, but good lord, do you think there is anyone at Rolling Stone who has your understanding? Most likely not. Write them an email, tell them the mistake, they will appreciate it, and good chance will correct the online edition. I have very often written to newspapers and magazines when I see an error in the field of my expertise and they do make corrections. People do make mistakes, quite often in fact. Be a good citizen and do something. But DON'T get pissy with them, don't tell them they are idiots and who the hell runs the place a bunch of monkeys etc etc .. they will ignore you.. be polite, tell them you enjoyed the article, and oh btw you are a physicists and understand math and noticed this error, thanks and have a nice day.
posted by stbalbach at 5:16 PM on July 19, 2012


In the US coal is already getting replaced by natural gas in the US. It's on pace to replace coal soon, which is good since it emitts less CO2 per useable kWh.

Soon? What gives you that impression? As I understand it the recent round of switching from coal to gas has been driven by some ridiculously low gas prices we've had the past few months. They cannot stay that low for any length of time. It was mostly just speculation that the US would run out of storage due to the recent excessive zeal of operators of drilling rigs, which thanks to the hot summer doesn't look like it's going to happen. In the longer run too many gas companies would go bust at prices this low. They're already cutting way back on the drilling. Besides which this kind of price differential in gas between the US and everywhere else is large enough that if people thought it was going to last, LNG export would happen soon as possible, which it probably will anyway. Never mind what would happen if due to peak oil people start switching en masse to CNG cars. So no, I suspect that coal will remain the less expensive and more abundant option even in the US, meaning that unless things change politically, it's not going anywhere.
posted by sfenders at 5:20 PM on July 19, 2012


[Few comments removed - if you have issues with a specific user, go to MetaTalk, don't turn this thread into an all vs everyone situation, it's deadly dull> Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 5:21 PM on July 19, 2012


Apart from the fact that delmoi is wrong about nuclear power, which will ultimately have to save us, I endorse everything he has said down here.

But I'm not about to get into the nukes VERSUS solar debate that delmoi would be willing to have, I have always said we'll need both, he's always said we don't need nukes, I've read everything he has to say on the matter, I wont go on beyond registering my firm disagreement on that point.

More broadly, beyond electricity and energy sources, the thing that really really has to happen is land use change. Eat less meat, eat seasonally, plant more trees, support sustainable forestry, don't support unsustainable forestry. Don't fly regularly (no really, your parents and grandparents could have fulfilling lives without jet planes, I assure you that you can too). Get solar panels. Insulate. Advocate, advocate, advocate.
posted by wilful at 5:22 PM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


I suspect that coal will remain the less expensive and more abundant option even in the US

This was true for a long time but in the past 5 years or so it really has changed. Not only cheaper NG, but stricter environmental regulations and cheaper alternative energy. There are still 400 legacy coal plants to be dealt with, coal is not dead, but it's not growing either, which is sort of like dead man walking.
posted by stbalbach at 5:51 PM on July 19, 2012


As the article makes explicit, there will be absolutely no self-regulatory action by any fossil fuel company or fossil-fuel dependent government to limit emissions. The supply side is completely the problem and will be nothing to do with the solution. Even gas, the 'transition fuel' beloved by those pretending to act responsibly, will cause too many emissions.

So the first thing that I think will be effective is managing the demand side, which ultimately relies on the collective actions of a society. Not only do you and your family need to reduce your emissions, you need to help create a culture where emissions are frowned upon. Do I have any advice as to how to engender this? no I don't, that's where I reckon we're rooted.

The other thing is regulatory action. Not everyone has to buy into limiting emissions, only enough for it to be electorally popular. However, given the deep flaws in democracy right now, particularly in the US which is ruled by lobbyist money (it's not much better in Australia), I can't see that happening any time soon.

So, holocaust prepping seems to be the thing.
posted by wilful at 6:06 PM on July 19, 2012


Twenty years ago, when I was getting my M.S. in Environmental Science, this was one of two 'all gonna die' issues. The other was ozone depletion, which was stabilized by a technical fix.

There is, on the bottom of the ocean, several times the energy contained in fossil fuels bound up in methane hydrates. While it is deep, it won't be difficult to get to. The 'ice crystals' that formed during the Deepwater Horizon fiasco were these hydrates, and the problem was if they came into the pumping stream, the hydrates would dissolve and an explosive gas bubble would accelerate up the pipe.

Point being, fossil fuels are the tip of the melting iceberg. The realism/cynicism here was not the case twenty years ago. There was an assumption we could regulate the problem, and that was overly optimistic. As long as there are rural areas with people, they will cook their food to free up calories and kill bacteria. This accounts for a lot of carbon dioxide, and cannot be politically controlled. People gonna eat.

I'll spare you a rant about Russia, and just say that, imo, Russia has gone all-in on global warming and considers that it will be a winner in a less-than-zero sum game.

The inputs to the system will not stop. Probably won't even come down, even if carbon use decreases per-capita. The only solution is to increase the outputs of the system, and at this point that means photosynthesis. The technical solution will probably start there.

I use 'will' as opposed to 'may' or 'must'. Because we are a clever species, and we have a warning precedent. The oxygen we breathe was farted out by anaerobic organisms that polluted the air with that oxygen. They mostly died off; the mitochondria in every cell on the planet may be an adapted version of these critters.

So (again imo) we will find the alchemy of the solution, with the shit-to-gold methodology of taking this pollutant and turning it into a product. Maybe something like 'wood'.

Sooner would be better.
posted by dragonsi55 at 6:12 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Those methane hydrates represent one of our greatest current risks. They are sensitive to temperature. It is a short step from melting hydrates—already happening in the arctic!—to runaway global warming.

The solution requires the end of western standards of living. That ain't gonna happen until after the environment forces our collapse. No point in panicking.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:39 PM on July 19, 2012


samofidelis: "People who care about the integrity of scientific arguments care. Don't be condescending."

It's the fucking Rolling Stone, not a scientific journal. And it's the web page, not even the print issue.
posted by wierdo at 7:02 PM on July 19, 2012


Soon? What gives you that impression?
actual real world data, as opposed to randomly guessing like most people seem to do.

Coal and natural gas were nearly even at the start of this year (around 47% to 53%), whereas in 2005 it was more like 27% vs 68%. You can read those numbers off the chart, and looking at the trends it's likely natural gas has already surpassed coal.
Don't fly regularly (no really, your parents and grandparents could have fulfilling lives without jet planes
Elon Musk, the guy behind Tesla And SpaceX believes electric air travel is possible. In fact supersonic electric air travel, with VTOL thrown in for good measure. According to him, if you go up to, say 80,000 feet air resistance is actually much lower, so airplanes are much more energy efficient. But the problem is that jet engines don't have enough oxygen at those heights to work. But, if you use an electric powered fan rather than a jet engine, the math does work out.
The solution requires the end of western standards of living. That ain't gonna happen until after the environment forces our collapse. No point in panicking.
God this is sooo ridiculous. Do the math for ten seconds and you can see that past the initial investment, quality of life goes up because energy is cheaper in the long run and you can do more with the same stuff. Imagine someone who struggles to pay for home heating fuel in the winter or leaves the thermostat high in the summer because they can't afford power costs, and struggles with gas costs.

If they install solar panels and good insulation they'll have all the energy they need for AC in the summer (Because it's the sun that heats up their home, power will cost less on hot, sunny days). They'll pay far less to charge their car then they currently do and in the winter time they'll barely need any energy if their home is insulated (if you build to passive house standards you don't need heating at all, as humans and appliances provide all the heating needed during the winter -- supposedly)

And, if Elon Musk is right about his electric airplanes, then we might not only still be able to fly around, but actually travel the world more quickly. The Solar Impulse airplane actually carries enough batteries and solar panels that it can fly indefinitely, collecting sunlight in the day and flying on batteries at night. It's flown for 24 hours straight.

Once you're over the initial hump of building all this stuff, you have practically free energy indefinitely. You just have to pay to replace any broken or worn out components.

(There's also the possibility of 'hot' fusion power at some point)
posted by delmoi at 7:11 PM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


what we REEEALLY need is something like "power USB" where the utility companies are required to install a "power input box" on the electric meters and the customer is free to plug in whatever solar or wind powered option they choose and daisy chain them together using a simple, standard(!) plug-and-play system. the whole solar initiative needs to be a lot more user friendly...panels you can pick up at the hardware store (IKEA?) and install yourself easily.
posted by sexyrobot at 7:50 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thank you Stbalbach, that was an excellent piece. I have so much respect for McKibben, he's been fighting the good fight for decades. I really like how he calls out the evil that oils companies are perpetuating in this piece. They make Phillip Morris et al look like frigging UNICEF. Those companies are idiots; change will come - whether in time or no - and the public will be baying for blood. Unfortunately most of our pissant politicians who had an opportunity to make meaningful change will be dead by then, but those companies will be around, and they will have a black mark of neutron star proportions.
posted by smoke at 8:32 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's an interesting article. He sums up the situation well, but his proposal for what we need to do next isn't realistic. Sorry, but I'm not going to sign up for a war against the energy companies. The time to do that was ten or even twenty years ago, before China and India became hyperindustrialized. Before people in the developed world got used to the current amount of change, and decided they didn't need to worry about the future.

This is an engineering problem now, and what we should be spending political capital on is forcing the oil companies to spend a significant percentage of their profits on research. We should be spending billions of dollars a year on figuring out how to remove that carbon from the atmosphere. Do it with a carbon tax or whatever, but do it now.
posted by Kevin Street at 8:44 PM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sexyrobot, any level of solar or wind power that actually matters requires a very significant engineering effort to ensure basic safety. There's a reason grid tie isn't a DIY project.
posted by odinsdream at 9:11 PM on July 19, 2012


"Once you're over the initial hump of building all this stuff, you have practically free energy indefinitely. You just have to pay to replace any broken or worn out components."

God I wish I lived with this kind of optimism.
posted by incessant at 9:13 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Released this week by the EC TRENDS IN GLOBAL CO2 EMISSIONS [.pdf]. China emits 29% of emissions, rising 9% last year alone and 150% in a decade, to 7.2 tonnes per capita, or the same as some european countries. Australia is now the most polluting OECD country per capita, having overtaken the US.
posted by wilful at 9:23 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


So (again imo) we will find the alchemy of the solution, with the shit-to-gold methodology of taking this pollutant and turning it into a product. Maybe something like 'wood'.

Genetically engineered super-trees?
posted by infinitywaltz at 9:38 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can read those numbers off the chart, and looking at the trends it's likely natural gas has already surpassed coal.

It did so last month I think, but like I said this year's data is heavily influenced by factors that won't last. If you discount the insanity of 2012 and assume things revert to the trends as on that chart, gas would surpass coal "for real", on a long-term sustainable basis, in maybe 10 years or so. How long before it replaces say half of the generation that currently comes from coal? Well it never would if the longer-term trend continued. That chart is showing share of a market that's been growing in size, so despite the downward slope you see, the 1990-2011 trend for coal was actually up slightly.

That will change, one hopes, thanks to the stuff stbalbach mentioned. But that chart is not useful in predicting the rate at which it will happen.
posted by sfenders at 10:05 PM on July 19, 2012


People think about future [climate] change, but actually the change that has happened already is so big

The ‘climate envelopes’ that sustain those ecosystems have migrated — often to the north, sometimes to the east, and even up barren mountainsides — by 23 per cent from their boundaries in 1970, according to projections.

The researchers, who are from the University of B.C. and the B.C. and Canadian forest services, said that they did not expect a 23 per cent average shift to emerge until the 2020s.

“The magnitude of this change was surprising,” they wrote in recent paper titled Projecting Future distributions of ecosystem climate niches. The study focused on vegetation, not fauna.

posted by KokuRyu at 10:05 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


downingstreetmemo: The only issue I can think of is antitrust

Well, the only issue I can think of is: renewable energy is prolific but diffuse; industrial civilisation requires energy which is prolific but concentrated; upgrading diffuse energy into concentrated energy requires concentrated energy; our stock of concentrated energy (affordable formats of high EROEI hydrocarbons) just went on depletion. So there is no viable renewable energy technology to invest in.

Other than that, it's a good plan.
posted by falcon at 10:54 PM on July 19, 2012


Self-immolation used to be a good way to protest -- but I think if I lit myself on fire in the street tomorrow, people might think I was just trying to beat the rush.
posted by sarastro at 11:31 PM on July 19, 2012


what we REEEALLY need is something like "power USB" where the utility companies are required to install a "power input box" on the electric meters and the customer is free to plug in whatever solar or wind powered option they choose and daisy chain them together using a simple, standard(!) plug-and-play system. the whole solar initiative needs to be a lot more user friendly...panels you can pick up at the hardware store (IKEA?) and install yourself easily.
That's basically all you have to do now. Buy a solar panel, buy an inverter. plug it into a wall socket. If you have an old-style 'dumb' meter it will actually run backwards. That's it.
posted by delmoi at 11:39 PM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, the terrible thing is that many new "smart" meters will not credit you for power fed back to the grid. I believe some do, and there's no reason they all can't, but a lot just don't bother.
posted by mek at 11:40 PM on July 19, 2012


Well, the only issue I can think of is: renewable energy is prolific but diffuse; industrial civilisation requires energy which is prolific but concentrated; upgrading diffuse energy into concentrated energy requires concentrated energy;
This is what happens when you substitute metaphorical thinking "diffuse" vs "concentrated" for actual thinking. You come up with completely incomprehensible nonsense. All you need to 'concentrate' electricity is an electrical grid. Huge factories have no trouble running on power from the grid, and there's no problem wiring solar panels up to the grid either.
posted by delmoi at 11:44 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is what happens when you substitute metaphorical thinking "diffuse" vs "concentrated" for actual thinking.

This is what happens when you substitute magic thinking for a basic knowledge of thermodynamics and the structure of the hydrocarbon powered global industrial manufacturing system your "huge factories" and "electrical grid" are the product of.

The electricity that powered the factory which built the axle for the truck that mined the ore for the structural steel in the industrial oxygen plant that made the oxygen for the smelting factory for the metal in the boat that shipped the silicon to the plant that fabricated the PV cell ... was generated from hydrocarbon. As were all the thousands of processes comprising the manufacturing process, down to making the food for the factory workers. The minute you attempted to plug the global industrial manufacturing system into the output of a solar array, you'd blow the array's fuse. And remember - the goal is not to generate enough power to sustain the manufacturing system - it is to generate so much surplus power after having achieved that colossal task to power industrial society.

The positive EROEIs that you see reported for various renewable technologies look positive because they start with: "Assume the existence of a hydrocarbon powered industrial manufacturing system: the EROEI for X is Y". It's an illusion. Drop the assumption, and the EROIE is (very) negative. I'm sorry to be the one to break the news to you.
posted by falcon at 4:08 AM on July 20, 2012


If we knew there was a superpower with a technology able to destroy the world 6x over, wouldn't we do something to counter that technology AND that superpower?

Well, we know.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:35 AM on July 20, 2012


Total bummer. Makes me wanna hop in my SUV and head over to the mall to buy some Chinese shit.
posted by nowhere man at 6:01 AM on July 20, 2012


Delmoi: This is what happens when you substitute metaphorical thinking "diffuse" vs "concentrated" for actual thinking. You come up with completely incomprehensible nonsense. All you need to 'concentrate' electricity is an electrical grid. Huge factories have no trouble running on power from the grid, and there's no problem wiring solar panels up to the grid either.

Dude, you're going to make me exhaust my quota of positive flags. Knock it off for a while, eh?

But Seriously, Folks: I think Delmoi's mostly got the reason down for why most people have this confusion, but there's another factor, and that's that there really is a reason why we've privileged centralized sources: they fit better into the economic ecosystem that was developing at the time that the power grid was evolving. That economic system favored the concentration of capital in pursuit of efficiency. And it might have been a good thing, because it's only relatively recently that we've had distributed technologies that would pollute less than the centralized tech.
posted by lodurr at 6:12 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


From the article: "the iconic twisty light bulb has been installed by the millions, but so have a new generation of energy-sucking flatscreen TVs"

Compared to what we had, they sip energy at 32% of the rate of those old CRTs we ran...

Good article otherwise. Just a data point, carry on.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 6:14 AM on July 20, 2012


Important data point; I do think we need to not ignore the enablement factor, though. Energy-saving technology may well have done more to enable us to sell more technology than it has yielded net savings of energy.

I.e., it's not enough to build technology that uses less energy. We have to then actually use less energy.

Also, the "energy sucking flatscreen TVs" bit may be derived from mis-appropriating an emerging concern about digital photo frames. Not TVs, obviously, but their energy use is probably similar to that of a TV at the same size.
posted by lodurr at 6:19 AM on July 20, 2012


Or really rather "miscommunication of" the emerging concern.
posted by lodurr at 6:21 AM on July 20, 2012


Yes, it's far too late. But I don't know why that's depressing? We've known this, always, correct? Humans, as has been said, are a blip. It's not sad, it just is.
posted by agregoli at 6:27 AM on July 20, 2012


With all due respect, the "humans are a blip" perspective -- while it makes some sense -- implies no moral imperative. Whereas the "we're humans and we're going to try to live" perspective, does.
posted by lodurr at 7:05 AM on July 20, 2012


What moral imperative?
posted by agregoli at 7:25 AM on July 20, 2012


Beings which have a drive to keep on living have an implicit moral imperative to keep on living.
posted by lodurr at 7:30 AM on July 20, 2012


re: diffuse energy

Sustainable Energy - without the hot air

This book supports the position about diffuse energy and renewables alone are not enough (for England anyway). To power England, for example, at current rates using solar power would require all of Wales to be covered in solar panels. It's not practical. Maybe it is in the USA in the deserts, if you ignore environmental problems and build the transmission lines. Maybe it is in Europe if you build country-sized solar plants in the Sahara and massive transmission lines underneath the Med. There are roofs of course, but they won't power factories and other things that need huge amounts of power. Of course wind would add a lot. Anyway, a combination of multiple renewables would go a long way but according to the calculations in "without hot hair", it would not be enough, practically speaking, due to the diffuse nature of renewables and practical limitations.
posted by stbalbach at 7:32 AM on July 20, 2012


I guess I don't know why desire to live involves morality. Regardless, desire to live isn't enough. We can't control the fact that humankind will die out. The only question is when. People (not you) seem unable to accept this.
posted by agregoli at 7:32 AM on July 20, 2012


Well, how would 'accepting it' change the discussion?

One way that it could change the discussion (this is the way that I most commonly see people assuming it will affect things) is that we would then behave more responsibly toward the planet, knowing that it's going to go on after us -- we'll take ourselves less seriously.

Another way it could change the discussion is to lead people to smoke & drink & burn bunker fuel all they want because it doesn't matter, we're in the age of lead, it's all going to end anyway so why care about making anything "better"? You can see variations on this idea around you every day, writ large and small -- e.g., a variant of this thinking is a major component of the dominant strain of christian millenialist doctrine. (There it's usually couched as "God gave us this to use as we see fit," but that usually manifests as 'it doesn't matter whether we pollute because God will be taking us home soon.')

Whereas 'not-accepting' has a whole different set of consequences.

The larger point is that humanity's tenure in the universe is finite. Most people here get that. Most people in the world will never accept that. They have finite lives, and they don't want to accept that either. (And how much do we, even, really, even when we feel like we're enlightened about it?) None of that changes the fact that we want to live, and we want our children to live, and our children's children. That's what life does, at least on the Terran plan.
posted by lodurr at 7:48 AM on July 20, 2012


There are roofs of course, but they won't power factories and other things that need huge amounts of power.

... which is why you use all of them you can get and pump their energy back into the grid, where, as delmoi pointed out, the factories can draw on their contribution....

Really I've been hearing this "it would take covering all of [Wales / Texas / Saudi Arabia / etc.] with solar panels to do x" since the 70s, and it's a major red herring. Virtually every "alternative energy won't work because it can't replace [coal / gas / nuclear / etc.]" objection that I've read assumes a single alternative energy generation technology and no serious conservation, and usually also assumes current or conservative efficiency metrics and bad grids.

If the point is to argue that we need more radical conservation, then I think it's much more fruitful to start there than to expend effort up front discrediting measures we'll absolutely need to be taking anyway.

...Without the Hot Air may well be fully well-intentioned, but stuff like that book in my experience mostly gets used to justify hopelessness. Hopelessness is not a useful starting point.
posted by lodurr at 7:56 AM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Without the Hot Air is probably one of the most objective and well respected works on this subject. It's quite famous actually. As for "justifying hopelessness", huh?
posted by stbalbach at 9:39 AM on July 20, 2012


Here's a nice rebuttal. McKibbon is crazy, imo.

http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/07/19/climate-craziness-and-quote-of-the-week-bill-mckibben-suggests-we-can-change-physics/#more-67803
posted by GrooveJedi at 10:09 AM on July 20, 2012


Your rebuttal hinges on interpreting "this industry, and this industry alone, holds the power to change the physics and chemistry of our planet , and they’re planning to use it.".

The quote doesn't mention the "laws" of physics; that word was inserted in there by the rebutt-er. It's pretty clear he's talking about the overall behavior of the system.
posted by Jpfed at 10:20 AM on July 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


(It's also not really a rebuttal; it's just kind of pointing and laughing)
posted by Jpfed at 10:21 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


As for "justifying hopelessness", huh?

If an argument basically amounts to "there's no point in doing x because it alone won't solve problem y," that argument can be used to justify doing nothing -- i.e., the situation is hopeless.

"Rationalizing inaction" would have been a better term for me to use.

I see this kind of pooh-poohing of alternative energy sources all the time.

Also, my point (as I noted) had nothing to do with how good or well intentioned the book is. Those things are irrelevant if it gets used to rationalize inaction.
posted by lodurr at 10:21 AM on July 20, 2012


Anyway, a combination of multiple renewables would go a long way but according to the calculations in "without hot hair", it would not be enough, practically speaking, due to the diffuse nature of renewables and practical limitations.

I would recommend reading the last page of the book, to the very end. Spoiler: the book does not seem to be quite so pessimistic at all.
posted by romanb at 10:33 AM on July 20, 2012


Rightwing US thinktank uses FoI laws to pursue climate scientists: American Tradition Institute seeks the release of emails with journalists to find details that could be used to discredit science
posted by homunculus at 12:02 PM on July 20, 2012


Climategate detective: 'I'm deeply disappointed' we didn't catch hacker. Norfolk police's Julian Gregory explains why investigation into the University of East Anglia's hacked emails was so complex
posted by homunculus at 12:03 PM on July 20, 2012


lord, that's frustrating. they are right, though, that we should have been prepared for the tool to cut both ways. (or: a dull knife in the hands of an idiot is still a knife.)
posted by lodurr at 12:16 PM on July 20, 2012


btw amory lovins, who briefly addressed musk (and venter and kamen), presents a ~40-year energy plan, i.e. just by harvesting low-hanging fruit, e.g. thru carbon fiber/electric/car sharing/driverless vehicles/fleets, energy conservation/productivity/efficiency in buildings/factories & smart grids, cf. the decarbonization macro-trend & reinventing fire, viz. blueprint to the new energy era
posted by kliuless at 12:24 PM on July 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


speaking of 'low hanging fruit', otoh, natural gas...

Climate change stunner: USA leads world in CO2 cuts since 2006 - "Every year the International Energy Agency (IEA) calculates humanity's CO2 pollution from burning fossil fuels... As the IEA highlighted: 'US emissions have now fallen by 430 Mt (7.7%) since 2006, the largest reduction of all countries or regions. This development has arisen from lower oil use in the transport sector... and a substantial shift from coal to gas in the power sector.' How big is a cut of 430 million tonnes of CO2? ...it's equal to eliminating the combined emissions of ten western states: Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah and Nevada."

Natural gas reserves - "The International Energy Agency (IEA) reckons global gas demand will increase by more than half between 2010 and 2035, and unconventional gas will make up 32% of the total supply, up from 14% today. While Russia and the Middle East hold the largest reserves of conventional gas, available sources of unconventional gas are spread across the world, and can be found in countries that are currently net importers."

PetroChina pipeline turns on gas supply - "Turkmenistan has transported more than 30 billion cubic meters of natural gas to China in more than 900 days using the Central Asia-China Pipeline, an amount making up a fifth of the gas China used last year... China is also in talks with Russia to import 68 bcm of gas a year using two pipelines."

Australia LNG expansion as Japanese demand grows - "The producers in the northwest of Australia are benefiting from Japan's focus on security of supply — which means it favours conventional gas projects in stable countries — and Japanese gas specifications that call for higher energy contents than those provided by coal-seam or shale gas. In the next three months, Japan is to release a revised energy plan to replace a 2010 one that called for 50 per cent of the nation's power to be nuclear by 2035."
posted by kliuless at 12:44 PM on July 20, 2012


romanb: "I would recommend reading the last page of the book, to the very end. Spoiler: the book does not seem to be quite so pessimistic at all."

Oh I've read the entire book, carefully. He does present scenarios to make renewables work. Of course he ends the book on an optimistic note since he put forward solutions, but look carefully at those solutions, what would be required not just for England but other countries too to implement those solutions. And the consequences, in particular in context of this thread, since it would mean basically destroying the world's oil companies, 20 trillion dollars in wealth.

I'm not against renewables, I support it 100% and cheer with every new growth year. It's easy to be optimistic and hopeful but I think what happens is when optimistic people are disappointed over and over, they become misanthropic. They see conspiracy and sort of give up and hope for a big die off to solve the problem, their position goes nuclear so to speak.
posted by stbalbach at 1:43 PM on July 20, 2012


All those people who think we are fucked and we should stop having children or whatever should keep this in mind:

Climate change stunner: USA leads world in CO2 cuts since 2006 - "Every year the International Energy Agency (IEA) calculates humanity's CO2 pollution from burning fossil fuels... As the IEA highlighted: 'US emissions have now fallen by 430 Mt (7.7%) since 2006, the largest reduction of all countries or regions.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:59 PM on July 20, 2012


lodurr: But Seriously, Folks: I think Delmoi's mostly got the reason down for why most people have this confusion

In his apparent lack of awareness of high school physics (which you seem to share), Delmoi is labouring under the misapprehension that "diffuse" and "concentrated" are metaphors.

In fact, they are core concepts in thermodynamics and, for reasons which are hardwired into the laws of the universe, converting energy from diffuse form (in the thermodynamic, not metaphoric sense) to concentrated is highly inefficient. That inefficiency is currently masked by our temporary stock of highly concentrated (in the thermodynamic, not metaphorical sense) hydrocarbon fuels. The concentration process is EROIE negative after fully accounting for the manufacturing process with which it cannot dispense, and so it cannot power itself.

The confusion is delmoi's, and is rather akin to the rich kid who imagines his $500 a month hobby bar job income pays for his lifestyle, forgetting daddy's $10,000 a month deposit into his bank account.

Meanwhile, in the Hot Air speculation above, note that MacKay is only estimating whether Britain can service its energy demand requirement from its physical resource assets (sunshine, wave power, land area, etc.). He (like all such speculation) is neglecting the resource requirements of manufacturing the necessary energy up-convertors (solar panels, wind turbines, etc.) themselves, which he implicitly assumes we will import, and even then concludes that the UK does not have enough land to sustain itself (he is more candid in private about the political necessity of producing an optimistic conclusion to his book).

So you cannot scale his conclusions up to global level, unless you posit importing the up-convertors from, say, Mars.
posted by falcon at 2:13 AM on July 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


In his apparent lack of awareness of high school physics (which you seem to share), Delmoi is labouring under the misapprehension that "diffuse" and "concentrated" are metaphors.

In an apparent failure of attention or lack of reading comprehension, falcon has failed to notice that "diffuse" and "concentrated" are commonly used -- inaccurately -- as terms to describe the concentration with which energy is injected into the grid.
posted by lodurr at 2:58 AM on July 21, 2012


All those people who think we are fucked and we should stop having children or whatever should keep this in mind...

U.S. leads the world in cutting CO2 emissions — so why aren't we talking about it? - "America's modest progress to date still leaves the world on a pathway to climate catastrophe." (via; baez also notes - "Worldwide, carbon emissions hit a new record last year: 34 billion gigatonnes. In China, average emissions went up 9%, reaching per capita levels comparable to many EU countries at 7.2 tonnes per person. And the US is still emitting at a whopping 17.3 tonnes per person. But we'll take our glimmerings of hope where we can find them," with another commenter adding, "once USA gets down from 17.3 to 7.2 then you'll have something to talk about. You're late to the party and it's easy to make reductions at the start, there'll be plenty more low hanging fruit for you over the coming years.")
posted by kliuless at 10:01 AM on July 21, 2012


In an apparent failure of attention or lack of reading comprehension, falcon has failed to notice that "diffuse" and "concentrated" are commonly used -- inaccurately -- as terms to describe the concentration with which energy is injected into the grid.

I see. Something like (a) some people who use the terms "diffuse" and "concentrated" are talking in metaphorical terms about injecting energy into the grid (b) falcon used the terms "diffuse" and "concentrated" therefore (c) falcon is talking in metaphorical terms about infecting energy into the grid?

A fallacy of reasoning called "affirming the consequent", and an invalid argument. "Commonly", but not "exclusively". Meanwhile, my criticism of your position remains unanswered.
posted by falcon at 1:41 AM on July 22, 2012


Actually what's going on is a fallacy of argumentation, but I'm on the fence as to whether it's a strawman or an inverse trollope ploy: assuming, presumably for the purpose of counting coup, that we're idiots and couldn't possibly be talking about the fact that people are using the term inappropriately. But hey, knock yourself out.
posted by lodurr at 10:04 AM on July 22, 2012


Where’s our climate change safety net? The only thing standing between us and a climate-change-driven dust bowl is a hated government safety net
posted by homunculus at 11:03 AM on July 22, 2012


lodurr - misdirection. My criticism of your position remains unanswered and, we must assume, is unanswerable.
posted by falcon at 2:33 PM on July 22, 2012


"We"?
posted by maxwelton at 3:10 PM on July 22, 2012


Hey, falcon, guess what: I'm not here to play debating games. You didn't understand the posts you were responding to. Deal with it.
posted by lodurr at 4:50 PM on July 22, 2012


[falcoln/lodurr, you're done here right? Please either be done here or try to talk about something on topic. Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 5:21 PM on July 22, 2012


US drought could trigger repeat of global food crisis, experts warn: As the mid-west bakes and food prices soar, threats of a ripple effect in the Middle East could lead to more uprisings
posted by homunculus at 5:18 PM on July 23, 2012


This is what happens when you substitute magic thinking for a basic knowledge of thermodynamics and the structure of the hydrocarbon powered global industrial manufacturing system your "huge factories" and "electrical grid" are the product of.

The electricity that powered the factory which built the axle for the truck that mined the ore for the structural steel in the industrial oxygen plant that made the oxygen for the smelting factory for the metal in the boat that shipped the silicon to the plant that fabricated the PV cell ... was generated from hydrocarbon. As were all the thousands of processes comprising the manufacturing process, down to making the food for the factory workers.
There wasn't a single number in any of that. You're arguing that something isn't mathematically possible without using a single number. Not even one. If that's not proof of metaphorical, as opposed to actual thinking I don't know what is.

If you knew anything about "thermodynamics" you would know it has nothing to do with this because the earth is not a closed thermodynamic system. The solar system as a whole is close enough to one, but the sun is a huge thermodynamic input. In fact, obviously, all energy other than geothermal and nuclear (and I guess tidal) is due to energy absorbed from the sun by the earth.

Anyway, this bit is especially hilarious:
The minute you attempted to plug the global industrial manufacturing system into the output of a solar array, you'd blow the array's fuse.
A fuse blows when the current is too high. Not when it's too low.V = I*R. The more power something uses, the lower its resistance. If the resistance is too low, the voltage drops, and the thing won't do what it's supposed to do. It won't blow a fuse. It's funny that you mentioned "highschool physics" because this is literally something they teach you in highschool physics.

It's a perfict example of 'metaphorical' thinking. You have no idea how a fuse actually works, or how electricity actually works in general. So you just use the metaphore of a broken fuse to mean "electricity not working" which you assume will happen because of some other metaphors that happen to be rolling around in that head of yours.
(here's another example of metaphorical thinking: "Ideas are made of electrical gradients in the brain. Metaphors ideas, so if rolling around that means they have angular momentum and create a magnetic dipole moment, which interacts with the microwave photons emitted by cellphones. That's how cellphones cause brain cancer". In other words, complete nonsense)

Finally, as I've pointed out about a million times, the Gujarat Solar Park puts out 669 megawatts of power in may. What industrial device do you know of that requires that much electricity, exactly? (yes, there are multiple devices, but you can have multiple solar arrays, just like the power grid requires multiple power plants, most of which are less then 669 MW)


We have one number: 15 terrawatts. or 1.5*1010 That's how much energy the world uses (specifically average of 15 terrajoules every second)

We have a another number: 1.7*1017 Watts. That's how much energy the earth receives from the sun (again, 1.7*1017 joules/second).

As you can see, the number is much, much larger. More then 10 million times larger, since 10(17 - 10) = 107.

It's basic math and highschool physics.

You seem to think there is some problem involving "concentrating" the electricity. There is none. If you'd actually paid attention in highschool you'd know that the wattage that a battery or other power source can put out is calculated using Internal Resistance. That's why it's hard to blow things up with a 1.5v AAA battery, but using a ~1v ultracapacitor you can blow things up. The ultracap has a much lower internal resistance.

To get around the internal resistance, you just have to wire things in parallel. You could blow things up with a large array of AAA batteries, for example. There's no real problem concentrating electricity from solar panels. It's totally absurd to imagine that there might be, as anyone who understands that physics is a thing you do with math and numbers, not just words and metaphors.
posted by delmoi at 11:56 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is Science the Answer to Global Warming? "climate change has always been the public policy problem from hell, the kind of thing a graduate seminar would come up with if they were challenged to invent a problem that was virtually impossible to solve. Global? Check. Slow moving? Check. Invisible? Check. Costly to address? Check. Lots of well-heeled interest groups opposed? Requires international cooperation? Demands irksome lifestyle changes? Check, check, and check..."

Will the U.S. export fracking to the rest of the world? "By the way, the IEA has also taken a look at what a shale gas boom would mean for global warming. Technically, there would be some environmental benefits (especially if companies managed to plug the methane leaks from their wells) as natural gas edged out coal. But if this was the only change made to our energy system, we'd still be on track for a very hot future..."

When Beijing Cleared the Air: "Even with significant uncertainties factored in, the amount is striking. An effort by one city (the world's 19th most populous metropolitan area, with 12.5 million people) led to emissions reductions that, if made permanent and multiplied by 360, would be enough to avoid the concentrations of greenhouse gases that could lead to dangerous levels of warming."

China to formally garrison disputed South China Sea - "China's powerful Central Military Commission has approved the formal establishment of a military garrison for the disputed South China Sea, state media said on Sunday, in a move which could further boost tensions in already fractious region."
posted by kliuless at 2:11 PM on July 24, 2012


You seem to think there is some problem involving "concentrating" the electricity.

What is meant by "concentrating" is that Moscow uses a lot of power but there is not much sunlight in December. Or, the amount of land needed to cover in solar panels is so large, compared to nukes or coal plants, we can speak rationally of a physical difference between concentrated and diffuse power sources. That's all, some energy sources are concentrated, some are diffuse. This presents problems:
"the difference between diffuse and concentrated energies matters crucially; not only specific technologies, but whole classes of technologies on which the modern industrial world depends .. A society running on diffuse energy resources, in other words, is not going to make use of anything like the same kinds of technology as a society running on concentrated energy resources, and attempts to run most existing technologies off diffuse renewable sources are much more likely to be distractions than useful options. In the transition between today’s technology dominated by concentrated energy and tomorrow’s technology dominated by diffuse heat, in turn, some of the most basic assumptions of contemporary economic thought – and of contemporary life, for that matter – are due to be thrown out the window."[1]
posted by stbalbach at 2:19 PM on July 24, 2012


Interestingly, the diffuse sources have advantages in lower distribution losses. If you put solar panels on everyone's house, you don't actually need as much generation to serve the same consumption as you would if you had an equivalent central plant 50 miles away.
posted by wierdo at 4:08 PM on July 24, 2012


What is meant by "concentrating" is that Moscow uses a lot of power but there is not much sunlight in December.
If that's what he meant that's what he should have said. He seemed to believe that somehow "global industrial manufacturing system" would cause solar panels to "blow fuses". Which makes no sense at all.

The "But what about the north pole in January!?!?!" argument keeps getting brought up. Yes it's a problem but you can run HVDC lines or even create superconducting lines to transfer power around the world.

He seems to think there is some fundamental thermodynamic limit having to do with something or other, but doesn't seem to actually understand thermodynamics at all.
posted by delmoi at 4:24 PM on July 24, 2012


The Oxygen Planet Struts Its Stuff: Not a “Perfect Storm” But the New Norm in the American West
posted by homunculus at 8:46 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


understand thermodynamics at all.
posted by delmoi at 4:24 PM on July 24 [+] [!]


Well, I understand them fairly well, and thermodynamics is not a leading cause of death -- at least, as far as I judge.
posted by Shit Parade at 8:53 PM on July 24, 2012


well...
posted by kliuless at 8:42 AM on July 25, 2012


Jesus CHRIST.
The picture posted to the right shows two images: Greenland on July 8 and Greenland four days later. Satellite imagery found that 97% the land mass experienced an unprecedented thaw that seemed literally impossible.

NASA published a statement yesterday, quoting Son Nghiem of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., who was analyzing radar data last week when he noticed that most of Greenland appeared to have undergone surface melting. Nghiem said, "This was so extraordinary that at first I questioned the result: was this real or was it due to a data error?"

It now appears this was not an error at all. The NASA piece added, "This extreme melt event coincided with an unusually strong ridge of warm air, or a heat dome, over Greenland."
posted by maudlin at 9:15 AM on July 25, 2012


Goddard glaciologist Lora Koenig said that similar melting events occur about every 150 years, and this event is consistent with that schedule, citing the previous 1889 melt. But, she added, "if we continue to observe melting events like this in upcoming years, it will be worrisome." [1]
posted by stbalbach at 9:30 AM on July 25, 2012


...create superconducting lines to transfer power around the world.

This is not the best thing to propose if you want to give the impression you know your physics like the back of your hand.
posted by odinsdream at 10:11 AM on July 25, 2012


What Will Be the Biggest Political Story of 2032?
posted by homunculus at 10:43 AM on July 25, 2012


odinsdream, there are already plans to use HVDC cables to send renewable power very long distances from regions where it is plentiful to regions where it isn't. Superconducting cables are not wildly futuristic either, although as far as I know, no one is planning to route power long distances with them yet.
posted by Humanzee at 2:20 PM on July 25, 2012


That first link is for a normal cable. The second link is to a proof-of-concept early stage superconducting cable. As you mentioned, long-distance superconducting cables are not yet planned. I'd love to see some info on that, but there are some serious engineering challenges involved, not to mention the energy requirements to keep the cable cool.
posted by odinsdream at 8:39 AM on July 26, 2012


This is not the best thing to propose if you want to give the impression you know your physics like the back of your hand.
That's true. As this thread has demonstrated, there are a lot of people who don't know anything happy to claim others don't understand physics.

Now, if you read the IEEE spectrum article, you'd see that the superconducting line in question is actually a real commercial connection providing power to hundreds of thousands of homes, and it's been in service since 2008.

It's not really just a 'proof of concept', but the whole point of a proof of concept is that it proves the concept

Given the the fact that that things like this actually exist in the real world (which I knew, and double checked before posting my comment) can you explain how mentioning it indicates a lack of understanding of physics?

The company is currently building a 10-15 mile connection in Korea. What law of physics, exactly, do you think makes something that can work over 10 miles impossible over longer distances?
posted by delmoi at 10:14 AM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know what, I really don't have the energy for a physics fight. Hoping for long-distance high-temperature superconductors to help us fight off global warming strikes me as an extreme form of optimism. I would be delighted to be proved incorrect on this point. Really.
posted by odinsdream at 12:27 PM on July 26, 2012


I really don't have the energy for a physics fight

Ouch.
posted by lodurr at 12:50 PM on July 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


... aspersions about punning aside....

Hoping for long-distance high-temperature superconductors to help us fight off global warming strikes me as an extreme form of optimism.

Help me understand why you read it that way. Because the way I read it, and the way I think about it, is that we have got to do things that will help, these are things that will help.

Are you concerned that they would take resources away from other, bigger things?

Are you concerned that they would reduce conservation efforts?
posted by lodurr at 12:52 PM on July 26, 2012


Now:
You know what, I really don't have the energy for a physics fight.
Earlier:
You want to give the impression you know your physics like the back of your hand.
Uh huh.
extreme form of optimism.
Because optimism is against the laws of physics now? I must have skipped that lecture.
posted by delmoi at 5:13 PM on July 26, 2012


Carbon Cycle Box Models (via)
posted by kliuless at 9:53 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


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