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Extreme climate predictions the most accurate
November 9, 2012 1:05 PM   Subscribe

A new study in which researchers have compared the last 10 years of actual climate data with the world's most sophisticated climate simulations and found the models predicting the most extreme global warming have been the most accurate in predicting the actual climate over the last 10 years. That means if those models continue to hold true, the world could be in for a devastating worst case of 4 to 6 degrees C by 2100. There are scientists who lay out the logic why human civilization could not survive. "If you have got a population of 9 billion by 2050 and you hit 4 degrees, 5 degrees or 6 degrees, you might have half a billion people surviving." (Previously; via)
posted by stbalbach (173 comments total) 62 users marked this as a favorite

 
> "For humanity it’s a matter of life or death ... we will not make all human beings extinct, as a few people with the right sort of resources may put themselves in the right parts of the world and survive."

I guess in this case "resources" is a polite euphemism for "weapons"?
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:13 PM on November 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's time for our leaders to pour money into mitigating this, not only by developing and promoting non-carbon-polluting energy sources, but also directly through schemes like iron fertilization.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:16 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


OK. If things are going to get as much as 10 degrees (F) warmer by then end of the century, where is the most survivable place to be living? Farmlands? Mountains?

I don't have any confidence that there is the political will in the world, as a whole, or in the US in particular, to do anything to solve this problem. The technical solutions all seem to involve expending energy in large amounts.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 1:21 PM on November 9, 2012


People display the same kind of avoidance when they find out that they or a loved one are seriously ill.

Yes. I believe every word of climate change, and it scares me so much I couldn't even make it much further into this article. So I can absolutely believe that other people cope with this level of freakout through denial. The other option/extreme seems to be my level of neurotic panic. Are there those of you who are somewhere comfortably in between?

I just wish the other end of the extreme would get the fuck over it so we can start throwing the kinds of money at this that just got thrown at the elections.
posted by instead of three wishes at 1:23 PM on November 9, 2012 [7 favorites]


Time passes, and "This Be the Verse" sounds more reasonable.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:23 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


A Moon and Mars base sounds good right about now.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:24 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's not like we weren't all going to die anyway. It just doesn't have to be quite so tragic.
posted by clockzero at 1:25 PM on November 9, 2012 [11 favorites]


I guess in this case "resources" is a polite euphemism for "weapons"?

I think that "the right sort of resources" to put yourself in "right parts of the world and survive" would require more than just weapons. Those might help though.
posted by IvoShandor at 1:28 PM on November 9, 2012


I believe technology can solve this problem. We can develop non-polluting energy to be more appealing than polluting energy, even for businesses with only a profit motivation.

A Moon and Mars base sounds good right about now.

If only we'd listened to Newt Gingrich!
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:29 PM on November 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


If you happen to be a national of a country that's party to the Spitzbergen Treaty, it may be time to start scoping out building sites.
posted by 1adam12 at 1:30 PM on November 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


A Moon and Mars base sounds good right about now.

Sure, let's see... 4 billion people on the moon, 4 billion people on Mars, and 1 billion people living off the depleted Earth's resources. What could possibly go wrong?
posted by IjonTichy at 1:30 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's time for our leaders to pour money into mitigating this, not only by developing and promoting non-carbon-polluting energy sources, but also directly through schemes like iron fertilization.

The only truly sustainable solution is zero population growth.
posted by DU at 1:31 PM on November 9, 2012 [24 favorites]


And I've been thinking about this, how does the rest of the world react to the continued intransigeance of the United States? The U.S. with what, 5% or so of the world population produces a quarter of the carbon emissions (numbers might be off - they are just off the top of my head). I'm thinking a warming planet and U.S. refusal to change its ways could very well lead to a military conflict with the rest of the world, especially when people start dying.
posted by IvoShandor at 1:32 PM on November 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Nothing is going to change except for the climate. Humans will continue to be stupid until the very end.

Might is where the money is, and the money is in oil for as long as it holds out.
posted by Malice at 1:32 PM on November 9, 2012 [8 favorites]


We are going to have to attempt large-scale geoengineering. There's no way around it now. I don't know what method, if any, will work, but just lowering emissions is not going to work. We've got to start sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere. This means playing with very large scale systems that are very, very complex, but the reality is that the climate is already broken. It is no longer a matter of preserving the planet's ecosystem. We have already broken it. Now we have to repair it, or put an artificial system in its place that serves our needs. While we weren't paying attention, we acquired the powers of the gods, to make and destroy worlds. Now we have to accept the responsibility of possessing godlike powers.
posted by vibrotronica at 1:37 PM on November 9, 2012 [28 favorites]


Sure, let's see... 4 billion people on the moon, 4 billion people on Mars, and 1 billion people living off the depleted Earth's resources. What could possibly go wrong?

Whoa, whoa, WHOA.

It sounds good for me, plus 100-200 of friends and family. I don't know about letting the rest of you on the base.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:38 PM on November 9, 2012 [7 favorites]


The only truly sustainable solution is zero population growth.

I doubt we could sustain that for five minutes.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:38 PM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I just wish the other end of the extreme would get the fuck over it so we can start throwing the kinds of money at this that just got thrown at the elections.
posted by instead of three wishes at 1:23 PM on November 9 [1 favorite +] [!]


...eponysterical?
posted by Foosnark at 1:42 PM on November 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


Throw money at fusion power. We've had it since 1952, we just haven't figured out how to make it low-voltage.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:43 PM on November 9, 2012


It's time for our leaders to pour money into mitigating this

No worries. I think everything is going to work out just fine for our leaders.
posted by fredludd at 1:43 PM on November 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ok, so one of the accelerators of the extra warming seems to be loss of cloud cover in the tropics, because clouds block sunlight.

Has anybody looked into the potential of somehow replacing this function of clouds? Very large scale airborne sun-blockers? Huge swarms of small-scale ones?

(Yes, yes, Mr Burns. But no really.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:45 PM on November 9, 2012


I remain optimistic that in 10,000 years, the small band of people that will be thriving will look back at climate change as a positive event in the history of humanity.
posted by perhapses at 1:46 PM on November 9, 2012 [17 favorites]


Has anybody looked into the potential of somehow replacing this function of clouds? Very large scale airborne sun-blockers? Huge swarms of small-scale ones?

Cloud-seeding ships could combat climate change
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:47 PM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm thinking a warming planet and U.S. refusal to change its ways could very well lead to a military conflict with the rest of the world, especially when people start dying.

For one thing, our military is the most powerful in the world, and those few nation states comprising the second tier are also all addicted to fossil fuels. So for any significant nation to challenging the United States would be suicidal, hypocritical or both at the same time.

The only truly sustainable solution is zero population growth.

Wow. This thread is just brimming with sensible, achievable strategies, isn't it?

What we're probably going to see is at least another decade of willful blindness, then serious attempts at some combination of efficiency planning, technological research/investment in alternative energy sources, and geoengineering. Best case is we squeak by in the same way we did in dealing with CFCs - through a long, boring process of social agitation, legislative action, technological change and a certain amount of irreversible damage to the environment.

Not through big, awesome plans to sterilize the population, or invade the USA from abroad, or settle fucking Mars.

Throw money at fusion power. We've had it since 1952, we just haven't figured out how to make it low-voltage.

I'm more hopeful for increasing efficiencies in solar, but yeah, we definitely need a broad range of investments across many different possible paths to sustainability.
posted by AdamCSnider at 1:47 PM on November 9, 2012 [21 favorites]


The only truly sustainable solution is zero population growth.

We are getting there. But even if population growth went to zero tomorrow, we'd still be putting too much carbon into the atmosphere. That's the problem that needs fixing. Investing more in clean energy would be a good start.
posted by Triplanetary at 1:48 PM on November 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


PWC also published a terrifying report this week: Too Late for 2 Degrees? (spoiler, one of the world's biggest auditing companies thinks so).

I have no doubt we will transition, and when we do it will be fast - the pace is already picking up so much, though it's completely understandable that anyone in the US wouldn't see that so much. But it's still going to be too late and the cost will be horrific.
posted by smoke at 1:50 PM on November 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


It does seem, thanks to Sandy, that 2012 is the turning point in the U.S. regarding the seriousness of climate change. How much longer it takes to change the realization into action will be critical. Unfortunately, it seems we need constant storms/droughts to keep pressure on. A year of mellow weather and I bet the focus would drop.
posted by perhapses at 1:53 PM on November 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


A Moon and Mars base sounds good right about now.

After we've developed the technology to make either of those places habitable, dealing with a mere 4 degrees celsius here on earth will be trivial.
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:53 PM on November 9, 2012 [13 favorites]


While we weren't paying attention, we acquired the powers of the gods, to make and destroy worlds.

We've really only acquired the destroying part. A kid who smashes his toys might feel powerful for a moment, but he'll soon realise that the power to create is much different than the power to destroy.

I think we could be happy with the power to not destroy worlds, but that seems elusive at this point.
posted by ssg at 1:56 PM on November 9, 2012 [10 favorites]


This may be answered somewhere, but how long will it take the population take to drop to half a million, assuming that it is 9 billion 2050? I understand how the rise can increase the ways in which people will die, but how sudden will it be? Would it be caused by a sudden onslaught of catastrophes?
posted by corpse at 1:58 PM on November 9, 2012


These zombies are too slow.
posted by fshgrl at 1:59 PM on November 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


It does seem, thanks to Sandy, that 2012 is the turning point in the U.S. regarding the seriousness of climate change.

68 percent (up from 49 percent three years ago) of Americans thing its a real and serious deal, yeah. Its a heartwarming development, but there remains the question of how successfully obstructionist the remaining 42 percent (including significant elements of the US power structure) turn out to be. Progress is being made, but I think the real "turning point" will be seeing significant enforcement teeth being grafted onto new environmental legislation. The time to celebrate is when the electorate and the legislature stop being nice and polite about asking for lower emissions, and start demanding it.
posted by AdamCSnider at 2:00 PM on November 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


If Obama really wants to be remembered for something, let it not be Obamacare. Honestly that is like "well what took you so long?"

Let it be a green energy policy that actually makes a difference.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:00 PM on November 9, 2012 [9 favorites]


Throw money at fusion power.

Unfortunately, despite a DoE director who is from the fusion community, we're going in the opposite direction - the US fusion research budget is decreasing. A fusion energy lab I used to work at was recently closed, and Alcator C-Mod, a critically important source of data for the design process of ITER (the ONLY prospective fusion power plant in the world), is in danger of being closed down by budget cuts.. Click that link and support fusion research - we're gonna need it. Let your representatives know that you want more of this research, even if it means looking more than 10 years in front of our own noses, and even if it isn't designed to blow stuff up (I'm looking at you, NIF).
posted by Salvor Hardin at 2:00 PM on November 9, 2012 [9 favorites]


As a pack-a-day smoker with no kids, I gotta say: wow, y'all gonna be fucked.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:01 PM on November 9, 2012 [36 favorites]


I am so angry about Stephen Harper selling the oil sands to China that I have basically compartmentalized it off and buried it where I don't have to think about it as I might just lose what little shreds of sanity I have left.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:02 PM on November 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


That is a huge drop, corpse (ahem), but along with climate change we will probably experience several things that, over decades, might reduce the population by billions. Viruses, starvation, resource wars, lack of population growth, etc.
posted by perhapses at 2:02 PM on November 9, 2012


I'm certainly not in the denial camp, but as far as using Sandy as an indication of how things have recently gotten worse, bear in mind there was a stronger and amazingly similar storm 75 years ago: 1938 New England Hurricane.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 2:04 PM on November 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


OH YES and of course the more carbon dioxide we have in the air, the stupider we get. Tru Fax.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:05 PM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Don't have kids -- the future is no place for them.
posted by sarastro at 2:07 PM on November 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


I was actually using Sandy of an indication of how people in the U.S., and the media specifically, are talking more about climate change. We don't notice the small changes but when something big happens, it makes people pay attention.
posted by perhapses at 2:08 PM on November 9, 2012


I don't know where the right place would be, but the wrong place would be the Fertile Crescent, which feeds at least a billion people and is already being affected, or China.

Surprisingly, population growth is going to stop being a problem relatively soon. There's not much more we can do to curb the growth curve, and the global population should start to decline by mid-century (without the assistance of a calamity).
posted by KokuRyu at 2:08 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


What does Nate Silver say?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:12 PM on November 9, 2012 [25 favorites]


MY heart is sinking. I have to take action. Do I do this in America or Europe?
posted by parmanparman at 2:13 PM on November 9, 2012


The politics of climate change are now so toxic that no politician on the right is willing to even talk about it, much less pass legislation. The reason was laid out in a recent Frontline show Climate of Doubt. There are groups funded by secret money who ensure that any politician (on the right) who discusses climate change is not reelected. So it's impossible for any sort of dialogue or compromise. Extreme denialism is now mainstream conservative. This was not always the case, the politics of climate change are actually worse now than 20 years ago, things are regressing, at the same time evidence and effects are progressing.
posted by stbalbach at 2:13 PM on November 9, 2012 [7 favorites]


I'm certainly not in the denial camp, but as far as using Sandy as an indication of how things have recently gotten worse, bear in mind there was a stronger and amazingly similar storm 75 years ago: 1938 New England Hurricane.

“We can’t say that steroids caused any one home run by Barry Bonds, but steroids sure helped him hit more and hit them farther. Now we have weather on steroids.”

posted by Drinky Die at 2:13 PM on November 9, 2012 [13 favorites]


Well, fan-fucking tastic.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 2:14 PM on November 9, 2012


It's not about Sandy. It's about Sandy, right after Irene, a few years after Katrina.

It's about the fact that I've been staring at generators online all week, wondering if a standby unit is an investment I can't afford to not have, or a stupid waste of money if I haven't picked a home far enough from the ocean or on a high enough hill that it won't just be underwater anyway. And then I try to look at NOAA simulations to figure out my odds.

I'm sure I'm not the only one.
posted by instead of three wishes at 2:16 PM on November 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


I still think this quotation from the Economist is the most realistic I've ever read regarding how we respond to climate change:

"Maybe a hundred years down the line, nobody will look back at climate change as the most important issue of the early 21st century, because the damage will have been done, and the idea that it might have been prevented will seem absurd. Maybe the idea that Mali and Burkina Faso were once inhabited countries rather than empty deserts will seem queer, and the immiseration of huge numbers of stateless refugees thronging against the borders of the rich northern countries will be taken for granted. The absence of the polar ice cap and the submersion of Venice will have been normalised; nobody will think of these as live issues, no one will spend their time reproaching their forefathers, there'll be no moral dimension at all. We will have wrecked the planet, but our great-grandchildren won't care much, because they'll have been born into a planet already wrecked." (Dec. 2011)
posted by perhapses at 2:17 PM on November 9, 2012 [59 favorites]


For one thing, our military is the most powerful in the world, and those few nation states comprising the second tier are also all addicted to fossil fuels. So for any significant nation to challenging the United States would be suicidal, hypocritical or both at the same time.

There are other nations that have acted, and will act.

Iraq and Afghanistan have revealed just how deeply flawed the logic that the U.S. has the "most powerful military in the world", therefore it could never be defeated really is.

Powerful or not, a determined coalition against the U.S. would either 1) Result in a nuclear exchange 2) Result in lengthy conventional conflict.

Hypocrisy has never seemed to stop nations from going to war, so that's not really a valid reason why this couldn't happen. Anyway, I was just speculating on possible outcomes.
posted by IvoShandor at 2:25 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Nobody won EcoWar l and there wasn't enough people left to fight EcoWar ll. With average daily highs for February now in the 100's, the few remaining shatter bombs were used to raze Washington DC and create a huge cooling lagoon for the dozen or so powerful families that had managed to tunnel deep enough underground to escape the heat and insect plagues . . . "
posted by Phyllis Harmonic at 2:25 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


The annoying, frustrating, tear your hair out angry making fact in all of this is that we're only barely getting back to taking climate change as seriously as we did in 1989, when it was still global warming and everybody knew that now that we've finally had gotten to take action to repair the ozone layer --after twenty years of sabotage and resistance by CFC using industries -- we'd next needed to tackle this.

And then fucking Philip Morris and their sponsoring of the socalled skeptical movement came along and thought that the best thing to throw doubt on the science behind the tobacco - long cancer link was to discredit all sorts of science, so let's get some climate scepticism going. And Exxon Mobil went along with this as well, because of course climate change is not as important as keeping the oil and shareholder profits flowing.

So by now you've got a whole industry of fuckwits nitpicking science they don't understand, to argue that because somebody misplaced a zero on page 11,000 of the optional commentary on the UN's climate change commission's report this means global warming is a lie and fuckwit politicians going along with that.

Don't think it's just the US either; plenty of morons on this side of the Atlantic as well and far too many of them in positions of power.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:26 PM on November 9, 2012 [21 favorites]


To borrow a slightly realistic metaphor from the Cold War, there wasn't one big red button that could be pushed that would destroy the world. There were two big red buttons. The one many lived in fear of throughout the years of the Cold War was the big red button that, when pushed, would launch nuclear missiles. This was the message of movies such as Dr. Strangelove, Fail Safe, and On the Beach.

What people didn't realize is that there was another big red button, and someone accidentally leaned back on this button and pushed it, but nobody realized it because we were all so afraid of the other big red button being pushed. The other big red button wouldn't bring instant nuclear annihilation to the world. The other big red button initiated a much slower process of annihilation: climate change. This is the message of a movie such as The Exterminating Angel where a bunch of rich people find themselves trapped in a room while the hired help have all fled the house. The room has a wide open archway but they all cannot bring themselves to leave. They can't take action for fear of how it would look.
posted by perhapses at 2:28 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I remain optimistic that in 10,000 years, the small band of people that will be thriving will look back at climate change as a positive event in the history of humanity.

I think they will be too busy wondering where the rapidly crumbling Mt. Rushmore came from.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:29 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, this is just the cheering up I needed today.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 2:30 PM on November 9, 2012


Solar power is going gangbusters. It's nice to see policy makers, industrialists and citizens working together to solve the eco/energy problem.
posted by No Robots at 2:35 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


A rising tide raises all boats.
posted by I Foody at 2:42 PM on November 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


If you think the potential toll from climate change is significant now, wait till you see what the actual toll is when you deprive the developing world of inexpensive hydrocarbon energy.
posted by lstanley at 2:42 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, this is just the cheering up I needed today.

Quoted for truth.
posted by Alterscape at 2:46 PM on November 9, 2012


It's time for our leaders to pour money into mitigating this

Pro tip: The leaders don't have money - they get that from you.

Overhead and profit-taking in the carbon offsets system eats up about 70 percent of what is spent on carbon offsets

So the "leaders" are going to route that money to their cronies who will live quite well while you are busy toiling to pay for what is being called for.

The technical solutions all seem to involve expending energy in large amounts.

Biochar isn't that technical a solution. But making a personal decision to go and bury some charcoal will take expending energy on your part.

And I've been thinking about this, how does the rest of the world react to the continued intransigeance of the United States?

Going head to head on a military basis isn't going to work.

But each person in each nation has the option of not using Federal Reserve Notes for their transactions or even opting to not buy/sell from/to Americans or American firms.

Eventually someone will make a smart phone app that you scan the barcode of the item and it will give some calculated %age of how much of some Nation or Firm was involved with that item you are thinking of buying.
posted by rough ashlar at 2:46 PM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Going head to head on a military basis isn't going to work.

Oh, I know. As I said, speculation. I wouldn't be surprised to see it happen though, as I wouldn't be surprised to see any one of a number of possible outcomes. Desperation can breed decisions that haven't really been thought through at all.
posted by IvoShandor at 2:49 PM on November 9, 2012


In two hundred years, I expect the survivors to dig up my old Fallout games, hook them up the the solar generator and remark just how optimistic they were.

This post fucking scared me and make me feel helpless. What can I do? I live in NYC, so trying to get Republicans out of power in my immediate vicinity is a pointless task. I don't have the money of the Kochs. I can contribute to political campaigns, go door to door, but how will that help in the next 8 years?
posted by Hactar at 2:56 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


What can we do?

Perhaps not completely lose our collective shit when someone proposes a Carbon Tax? That would be a start.
posted by pascal at 3:05 PM on November 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


If you build a culture based on belief in the apocalypse, I suppose we shouldn't be surprised when it comes to fruition.
posted by perhapses at 3:15 PM on November 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


Someone needs to tell the Fusion Future people that their "contact Congress" links are broken.
posted by limeonaire at 3:15 PM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Any oil that you don't burn will be happily burned by someone else.
posted by Jeff Mangum's Penny-farthing at 3:19 PM on November 9, 2012 [13 favorites]



If you build a culture based on belief in computer model that predicts the apocalypse, I suppose we shouldn't be surprised when it comes to fruition.

posted by doctor_negative at 3:22 PM on November 9, 2012


Jeff Mangum's Penny-farthing: "Any oil that you don't burn will be happily burned by someone else."

This.

From sufficient altitude, and on a long enough timeline, it's hard to distinguish humanity from a wildfire. We're life, and life exists to find and ride energy gradients. We can't help but consume every bit of energy-bearing material we can get our hands on.
posted by mullingitover at 3:25 PM on November 9, 2012 [24 favorites]


Thanks for fixing that for me. I had momentarily forgotten that we are living in a computer simulation. A glitch in my system.
posted by perhapses at 3:26 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


The climate has always changed and people have always dealt with it, moved on or died. Human beings survived the Ice Age, so enough of us will survive the Sauna Age.
posted by Renoroc at 3:26 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


If Obama really wants to be remembered for something, let it not be Obamacare. Honestly that is like "well what took you so long?"

Let it be a green energy policy that actually makes a difference.


The damage is probably done and the wheels are in motion. The best thing he could do for long-term national security is cut 90-95% of the funding to the military and military contractors, and instead set up Manhattan Project-scale plans to commit the United States to life science research, to help come up with ways to insulate food-bearing plants and animals from the changes to come. You can have a military that shoots people and processes them into Soylent Green products, but that's not a good long-term strategy for putting food on the table. Coming up with ways to keep agricultural food supplies from going extinct will be what saves humanity, in the long run.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:34 PM on November 9, 2012 [7 favorites]


Every climate change article I read is one step closer to suicide. I wish I were kidding, but there is literally nothing to live for.
posted by Gin and Comics at 3:35 PM on November 9, 2012


so enough of us will survive the Sauna Age

Yeah, fuck those poor people and their subsistence living trying to bring down our spa lifestyles. Once they're gone, we can really relax into this thing.
posted by perhapses at 3:37 PM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'd dearly love our President to come out and say something like, "You assholes are worried about the national debt we pass down to our grandchildren when we've got this hanging over our heads? You drive people to desperation over the solvency of Social Security in 2050? Lemme give you a heads up: Social Security is going to be fine because so many people will be dead by then. Not a goddamned bit of any of this bullshit is going to matter unless we start figuring out a plan that allows there to even be a United States of America in the blasted hellscape that will be 2050 right now! Damn…"
posted by ob1quixote at 3:38 PM on November 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


Americans, start using Celsius instead of Fahrenheit, 100° seems warmish? Why 40° is positively bracing!

We're fucked.
posted by the noob at 3:42 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


The climate has always changed and people have always dealt with it, moved on or died. Human beings survived the Ice Age, so enough of us will survive the Sauna Age.

I'm reasonably sure the species will continue, but if we could, you know, prevent multiple billions of unnecessary deaths, that is a thing I would like to do.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 3:45 PM on November 9, 2012 [12 favorites]


I learned to stop worrying about this after reading an article somewhere that basically said "yes it's going to be bad but us monkeykind always find a way." At that point I realized the debate was no longer "how can we stop this" it was "how the surviving 6 people will carry on."

These type of threads should auto-link to amazon subscriptions of booze.
posted by M Edward at 4:00 PM on November 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


What we're probably going to see is at least another decade of willful blindness, then serious attempts at

Then it's too late. Game over. That's the scale of the problem being outlined - we are out of time here if we want civilization to survive, and we're still a long way from even starting to slow down our still-accelerating emissions.
posted by anonymisc at 4:00 PM on November 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


Climate Change is a psychological crisis, a challenge of cognition. The competing mechanisms of memory and forgetting (trauma suppression / "the unthinkable") are the fount of the schism of denial. Can you maintain sanity in the face of veritable apocalypse? Steadfastness will determine survival. I commend my fellow humans for their caring and I wish everyone the well-being to live through what comes.

Stay alive. Stay hopeful.
posted by kaspen at 4:01 PM on November 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Tragedy of the commons.
posted by etc. at 4:23 PM on November 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't think it's going to take another decade for action. Climate change denial is getting brutally refuted by facts at an increasing pace. It's happening now, and it's happening to us. Not someone far away on a TV screen, not future generations: us.
posted by Ripper Minnieton at 4:24 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Every climate change article I read is one step closer to suicide. I wish I were kidding, but there is literally nothing to live for.

Cheer up. You probably won't live to see the worst effects, anyway.
posted by adamdschneider at 4:49 PM on November 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


The Overpopulation Gong will no longer need to be struck, instead it will resonate with the gasps of the dying and the wails of those looking on.
posted by adipocere at 4:52 PM on November 9, 2012


People keep having multiple kids, there's no way out of this until we're forced out.
posted by maxwelton at 4:57 PM on November 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm envious of dinosaurs -- they didn't have all this foreknowledge.
posted by sarastro at 5:02 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


On the bright side, maybe some future species will fuck up the planet again by burning our fossilized remains in their SUVs!
posted by kengraham at 5:24 PM on November 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


Saying that achieving ZPG is hard/impossible/crazy or whatever doesn't make it not the answer. If we can't do it, we are dead. Growth cannot continue infinitely, period.
posted by DU at 5:39 PM on November 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


Meanwhile, Climate Prediction Center maps paint out another warmer-than-normal winter for the vast majority of the US. When's the last time we had a "cold winter" in the central or eastern US... 2005?
posted by crapmatic at 6:20 PM on November 9, 2012


Yeah, fuck those poor people and their subsistence living trying to bring down our spa lifestyles. Once they're gone, we can really relax into this thing.

No, not fuck them, but emulate them. For example, look at the Bedouin, who thrive in the deserts of the Sahara, or the people of the Great Rift, who practically live right next door to active volcanoes. These are people who have had millennia to go elsewhere, but instead they have adapted. A lot of us can do the same with enough training and observational skills. One great thing about humanity is that no clime is absolutely off limits to us. We can make it and we will make it. Cheer up.
posted by Renoroc at 6:26 PM on November 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


One great thing about humanity is that no clime is absolutely off limits to us. We can make it and we will make it.

All right then, lets set the controls for the heart of the sun!
posted by I-Write-Essays at 6:36 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Actually, Renoroc, one of the effects of climate change is likely to be substantial sections of the earth being all but off limits for residence, because the wet-bulb temperature will be higher for large parts of the year than humans can survive in. I.e., a human being will die in hours without air-conditioning being available.
posted by tavella at 6:37 PM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


For example, look at the Bedouin, who thrive in the deserts of the Sahara, or the people of the Great Rift, who practically live right next door to active volcanoes. These are people who have had millennia to go elsewhere, but instead they have adapted. A lot of us can do the same with enough training and observational skills.

I think where this line of thought runs into trouble is at the "a lot". How many Bedouin are there? Not a heck of a lot -- and that's exactly the point of the report; a 4-6 degree warmer Earth will have a far lower carrying capacity than the one that we currently enjoy. People will find ways to live on it, sure, but billions will die off in the meantime.
posted by junco at 6:40 PM on November 9, 2012 [19 favorites]


When you consider the environmental pressures on all species, and the fact that those with the most rapid reproductive cycles will be able to adapt more quickly, the picture grows even more ominous. We will be far behind all those other, more rapidly adapting species, and simultaneously becoming less able to compete against them. Exponential pestilence. It's almost more than the heart can stand to think of the absolute environmental chaos that this portends.
posted by Phyllis Harmonic at 6:53 PM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is terrifying. I haven't seen it layed out quite as clearly or disturbingly as it was here.
posted by twirlypen at 7:08 PM on November 9, 2012


The doomsaying and "there is literally nothing to live for" talk seems a bit overwrought. I would think that a worse-case scenario is that we have to set off some bombs in the right place to flood the atmosphere with particulates and intentionally cause a nuclear winter (probably just a nuclear autumn at that point) as the most makeshift version of the geoengineering vibrotronica mentioned if we can't swing one of the fancy space-mirror type projects.

Yes, things will be pretty crappy; that former scenario would probably make everywhere on Earth like living in the pollution levels of early 20th century London. But lots of people managed to make it through that period without offing themselves, even though all they had to eat was British cuisine. The average human lifetime will still probably be more resource-rich and more malady-free than during the entirety of the rest of human history.
posted by XMLicious at 7:24 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Uh, "The nuclear winter scenario predicts that the huge fires caused by nuclear explosions (from burning urban areas) would loft massive amounts of dense smoke from the fires, into the upper troposphere / stratosphere." So...do you have any idea at all how many bombs would be necessary to achieve your scenario, and what kind of fallout patterns that would entail? The same wikipedia article cites a "small-scale" scenario of "50 Hiroshima-sized nuclear weapons (about 15 kiloton each) on major populated centers". They're not talking about throwing tons of dirt in the air, it's the prolonged burning of the mass graves formerly known as cities that would have done it. I think this is one problem America won't be able to bomb its way out of.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:06 PM on November 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


I can't believe some people come to the conclusion that nukes are the answer to this problem.

Actually I can. People were proposing nukes to stop the Deepwater Horizon underwater gusher problem too.
posted by panaceanot at 8:18 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


People were proposing nukes to stop the Deepwater Horizon underwater gusher problem too.

And that would have worked, too, if it weren't for those meddling kids and their dog!
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 8:26 PM on November 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


Thanks, adamdschneider, for that perspective-forcing commentary on the idea of detonating nuclear weapons to tardy the effects of global warming.

It seems, when contemplating imminent (and continuing) ecological catastrophe, the space between logic and fantasy yields a mushroom cloud-shaped horizon.

Also, preparing for our climatologically catastrophic coastal futures by buying generators seems, to me, like trying to prevent a ship from foundering into the ocean by scooping water from the ocean straight into the ship's hold, a desperate and futile attempt to lower the level of the sea by storing water onboard.
posted by mistersquid at 8:29 PM on November 9, 2012


If you want to geo-engineer your way out of our current problems, you have to address more than just changing temperature, you also have to address changing pH of the oceans. Also, geo-engineering solutions are problematic for the same sorts of reasons that drugs are often problematic fixes to problems in human biology: unforeseen side-effects. We would be much better off to reset atmospheric GHG levels than to monkey around with something else in the hopes that it will fix the problems without creating new ones.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 8:30 PM on November 9, 2012 [7 favorites]


A Moon and Mars base sounds good right about now.

If you care about the billions of people on earth, the geoengineering solution that involves rockets is a sunshield built at earth-sun Lagrange point L1. That's the point between the earth and the sun where their gravitational pulls cancel out such that a man made object can hang there in a semi-stable fashion. The sunshield would need to be huge enough to block 2% of Earth's insolation, difficult and expensive but not impossible. Quasi-practical proposals involve relocating an asteroid or deploying a vast fleet of satellites. This wouldn't do a thing to stop the acidification of the oceans but it's better than the nightmare scenarios.

Sad, isn't it, that this sort of thing is far more likely to ever be funded than prudent conservation.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:43 PM on November 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


If you want to geo-engineer your way out of our current problems, you have to address more than just changing temperature, you also have to address changing pH of the oceans.

This is an excellent point. It's not "just" climate change, there are intersecting problems, each of a massive scale.

The true problem is inertia.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:47 PM on November 9, 2012


The true problem is a lack of a base level of scientific knowledge in our leadership.
posted by fshgrl at 8:51 PM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Climate change really is a drag. It's like a planetary cancer that is the direct consequence of humanity's most selfish, ignorant views and behaviors. We know we've got it, but for one reason or another we just won't stop smoking.
posted by nowhere man at 8:51 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mrs. Flug and I were just talking at dinner about what a great job Fox News does of turning the scare-ometer up to like one million on the most innocuous issues--one reason we're seeing all our friends posting crazy survivalist type stuff all over Facebook now. They really are terrified of the scary, scary things that are going to happen now--like no more pre-existing conditions, the horror! The HORROR!--and Fox News has done a great job of getting them into that terrified state.

What we need, what we really need right now, is to have the entire population worked up into a lather about the dangers of Climate Change. We need them to be true believers and we need them to know it will be bad. That's about the only thing with a chance to turn the politicians at this point.

So I'm going to make a modest proposal here--let's turn the job of Climate Change scarification over to Fox News.

They have the knowledge, they have the ability, they have the experience. They have the tools and techniques. Let's put their evil powers to the use of good just for once.

I've never really understood what the Fox News opposition to Climate Change was all about, anyway. Anybody with half a brain knows that any problem with numerous dollar signs in the solution means a whole bucketload of savvy businesspeople are going to make a truckload of money taking care of it.

We know that pretty much every alternative to fossil fuel is more complicated and more expensive. More complicated + more expensive = more profit.

How hard is that equation to understand?

Businesses get $ $ $, Fox News gets to scare-scare-scare, everyone is doing what they do best, and everyone is happy. Seems like a match made in heaven.

What say?
posted by flug at 8:54 PM on November 9, 2012 [15 favorites]


I imagine myself 10 years in the future, sharing my campfire of tires and driftwood with an optimist.

"I don't know how people can be so negative," he says. "There are plenty of ways we can deal with climate change. We could dam off the straight of Gibraltar and grow switchgrass and algae. That's all the biodiesel we need for a century of growth, just like that. We'll set up neighborhood rideshare programs for plug-in trifuel biodiesel/ethanol/electric cars with GoogleDrive autopilot systems for transportation. A smartgrid of photovoltaics, wind, and geothermal will pick up the slack as we shut down the old power plants, and with more efficient use of energy and just a bit of lowered expectations we won't need fossil fuels at all. Agroforesty and other permaculture methods are really picking up steam, so food availability isn't even an issue. As for mitigation, we'll seed the ocean with iron and algae will soak up that CO2 and sink, it's exactly how all that petroleum was made in the first place. Atmospheric sulphur dioxide can counteract the CO2 we've already put up until that algae sequestration gets us back to early industrial levels." He pauses thoughtfully. "You know, we could even set up markets for shares and futures in algae production, that kind of market system is the best way to optimally distribute primary production between the Mediterranean and North American economies."

We have an unspoken agreement. If he brings the weed, I'll share my ratmeat and just nod while he babbles on.
posted by eurypteris at 9:08 PM on November 9, 2012 [19 favorites]


Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Avtomat Kalashnikova Model 47, the most robust, reliable assault rifle in the world. Firing 7.62x39mm rounds at a cyclical rate of 600 rounds per minute whether it's covered in mud or full of sand, this rifle will keep working and keep you safe no matter the terrain or climate.

If you want to survive the coming apocalypse, get yours now!

(Bunker, 50 years of dehydrated food and potable water not included.)
posted by dazed_one at 9:16 PM on November 9, 2012


It doesn't seem to me that creating a countervailing scare-scare-scare is a really great idea; we should just be realistic. I think it shows how invested people are in panicking and freaking out about this that anyone would leap from "a worse-case scenario is..." to "OMG YOU WANT TO SOLVE EVERY PROBLEM WITH NUKES" and "EVERY CITY DESTROYED MASS GRAVES BLOOD BLOOD BLOOD!"

A worst-case scenario is exactly that; there are many, many other approaches to even just jury-rigging half-assed remedies to climate change that have been proposed, many of them already mentioned in this thread.

This is an incredibly stupid problem and we are far from done flushing down the toilet the incredible wealth of biodiversity and healthy, stable ecosystems we found when we climbed down out of the trees. But people whose reaction to this is "there is no longer any reason to live" just are not thinking rationally and are not thinking in terms of what human life has been like for most of the time we've been on the planet.

Even if we all end up eating rat meat and algae we're still pretty much at a standard of living close to what the globally average person alive today at the beginning of the 21st century experiences. We shouldn't be talking Armageddon, people will just give up (when there's really no reason to); we should talk in terms of, if we all get our shit together and pull off solid implementations of a few of these ameliorating approaches maybe we'll only need to eat the rat meat for breakfast, followed by a delicious algae shake for lunch and a nice vat-grown steak for dinner.
posted by XMLicious at 9:27 PM on November 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's an ugly situation. I'm not sure humanity actually will survive. The Earth will remain habitable to humanity to some lessar extent, perhaps (but maybe not, there are some climate-change scenarios that end up with a second Venus). However, when the environment starts to seriously stumble, the economy is going down hard. When the economy goes, civilization will go with it, and when civilization goes, there is a solid chance the species gets wiped out entirely. There are a few scenarios; the collapse of worldwide civilization could instigate a nuclear war, the death of huge numbers of people could set plagues in motion that can't be stopped without functioning medicine, or a couple of societies keep going but keep fighting endlessly over resources, continuing to burn fossil fuels (since they have to, the one that stopped would lose the war) until things really are 100% uninhabitable.

The crappy part is, if civilization goes down or the human race perishes, I'm not sure technological civilization can ever return (with another species, if humanity dies off). The easy energy and easy minerals are gone and won't ever come back (I guess the minerals will, in geological time, but the Carboniferous era won't happen again). Without those to jumpstart industrial development and science, I'm not sure it would be possible for progression to the current stage. Or perhaps it will happen again, but better - maybe with the oil gone future civilization will be unable to step on this particular land mine, and will be more successful, if slower to develop...
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:36 PM on November 9, 2012




Climate change really is a drag. It's like a planetary cancer that is the direct consequence of humanity's most selfish, ignorant views and behaviors. We know we've got it, but for one reason or another we just won't stop smoking.

Damn, this is just right.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:57 PM on November 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Indeed Mitrovarr. It makes me wonder if this is the Great Filter. Is it even possible to build a technological civilization without bootstrapping your way up through fossil fuels? Perhaps the amount of fossil energy you have to burn to develop the tech that lets you exploit sustainable energy sources is necessarily enough to doom your ecosystem. One can imagine that the universe might be full of life-bearing planets, with just a few every now and then briefly erupting into a technological civilization for a flicker before - pop! - settling back into a steady state for millions more years...

There is a certain degree to which our technological sophistication is a function of population and not just of knowledge: there is a vast economic pyramid underneath every slick smartphone, layers upon layers of tools building tools building tools, supply chains snaking all over the globe. It is not at all clear that we would even be able to build these things with a population of half a billion, even if we still knew exactly how to do it. Yet we could not possibly sustain the vast population we have if we weren't burning through our fossil fuels!
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:05 PM on November 9, 2012 [7 favorites]


I think there is a lack of imagination regarding possible novel future sources of energy. There is no reason for humans to burn the remaining fossil fuels if we find a preferable alternative.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:16 PM on November 9, 2012


VAUGHN
What kind of a shark did you say it
was?

HOOPER
Carcaradon carcharias. A Great White.

VAUGHN
Well, I'm not going to commit economic
suicide on that flimsy evidence. We
depend on the summer people for our
lives, and if our beaches are closed,
then we're all finished.

BRODY
We have got to close the beaches. We
have got to get someone to kill the
shark, we need non-corrosive mesh
netting, we need scientific support...
It's gonna cost money just to keep
the nuts out and save what we have.

VAUGHN
I don't think either of you is
familiar with our problems...

HOOPER
I'm familiar with the fact that you
are going to ignore this thing until
it swims up and bites you on the
ass! There are only two ways to solve
this thing: you can kill it, or you
can cut off its food supply...

BRODY
That means closing the beaches.
posted by Camofrog at 10:20 PM on November 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think it is possible for humanity to transition to a clean power source now, but I have no confidence it is possible once we lose our entire civilization and industrial base. It would certainly be incredibly slow.

That being said, I think it's extremely unlikely to happen, due to human nature and competitive pressures. It's going to be next to impossible for us to accept a major cut in lifestyle quality to protect the planet, and probably completely impossible for us to force every other nation on Earth to do it, too. And those nations that don't do it, will naturally become more powerful due to the improvements to their economy and industry (while the destruction from that usage is spread around evenly to everyone). Therefore, I'm not sure anyone can opt out of fossil fuel use unless everyone does, because in the long term the nations that don't will become unstoppable and their increasingly desperate populations will force them to invade weaker nations for land and resources, where they will bring in their fossil fuel use. Also, don't forget that while we'll run out of oil before too much longer, we've got more than enough coal to dig our grave well and deep.

It's the same problem as pacifism; you can't dismiss your army unless everyone dismisses their armies, and you'll never get everyone to dismiss their armies, despite the fact that everyone would be better off.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:29 PM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh yes, and one more fun thing that happens if the economy or society collapses is that global warming gets an immediate large boost. See, all of our air travel, it spreads particulates throughout the atmosphere and noticeably increases the Earth's albedo. Stop that and you get a big temperature spike; look at what happened the next couple of days after 9/11, when all of the flights were grounded.

This is even more disturbing when you realize that in the absence of cheap petroleum, high volume air travel basically has to stop. There is no good alternative for jet fuel.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:05 PM on November 9, 2012


Forget setting off an artificial nuclear winter. We all know that for a few hundred billion dollars, BP would be glad to figure out how to get Montserrat or some other convenient volcano to really erupt. I am glad I won't be alive when things get that desperate.
posted by feloniousmonk at 11:27 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


No.

Humanity will survive. In the Cambodian jungles there a huge temples, the remnants of civilizations that were sophisticated and just as beautiful as ours, and they are gone. And there are people in Cambodia, living their lives, in ways foreign to the people who built those monuments, but who are still undeniably people.

The same with the City of Petra, in Jordan. The same as the ruins of dozens of towns that the Sahara has devoured.

We as a species have done this before.

We've done ice ages and volcanic eruption and plagues and a multitude of little catastrophies in between.

What will be lost is this glossy well lit edifice of western civilization. We'll lose our arts, our culture, our science, but mankind will continue. There are people in this world who have never made a phonecall, who live as the land lets them, who do not shape their environment but who let their environment guide them, and they I think will do just fine while the big corporations that have hemmed them in burn away to nothing.

I don't think it will be easy, and I don't think it will be nice. But this age has been decadent. The luxuries we have as a species that we have decided are rights for our own people (provided they're the right people) will be regarded with awe by our descendants. So much food we were dying from trying to eat it all? We had machines sophisticated enough to do all our hard labour, yet we still made everyone work? Our worst problems were that too many of our babies lived?

Honestly, I think we'll survive, but we'll lose the west. The collatoral damage is what we should be ashamed of - the loss of diversity in parts of the world well removed from the centres of power that caused the calamity in the first place.
posted by Jilder at 12:34 AM on November 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


wow. I don't know what's more depressing, the FPP or the comments in this thread. I'm old enough to have completed an undergraduate degree in ecology and environmental science in the 1970s. The crises we are facing now were a common, everyday subject of conversation in those days, with a sense of urgency and historical necessity - which was the reason I chose that field of study in the first place. The terms 'global warming' and 'climate change' weren't yet commonly used, it was simply referred to as "the greenhouse effect", but it was well understood even then that we were pumping CO2 and other heat-trapping gasses into the atmosphere at a measurable rate, which would inevitably cause a corresponding rise in global temperature averages. The basic physics and chemistry behind this could be demonstrated in a lab by 1st or 2nd year students. It was understood that "if we don't do anything about this", then in say 40 or 50 years (ie. now, or soon) we would face a planetary-scale catastrophe. You don't have to take my word for it, all the important leg work leading up to the first Kyoto accord was done in the 80s, and this was a reasonable first step towards a solution, negotiated in a reasonable time frame by reasonable people. Around this same time California passed the "Zero-emissions Vehicle" mandate, requiring an increasing percentage of new vehicles be emissions-free, starting at 2% in 1998, increasing to 5% in 2001, 10% in 2003, etc. In other words, by about 20 years ago it wasn't just a bunch of scientists discussing this, but we had progressed to substantive legislative actions being undertaken.

So how did we go off the rails? It's not that industry and civilization requires a completely unrestricted use of fossil fuels, just a particular kind of industry and a particular form of civilization. In other words, a specific subset of powerful people saw their own personal power, wealth, and influence being undermined and set out to stop this from happening, whatever the cost. It wasn't inevitable, it didn't just happen, but was rather a very well organized and very well funded campaign to steer the course and the conversation away from alternatives. We're talking think tanks, media, politics. And it met with a high degree of tactical success, as we have seen. And now we are also beginning to see that these brilliant tacticians may not have been following a very sound strategy in the long term, just as the summer tourists in Jaws (thanks Camobear, for the analogy) came and supported the town's economy right up until the point that dismembered torsos started washing up on the beach. And then business headed south pretty quick.

What I'm trying to say is that all the talk of geo-engineering, survivalist fantasies, and defeatist resignation upthread is completely beside the point. What we need to understand about climate change is not so much the 'hard sciences' of it, but the 'black arts' of political and media manipulation that has prevented us from dealing with it for all these decades. Without understanding why we've diverged so far from such a promising start all of our efforts in other areas will be wasted. The campaign by well-funded liars to obscure the smoking/cancer relationship is another good analogy - except in this case, it's the whole planet and everyone on it, down to our grandchildren's grandchildren that will pay the price for keeping a small number of major shareholders in the chips a little longer.

The solutions to these problems are not technical or scientific, but rather social and political, and ultimately, spiritual. We're going to be dealing with the consequences of climate change for the rest of our lives, all of us, get used to it. As long as we remain susceptible to the same types of con-artists who have led us to this pass, no amount of green energy, geo-engineering or anything else will help.
posted by dinsdale at 12:53 AM on November 10, 2012 [42 favorites]


The good news, if there is any, is we are almost certainly going to see some major improvements in various renewable portfolio standards (RPS), and maybe -- I don't want to give false hopes, but just maybe a federal level RPS.

Some recent changes have been promising, 2012 is on record to break previous records for wind power rollout. The US has plenty of room for additional growth (once we update the grid, which we are working on, expect to see plenty of projects over the next 3 to 5 years). US wind penetration is like 3%, in comparison Germany is ~13%, Belgium 29%, 20% here in the US is doable.

Solar is/will be exploding, which is about time, it's been around for years and years and hasn't been anymore more than a niche product. Government agencies are beginning to price C02, maybe it is a bit low but it's a start and will guide policy decisions, cost/benefit analysis, etc.
posted by Shit Parade at 12:54 AM on November 10, 2012 [2 favorites]



The Pale Blue Dot [Read Aloud By Sagan Himself]
From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it's different. Consider again that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:15 AM on November 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Is it even possible to build a technological civilization without bootstrapping your way up through fossil fuels?

Yes - but it requires a creature with a different temperament and willingness to be organised than Man.

no confidence it is possible once we lose our entire civilization and industrial base

So long as the knowledge exists, the machines can be rebuilt.

I've brought up the 70% waste in Carbon projects which none of you have come up with a way to address. Now I'll point out the calls to use a Carbon Tax to balance the budget - and I'll ask you 'deep thinkers' on Carbon to show how the budget will be changed to stop or even slow the Carbon production while collecting this budget balancing Carbon tax.

As an added bonus - while the masses are being taxed for the sins of the Carbon producers - what kind of claw-back will be done VS the producers of the past?
posted by rough ashlar at 4:12 AM on November 10, 2012


to steer the course and the conversation away from alternatives.

While people were complaining in the '$20 a gallon is gouging' thread - is $20 a 'correct' price?

If one goes to http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/surveymost?ap one can see in sept of this year milk (non organic) was 3.47 and gasoline was 3.86

Now lets think about that. $3.86 for something that needs a $10 billion dollar plant to make and is made from something that is not renewable in a human timeframe.

VS $3.47 for something you need 1/2 an acre per cow (Eau Claire WI - government's ground zero of milk pricing), sunshine and a cow. A gallon is very replaceable in a human timeframe.

And for years a gallon of milk was more expensive than a gallon of gasoline. Think about that - a lower price for something that can't be regenerated in a human lifetime VS something that can.

How many of you really think $3.86 is a "correct" price for a gallon of Gasoline? Lets frame that further - searching for "watts in a gallon of gasoline" shows 10,000 to 11,000 watt-hours in a gallon. Odds are on a bicycle if you are fit you'll output 200 watts on a bicycle. 90 watts output from your upper body. Now go ahead and think about the work done for $4 VS if your muscles do that same work.

Lets do some more framing - Say you want to go with plant oil and you'll burn that in your diesel engine. 48 gallons of oil per acre of soybeans. Got lots of water or are inspired by Lenin? 102 gallons an acre for sunflowers. Carbon Dioxide extracted soy oil is $7-9 a gallon. $30 from the cheapest sunflower I found in 1 min of searching.


How many acres of energy are you burning?
posted by rough ashlar at 4:37 AM on November 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


But this age has been decadent.

this combined with the survivalist fantasies is a pretty gross mixture
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 6:46 AM on November 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Right now, at one thirty in the morning, I can amble out my front door and with minimum effort, acquire a chocolate bar made with slave-picked chocolate for not much more money than the worker who harvested it will see after weeks of work.

Explain to me how there is not perhaps just a smidgen decadent. And this is even before I take into account the carbon footprint of flying the nibs to Australia from Africa, from growing industrial quantities of sugarcane, the footprint of the plastic wrapper, of having it all combined in a totally different part of the country, and then shipped to a little box that is open, lit and air conditioned 24 hours a day just on the off chance I need a snack. I'm also walking distance away, so no need to factor in petrol or the massive footprint of my car.

We have luxuries that have become so ubiquitous we consider them to be banal.
posted by Jilder at 7:33 AM on November 10, 2012 [12 favorites]


You know, after thoroughly reading all of the links, reading all of the comments here in the discussion, and appropriately having a moment of silent acknowledgement, it's made me think about all the other civilizations in the universe that have experienced this same ordeal. Became technologically advanced, not recognized their impact, and destroyed themselves. Rinse and repeat for eternity among many different forms of life. I wonder if I'll be around to see it happen. Does that make me lucky?

I better save the romanticizing of impending death for when it's absurdly clear, I suppose.
posted by Evernix at 8:40 AM on November 10, 2012


I've got a kid who could feasibly live to see 2100. I don't have the luxury of throwing my hands up in despair. So what can we, right here, in this thread, do to solve this?

I live in a small house, on purpose. All my lightbulbs are CFLs; I buy Energy Star appliances. My family has one fuel-efficient car that we use sparingly. Though my family can't afford at the moment to move to a city with decent public transportation, we chose to live in an undesireable neighborhood to cut down on my husband's commute time, on purpose. I work from home, on purpose. I'm a vegetarian, specifically for environmental reasons. I grow some of the food my family eats (and some of the food my neighbors eat, too) organically in my backyard. I try not to waste food. I compost. I recycle. When I can afford it I try to make eco-friendly choices in buying clothing, toiletries and food.

I've run calculations on my carbon footprint and I know it's way lower than the American average, and I know it is still too high. And I know that I, alone, can't reasonably do much more to make an impactful change. The change we need requires collective action.

Thanks (no thanks) to the intervention of moneyed special interests that depend on fossil fuel consumption, our governments aren't moving fast enough to fix this.

So what can we, here, now, do to create collective action? There are so many intelligent people in the world who do recognize that climate change is a serious problem. It does seem to me that if enough of us stopped allowing ourselves to panic about the scope of the problem we face, and instead banded together to take logical action, we could make a difference that mattered. Maybe not a difference that could solve the problem. But a difference that mattered.

I know there are already all sorts of environmental groups organized and working to change laws and change behavior -- I've helped some of them. But it's clear their efforts aren't big enough. What more can we do? Surely some of the people here have some good ideas. Marches? Sit-ins? Boycotts? Fundraisers? TV commercials? Op-eds? Satire? Massive social media campaigns?

Even though the situation looks hopeless, doing nothing much to fight it seems like a shitty plan to me.

I sure as heck was not sure in 2007 that the United States could elect a black Democrat president, but I still went out and registered voters and knocked on doors. And look what we went and did. Twice.
posted by BlueJae at 9:18 AM on November 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


I agree that doing nothing much seems like a shitty plan, but think about what we're up against. Unless political leaders worldwide can be convinced to begin taking very serious measures in a short amount of time, we will not succeed. I appreciate what you did to help Obama get elected, but that was a massively organized campaign with hundreds of millions of dollars funding it. I feel your frustration at people's attitudes and wish there was some way to turn them around. Also keep in mind that these are people who believe in climate change. Imagine what it will take to motivate people who deny it is a problem!
posted by orme at 9:36 AM on November 10, 2012


Orme, the '08 Obama campaign ended massively organized and with millions of dollars backing it. It did not start that way.

(Trust me. I remember well opening a phone bank in an abandoned and actually crumbling union building. Without any phones.)

Of course, it did help that he eventually won the support of corporate backers, because he's basically a moderate Republican from the 70s policy-wise. There won't be massive corporate backing available for environmental advocates unless something big changes.

If you think I haven't thought about what we're up against, you're making an incorrect assumption. It's just that I would much rather look back, ten years from know, and know that I tried make a difference than know that I'd not really tried at all.
posted by BlueJae at 10:07 AM on November 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Meet the three men who are vying to next head of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology

Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California, needs to hit the science books, forestry experts suggest.

They reached that conclusion after hearing Mr. Rohrabacher declare during a Congressional hearing on Wednesday that clear-cutting the world’s rain forests might eliminate the production of greenhouse gases responsible for climate change.

On the witness stand was Todd Stern, the Obama administration’s climate change envoy, who was questioned on whether the nation’s climate policy should focus on reducing the more than 80 percent of carbon emissions produced by the natural world in the form of decaying plant matter.

“Is there some thought being given to subsidizing the clearing of rain forests in order for some countries to eliminate that production of greenhouse gases?” the congressman asked Mr. Stern, according to Politico.

“Or would people be supportive of cutting down older trees in order to plant younger trees as a means to prevent this disaster from happening?” he continued.


Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), a climate change skeptic, on Wednesday explained why he's seeking the gavel.

Sensenbrenner, in a statement, said he wants to lead the panel because the nation’s science and space policy is at a “critical juncture,” and that he would bring strong oversight to what he alleges is politicized science under President Obama.

Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas), the current chairman, must hand off the gavel due to term limits.

Sensenbrenner faces competition for the slot from Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), whom an aide said is “actively pursuing” the chairmanship. Sensenbrenner said his first priority will be to “pass smart science and space policy that spurs job creation and ensures America’s future competitiveness.”

He has questioned the views held by the vast majority of scientists about global warming and disputed the notion that the effects of carbon dioxide emissions are dangerous.


Lamar Smith (R- Texas)

Also the author of SOPA.
posted by futz at 11:07 AM on November 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


We're going to keep burning liquid hydrocarbons for the foreseeable future but there's nothing technical forcing us to use crude oil derived hydrocarbons. Carbon and hydrogen can be extracted from seawater and combined to form any kind of liquid hydrocarbon you like, Fischer–Tropsch and kin are well understood reactions and there's nothing I'm aware of that stops us from scaling that reaction as far up as we care to.

So basically you can keep the whole gasoline apparatus and just unplug the 'drilling rig' hose and replace it with a 'synthetic hydrocarbons' hose and the whole society that runs on top of it doesn't need to adapt at all. Nobody has to give up their SUVs or McMansions.

Now creating liquid fuels like that takes a lot of energy, all the energy that burning it eventually produces and then some for inefficiencies. In fact the amount of decadence that's fossil-fuel generated is basically a strict function of the amount of energy you can dump into it, everything else is just engineering.

We have ways of getting energy that aren't fossil fuels and I think we even have enough of them to make this work. Back of the envelope math, assuming we'd just replicate the largest example of each of these n times we could build:
  • ~800 of these nuclear plants (35.26 TWh each, ~$11 trillion) or
  • ~40,000 of these solar plants (136 GWh each, ~$57 trillion) or
  • ~10,000 of these wind farms (3.1 TWh each, 35% capacity, ~$16 trillion)

This of course just assumes you could build that much capacity and ignores efficiency and transmission losses. I'd say put all three industries to work at 100% construction capacity and when you've met the demand stop building nukes and replace them with solar and wind.

It's a lot of money mind you, something like the entire US GDP in total, 18 years of the entire military budget for comparison. Some more random calculations show that at ~6 billion tons of carbon emissions in the US, a flat carbon tax of $5/ton would be ~$30 billion of revenue a year or ~350 years of revenue to equate the cost of building all that.

So yeah. Half the military budget and 40 years and we can be no-shit carbon neutral. Efficiencies of scale and technology improvements are only going to bring that down and black swans like net-producing fusion will blow it all out of the water. It might still be too late but it's not impossible, we're just not willing to pay for it.
posted by Skorgu at 11:26 AM on November 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


BlueJae: I've got a kid who could feasibly live to see 2100. I don't have the luxury of throwing my hands up in despair. So what can we, right here, in this thread, do to solve this?

You're not going to like the answer, but I'd say the most effective thing any American can do to fight climate change is not individual conservation (you are a drop in an ocean), but is instead doing everything possible to advance the Democratic party. I don't really like all them that much, but getting the denialists out of power has to be objective #1 and getting a different party (like the Green party) into power is basically impossible, to the point that trying to do it is a total waste of effort.

Once they are solidly in power, we'd need to continue to push for more and more ecologically-active candidates within the party. The end goal would be to eliminate denialism as much as possible (campaign finance reform might be enough, but with laws if need be), put as much money into transforming our power supplies as possible, and put a lot of money into technological advancement (both better power supplies and geoengineering).
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:56 AM on November 10, 2012 [11 favorites]


I've been panicking about climate change since 1989, before it was cool. /hipster

There were some interesting ideas in Kim Stanley Robinson's Forty Signs trilogy, but I have no idea how realistic those would be to implement. (Massive tree-planting efforts, massive salt dumping into the ocean to keep the Gulf Stream flowing...)

I came to terms with it a couple years ago. We aren't going to stop it, and may not even slow it down. The moneyed interests are too entrenched in fossil fuels to give up their profits. Besides, they don't have to worry-- they can use their money to resettle in more habitable areas once the storms really start hitting.

I'm 40 in a couple weeks. I want to figure out what I'll have to do to ride this thing out, given that it'll hit when I'm about 70. How do you prepare for aging and retirement when you have no idea what it'll be like?
posted by cereselle at 11:59 AM on November 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Right now, at one thirty in the morning, I can amble out my front door and with minimum effort, acquire a chocolate bar made with slave-picked chocolate for not much more money than the worker who harvested it will see after weeks of work.

mistreatment of workers and byproducts from commerce are one thing, "decadence" is a gross, illiberal concept that usually comes hand in hand with someone getting screwed and, when used stateside, toxic american puritanism

and that is actually a thing a lot of people in many countries can do
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 12:03 PM on November 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


BlueJae: So what can we, here, now, do to create collective action?
My fantasy is that many millions write to Congress…
Dear Representative <name>,

Because even the finance industry recognizes that we are teetering on the edge of a planetary emergency (q.v. http://www.pwc.
com/gx/en/sustainability/publications/low-carbon-economy-index/index.jhtml
), I ask you to introduce at your earliest convenience the following legislation:
RESOLVED: The Treasurer of the United States is directed to pay to the first United States owned company (if corporate at least 85% of the shares must be held by U.S. citizens) the sum of $30 billion for the construction and maintenance of a solar power satellite system which delivers at least 1,000 megawatts of electric power to a receiving station or stations in the continental United States for a period of at least two years and one day. No monies shall be paid until the goals specified are accomplished and certified by suitable experts from the National Science Foundation or the National Academy of Science.
This is quite literally the least, and I mean the very least, that Congress can do to attempt to address the future energy needs of the United Sates. No public/private partnership is created. No subsidies or tax credits are enacted. Indeed there is no obligation on the Treasury whatsoever unless an American company actually accomplishes the specified task to the satisfaction of certified experts.

I urge you to introduce this legislation immediately. While there's still time.


Respectfully,

<Your Constituent>

cf. The SunSat Corporation Act

v.q. Space Solar Power Institute F.A.Q.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:06 PM on November 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


What’s at stake with climate changeUp with Chris Hayes, Chris Hayes, 3 November, 2012
posted by ob1quixote at 12:28 PM on November 10, 2012


Mitrovarr's comment is spot-on. Even though the Green Party in the U.S. attracts some smart, passionate, and idealistic people, we have run out of time to be idealists. It would still take dozens of years to get any substantial blocks of Greens into power, and right now as metaphorical burrs in the sides of Democrats they don't do too much.

We (and this is a global "we," considering America's global impact) need to support the smartest Democrats we can in the United States and get the climate deniers out of power -- on the local and state levels, yes, but especially in the U.S. Congress and Senate. (See Futz' comment about the three climate-change-denier Republicans who want to head the Congressional Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.) But just being a Democrat isn't enough -- as constituents, we need to make sure our politicians keep this at the front of their minds. And now that Obama's not worried about re-election, what are some ways that we, as regular citizens, can help him move it to the top of his priority list, too?
posted by lisa g at 12:34 PM on November 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it shows how invested people are in panicking and freaking out about this that anyone would leap from "a worse-case scenario is..." to "OMG YOU WANT TO SOLVE EVERY PROBLEM WITH NUKES" and "EVERY CITY DESTROYED MASS GRAVES BLOOD BLOOD BLOOD!"

All I was did was point out that you had no understanding of the scenario you were invoking. You used a phrase in an ignorance that thirty seconds of Wikipedia reading could have remedied. Instead of answering my question (do you have any idea at all how many bombs it would take to accomplish what you are proposing, leaving aside the question of whether it would work at all), you chose to mischaracterize my attempt to remedy your ignorance as "being invested in panicking". Pretty telling.
posted by adamdschneider at 1:12 PM on November 10, 2012 [2 favorites]




It's my fondest wish that Obama's second-term agenda will be an environmental moonshot. I have kids. I'd like them to enjoy the same comforts in life as I have.

Here's my question: If in the next handful of years, we DO invent and deploy perfect green energy, is that enough to divert catastrophe? I've spent the last week sleeping in a tent on the of my living room floor with my family, shivering, in the wake of Sandy and our 12-day power loss. I'd really hate to have that be my retirement.
posted by Andrhia at 1:23 PM on November 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah Jilder, I think the extent to which our society depends on the exploitation of poor people is deplorable, but I also don't think that's a necessary consequence of civilization, or that we can't have arts, science and culture without slavery and runaway carbon emissions.

There's a strain of "let the whole thing burn" in some less mainstream environmentalist circles (cf Daniel Quinn) that I find pretty problematic. For one thing, the richest members of society as it is now have the greatest ability to weather a catastrophic collapse, so I suspect that what we get after the hypothetical fall of the West is more likely to resemble feudalism or warlordism than prelapsarian tribalism. For another it discounts that regardless of the outcome, letting the world's population collapse is going to be a bloody and brutal affair where the most defenseless members of society will suffer even more disproportionately. Anyway, I'm not saying you're endorsing this type of view - I just wanted to respond with a couple of reasons what you were saying gave me pause even though you also said things I agree with.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:27 PM on November 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


All I was did was point out that you had no understanding of the scenario you were invoking. You used a phrase in an ignorance that thirty seconds of Wikipedia reading could have remedied. Instead of answering my question (do you have any idea at all how many bombs it would take to accomplish what you are proposing, leaving aside the question of whether it would work at all), you chose to mischaracterize my attempt to remedy your ignorance as "being invested in panicking". Pretty telling.

It's pretty silly to lord over the rest of us how well-informed you are because you've read one Wikipedia article. I didn't respond to the quibbles you're trying to raise because it's pretty obvious that all you have done is look up "nuclear winter" on Wikipedia and grab the most lurid and scary-sounding phrases from it.

When scientists talk about a "nuclear winter extinction hypothesis" for what happened to the dinosaurs they are not theorizing that the dinosaurs had a nuclear war and that the prehistoric climate changed because their cities burned. I really don't care what it says on Wikipedia or what Carl Sagan was thinking when he coined the term in the 1980s. Today the phrase "nuclear winter" in general refers to the consequences of a large increase in the particulate levels in the atmosphere.

Individual volcanic eruptions at several points in just the last couple of centuries appear to have affected the climate on a global scale. Simple things like the dust blowing off of the Sahara have inter-continental effects.

No, I haven't done some sort of study to determine what types of bombs would have what effect if used to maximize the atmospheric particulates created - and I will again point out this would be a worst-case scenario if we can't get our shit together and accomplish any of the other projects that have been mentioned in this thread and yes, it would have a variety of serious disadvantages which are what make it a worst-case scenario - but sorry, if you seriously believe that something you read on Wikipedia confirms the notion that the climate change situation we're in is hopeless and there's no reason to live anymore you are just being an idiot.
posted by XMLicious at 6:45 PM on November 10, 2012


It's not a "worst case scenario," it's no scenario. You have zero data, therefore are not even wrong to suggest it. For my part, I don't care what you think a particular phrase does or does not mean. It is crystal clear to me that you do not understand what you're invoking. The fact that you continually rely on barking dog tactics instead of actual discussion merely solidifies that. There are many salient differences between an asteroid impact (or volcanic eruption) and a bomb detonation, but you can look into that for yourself. Finally, I never said there is no reason to live anymore, or even suggested it. This is my last word on the subject.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:55 PM on November 10, 2012


If you were not actually responding to the point I was making about the excessive despondency being expressed in this thread and you don't even care what the phrase you're trying to dispute means, but were simply attempting to pull a drive-by "Imma drop some Wikipedia knowledge on ya" then by all means drop the subject.

Sorry if my "barking dog tactics" of not going along with whatever straw man interpretation of my words you thought you could tear down via quoting from a single Wikipedia article cramped your style while you were in the process of so generously trying to "remedy [my] ignorance".

Maybe if you try to imagine what the people you're talking to actually mean when they say things instead of trying to use those comments as a springboard to seek out some way to pat yourself on the back for your own exceptional crystal clear understanding and deride the supposed ignorance of others then the "actual discussion" you're allegedly looking for will arise.

On the off chance that you are somehow serious in amongst all of these repeated strident declarations of how ignorant I am and sneering quotation of Wikipedia, I hope you can see why in a thread about how severely we have fucked up the environment I would have trouble believing that you're attempting to make any actual point when you appear to be saying that it isn't possible for us to fuck it up in the other direction and intentionally cause a nuclear winter scenario.

(Or maybe you really are just objecting to the use of the term "nuclear winter" to describe that sort of cooling effect from wrecking the atmosphere in a fashion that increases its albedo, despite your recent assurance here that you don't care what I meant by using that term? Or is the whole "remedying your ignorance" thing a quodlibet over the exact method through which it would be accomplished, i.e. you really do want to discuss exactly how many bombs of what type and what kind of dust or other particulate would have to be used? Or maybe you do actually have some certain proof that this is not possible... if so, I would hope that you have a better source than Wikipedia. So in conclusion, by all means solidify the discussion into whatever it is you want to talk about, though I may not be able to respond for a while.)
posted by XMLicious at 9:34 PM on November 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ah, don't get me wrong here. I'm not of the "burn, decadent western establishment, burn!" camp here at all. I don't want to come across as advocating this as a sort of biblical smiting here. I am very thoroughly of the opinion that our lifestyle is completely unsustainable, and the expectation that my grandchildren should be able to enjoy some of the luxuries my generation takes for granted is a significant part of the problem.

I don't want my grandkids expecting to find tropical fruit out of season readily available in their marketplace. That's the sort decadence I'm talking about. I don't want them to be able to buy a fucking five dollar cotton shirt on a whim to wear maybe four or five times, made from sweatshop labour from materials grown on land once used to grow food, watered with thousand year old aquifer water.

We've externalized the costs of these sorts of little luxuries onto our environment to the point where we can no longer see the costs at all. And we, collectively, are not willing to give up these little things in order to preserve the big ones. Oh, commuting is hard, I don't want to spend the extra twenty minutes getting to work, I'll just drive my massive car every day. That sort of thing.

And if you think that the exploitation of the working class is not a part of the problem, think again. What's the footprint, you think, on goods shipped from places where labour is cheap, to places where the prices are better? Do you think perhaps setting up shop in countries with lax environmental standards may be contributing to the problem, too?

It's all interlocked.

We'll survive this. But what we have at the end will not resemble what we have now. This is ultimately an optimistic position. Everyone crying how this is the end of the world is kind of missing the part where we, as a species, survive this sort of thing every hundred thousand years or so, every ice age, every volcanic eruption. We survive it using the tools that got us out of the trees in the first place - our adaptability, our intelligence, our ultimate understanding that things continue on beyond our generation.
posted by Jilder at 9:55 PM on November 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Jilder: Everyone crying how this is the end of the world is kind of missing the part where we, as a species, survive this sort of thing every hundred thousand years or so, every ice age, every volcanic eruption.

No, we don't. This is worse than those. There is a very real chance we are going to drive the planet's reef-building organism extinct. That has only happened... twice, I think, in the history of the Earth, and never in the history of mankind. Hell, I'm not sure mammals were around for either one.

What we're doing, aside from modern climate change, is already causing one of the major mass extinctions in the history of the Earth. Climate change will just make it worse, way worse, particularly when considering ocean acidification. What we're doing is both faster and more severe than nature itself can manage. This is not one of those periodic dangers you mention; there has only been 4-6 major mass extinctions in the history of the Earth. We're in one, worsening it, and loss of biodiversity is nasty. You can never remediate it and it never heals on the timescale that humanity lives.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:58 PM on November 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Climate change will just make it worse, way worse...

What do you think an ice age is?

... it never heals on the timescale that humanity lives.

I never said it was going to heal. I think we, as a species, will just learn to live with the wounds.

What will die is our culture. And deeply tragic as that is, it's happened dozens of times before.
posted by Jilder at 2:32 AM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't want my grandkids expecting to find tropical fruit out of season readily available in their marketplace. That's the sort decadence I'm talking about. I don't want them to be able to buy a fucking five dollar cotton shirt on a whim to wear maybe four or five times, made from sweatshop labour from materials grown on land once used to grow food, watered with thousand year old aquifer water.

do you want them to be able to have both halves of their family unit working instead of one half staying at home and raising kids. also do you want them to have access to things to which rich people have always had access
And if you think that the exploitation of the working class is not a part of the problem

because exploitation wasn't as big of a problem before cheap energy, when they used people to do things motors do now

i sure hope somebody out there has a real solution to this because all this talk of cutting back sounds kind of austere
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 3:09 AM on November 11, 2012


Man I'm glad I don't have kids... because we are so deeply fucked.

Imma gonna have another drink
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 3:51 AM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Coming back and reading this now, well I am having more depressing thoughts. To whit:
1.) The green revolution may have helped doom us
2.) Population Growth may be slowing, but that is the first derivative, not the actual number of people.
3.) All the ways out of this that I see either cause massive numbers of deaths or mutilations. We are talking either black plague levels of death or even stronger cases of sterilization.
4.) A lot of this reduction does have to happen in the industrialized world, given just how many resources each person consumes.

Maybe this is our answer to the Fermi Paradox. Not just (as I have always thought) that the distances are so damn far apart that nobody has bothered to send colonization generation ships, but that intelligent life contains the seeds of its own destruction. Charlie Jane Andrews wrote story a couple of years ago called The Fermi Paradox is Our Business Model.

And then part of me thinks that, given the relative military powers, the US is well placed to do some massive population reduction and perhaps even cause a nuclear winter. Which might just save us, but that sort of thinking makes me feel sick.
posted by Hactar at 7:22 AM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


five cents for the debate, followed by a quote:

"In this paper we have argued that the elegant attraction of ‘climate stabilization’ discourses has culminated in a focus on long-term mitigation targets and a cost-effective climate policy that does not address broader political and ethical questions about the timescale, actors and costs involved. It seems appropriate, scientifically, historically and socially, to question this discursive hegemony and open up debates on more productive and effective framings of climate policy. This paper therefore argues that while the climate stabilization discourse (and associated ways of thinking/proposing/acting) has been valuable in drawing greater attention to human influences on the global climate, it is time to explicitly move to more productive ways of considering minimizing detrimental impacts from human contributions to climate change."
posted by AnTilgangs at 9:05 AM on November 11, 2012


Maybe it's because I'm an older person, but I still think the way forward is a set of international agreements that commit governments to clear reductions in CO2 output. If The North is willing to put their money where their mouths are, the rest of the world will at least be forced to re-think their status in the world community. Do I think China will go along with something like this? Yes, maybe not tomorrow, but soon.

How are we going to achieve serious and world-changing reductions in CO2 output? Basically, we have to restructure our economy. That would mean stopping the pretense that Capitalism is somehow the only solution to any economic problem. We are actually organized and smart enough to say, "Look, this isn't working. Allowing large corporations to loot and pillage the planet for profit isn't producing the kind of future we want for our kids. We need to do something else." Capitalism is the excuse we've been using all these years to avoid dealing with the issues we've created. Well, now we've accumulated enough FREEDOM to do what's needed to prevent disaster.

That would also mean accepting a reduction in our standard of living. Could we do this without "going back to the Stone Age" as I've seen it described. Absolutely. Why can't we go back to the 18th C with computers and solar? What worries me is that we seem to be imagining a future where we more or less continue along the same course we're on now, but with half-assed investments in solar technology and electric cars, and everything just works out. No - we're going to have to accept a serious reduction in standard of living, and in our expectations. We have barely started on serious energy efficiency re-investment/re-tooling, whatever you want to call it. Why not? Did I mention the end of Capitalism?
posted by sneebler at 12:01 PM on November 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


sneebler: Why can't we go back to the 18th C with computers and solar?

Well, there's two easy reasons right off the top of my head:

1. Without utilizing modern agricultural methods, we couldn't even come close to feeding everyone, or even half of everyone.

2. Are you going to force every country in the world to do it? Including China and Russia, which you can't intimidate with nukes? Unless you get everyone on board willingly (good luck) those countries will be able to take over anyone else almost uncontested. Even if they're not going to do that right away, when things get tough later you can't guarantee they won't. You're basically giving them a golden ticket to rule the world and hoping their morals and ethics stop them.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:48 PM on November 11, 2012


Well, I'm certainly going to try to coerce every country in the world to do it.

My idea of "18th Century" means something like "Europe in the late 18th C." not "the US in the 18th C." Because that isn't what we're after. And slaves aren't on the menu. In 1800, Europe has been a stable set of communities/nations for hundreds of years (yes, yes, wars & the decline & fall of empires), while the US is still expanding into the wilderness. There is a huge difference in perspective here.

"Modern agricultural methods" doesn't have to mean huge inputs of fertilizer and fuel. But part of what we'd have to do is go back on the land and actually farm stuff ourselves, instead of relying on corporations to provide food for us. (I know I'm glossing over a whole lot of detail here, but I have the flu.) My problem with "corporate" agriculture is that it doesn't do anything unless it's profitable, but in my world sustainability and community stability are more valuable than profit. What we've lost in the meantime is communities of farmers who actually knew how to farm efficiently given the local economy and climate. Again, I'm feeling kind of anti-capitalism today, so that might influence my vision of how to do it.

The price of food should be much higher than it is today. One of the problems with "modern agricultural methods" is that only giant corporations controlling vast chunks of land can make a profit growing food. This whole system is predicated on low food prices rather than sustainability or the efficient use of energy or land. We could grow up, and read the writing on the wall here.

A couple of other points:

Permaculture: this means actually investing in long-term efficiencies and agricultural practices tailored to the local climate and ecology. At the same time, it's an investment in long-term thinking: we need to learn to take responsibility for "doing the right thing" in a time and place, instead of looking at landscapes as merely opportunities for exploitation.

Education: we (The West) could spend more money on educating people about how we could solve some of these problems (and more on education in general, at the expense of "defense" budgets). We could also work with people around the world to solve local problems and build a sense of shared responsibility for a sustainable future.

Why aren't we doing this (and a bunch of other things touched on in this thread) now? Because the standard N. American mantra is "the free market will take care of it". Yes, the market will take care of it, but not in a way or timeline that benefits any but those who control the markets. That's why in a "free" market, we continue to subsidize things like bad agricultural practices and the oil industry, instead of alternative energy systems.

We pride ourselves on being some kind of pinnacle of civilization, but we continue to elect people to public office who have no fucking clue about biology, ecology or science in general. Here's an issue that requires an educated populace to make personal decisions about how they're going to participate in a sustainable economy/future.

Even if temperatures and sea levels rise dramatically over the next 200 years, we can still take preventative steps, and we can take advantage of some of the immanent changes to create more long-term options. (I'm assuming we're not going to reduce CO2 output by 75% this year...)

Here's an example: It's true that increasing CO2 concentrations also increase plant productivity (not in all types of plant, and not without limits). If the next 500 years is going to be warmer than the 20th C., especially at higher latitudes, how can we maximize our agricultural productivity in those places? Restructuring our approach to agriculture, and doing some detailed planning about how we could produce more food in a warming world might buy us some time to work on the political issues.

Back to Mitrovarr's comment: Unless you get everyone on board willingly (good luck) those countries will be able to take over anyone else almost uncontested.

Ok, I'll admit to being overly optimistic about the possibilities here, but this idea that the nations of the world, or the UN, can never, ever work together is a real problem. Not that the UN doesn't have its issues, but its principal problem at the moment is that the US objects to any form of functioning world government, and has done everything it can to undermine the UN. Here in Canada, just watching the news you can get lots of anti-UN propaganda, and we're not even the main audience. But you're right, it doesn't make any sense for one country or even one trading block to pretend they can solve these problems on their own and ignore the rest of the world.

We have to grow up and accept that we all live on the same planet. Using excuses like China! or Russia! or America! isn't going to work any more. Otherwise we're not going to have much of a planet to live on. It's that simple.
posted by sneebler at 2:16 PM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


We would have to go back to devoting a much larger percentage of the economy to agriculture but upping it to late 19th or early 20th century technology wouldn't be so bad in that respect. Before everything became petroleum-powered they had things like combine harvesters drawn by a team of 30 horses. Even if it has to be powered by mules on turnstiles much of our mechanized processing can remain, maybe even controlled by low-powered computers. And we aren't going to lose steel ploughs, for example.

I would expect that a larger problem would be things like the depletion of the Oglala aquifer and other sources of water such as glacier-fed rivers.

On the other hand, if we hit the jackpot in the next few decades with some sort of ultra-low-power nanotechnological method of desalination we might be able to do things like convert the Sahara or most of Australia into farmland. Though there would be an accompanying problem of all the saline waste consequently generated.

Another interesting thing is windjammers, which were basically the final evolution of sailing ships. They were steel-hulled and had sophisticated partly-mechanized rigging that allowed them to run with much smaller crews than earlier ships of their size. Seems like they could do pretty well if accompanied by a GPS system (Or GLONASS or BeiDou-2 or Galileo system) and modern weather forecasting, if we can keep those systems going.

We also might want to build some Chinese-Grand-Canal-type long-distance canals while we're still energy-rich.

(But anyways, it seems to me that what the links in the OP are saying is that we are past the point where the problem can be successfully mediated solely by reducing CO₂ output. As Mitrovarr points out, in practicality there won't be any way to get people to stop generating CO₂ while doing so still confers such a large competitive advantage. I think that the best thing we can do is try to engineer a soft landing subsequent to resource depletion and the effects of climate change by being prepared for a transition to a 19th-century-technology-with-computers-and-solar-amidst-hurricanes-and-typhoons-and-receding-coastlines-and-disappearing-glaciers-and-permafrost society.)
posted by XMLicious at 2:59 PM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, I don't see us going back to horse-powered threshing (I'm violently allergic to horses, for one thing*). Horse-drawn other stuff if appropriate, but threshing is one area where you'd probably be able to figure out some way of burning (bio)diesel, but making it more efficient than having every single farmer buy and use their own $160k combine.

People are working on wind power for ocean-going transport: darn those giant food corporations anyway! We just need to ensure that we're investing in the right kind of infrastructure. (Mostly for the dated ghost fleet picture, but the walnuts story is interesting.)

I'm not holding my breath for technological solutions to any of these problems. There are old, slow, efficient, and unprofitable ways to do many of these things. Like insulating your house - it's not sexy or high-tech, but over the life of the building it will save a lot of energy. Multiply that by millions of houses and you can reduce greenhouse gas emissions for a nation. Not that there isn't a great high-tech solution just around the corner, but we haven't shown much commitment to doing anything with existing technology.

One of my concerns is that we use the promise of future technological development to put off real changes today. Yes, it's possible that we'll develop FTL ships (and start fresh on a new planet!), nano desalination (no more water shortages!) or 99% efficient solar panels (no more CO2!) tomorrow, but it's not all that likely. Look at batteries - we've been working on batteries for years, and while the iThing revolution is as much due to advances in battery technology as Apple's marketing genius, we're still a long way from being able to store a day's solar-generated electricity for use overnight. (Although I like the idea of using plugged-in electric cars as a "crowd-sourced" battery pack.)

I'm with you on the aquifer depletion/pollution issue. Here in Calgary, basically all our water comes from melting glaciers. That's going to be a limiting factor for population and agricultural growth here, unless we're going to do some major water transfer engineering in western Canada. Although they've been talking about building a canal from northern Alberta to move water to Utah/Oregon/California for years, so maybe it will happen...

*Having said that, I'd be totally ok with going back to a life of pastoral simplicity, and all that that entails. But I spent many summers (and a couple of Christmases) on a small ranch with no running water or electricity. I think most city dwellers are against that kind of thing.
posted by sneebler at 4:06 PM on November 11, 2012


What are we?
posted by stonepharisee at 4:24 PM on November 11, 2012


Nanotech desalinization is a bit more likely than faster-than-light travel, though—there have been a variety of experimental approaches tested in labs during the last decade like nanotube membranes and it may even simply be an engineering problem at this point and a matter of just how low we can get the energy requirements.

It's more of a cross-your-fingers thing than hold-your-breath; and betting on it doesn't really delay anything other than the construction of desalination plants based on current osmosis technology. I just bring it up because it would affect the degree to which we'd have to return to an agrarian economy in the long term if we become unable to sustain modern farming methods. The more desert that can be converted to farmland (or kept as farmland, in places like the southwestern U.S.) the less people will have to do intensive farming on the terraced slopes of the Transantarctic Mountains.

I've also wondered whether low-energy desalination could make it possible to wrap the root system of normal crops or fruit trees in some sort of desalinating barrier so that they can be grown in a salt marsh or in extremely saline soil, which could be very helpful when the coastlines are receding. A sort of hydroponics-in-soil where you don't have to build a hydration system, as it were.
posted by XMLicious at 4:57 PM on November 11, 2012




XMLicious: You're just throwing out science-fiction ideas as potential solutions, starting, as you did, with invoking the creation of nuclear winter via nukes as a method for dealing with climate change.

Of course, you counter that by saying it was just a hypothetical hail-mary pass and there's plenty of other arrows in the quiver for our response bow such as "cross-your-fingers" that nanotech will rescue us or "hydroponics-in-soil".

I admire your rugged resolve, your success in turning cognitive dissonance into speculative musing action. I'm not wailing about the end of the world, but I'm very worried about future generations and so should you.
posted by panaceanot at 3:39 AM on November 12, 2012


Riiight. You can at least agree that canals and horse-drawn combine harvesters and sailing ships aren't science fiction, right?

If you think that nanotechnological approaches to water treatment and desalination are science fiction akin to faster-than-light travel, as I said above you just aren't keeping up with science. I usually hate it when people say "just Google it" but seriously, just Google it. Even just Google it via Google Scholar or Google Books. There are entire books written about it at this point. The "jackpot" I mention above would be if the many current R&D projects investigating these approaches came up with a scalable ultra-low-power version of it.

(Unless you really are just talking about the "hydroponics-in-soil" thing. I am basically describing a tree planted in a plastic bucket in a salt marsh with a filter that only lets in fresh water and nutrients. Sorry to confuse you with science-fictiony terms like "hydroponics." Which also is a real thing already used at an industrial scale, BTW - again, just Google it.)

At this point I don't know what to say if anyone still thinks that more particulates in the atmosphere reducing temperatures is science fiction. I didn't actually specify using nuclear bombs to produce that effect and I did not propose it as any sort of reasonable solution - however fixated you guys became on that phrase (or really, you just became fixated on the single word "nuclear" as people did when MRIs were originally called "Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging") I was very explicitly talking to the people wailing about the end of the world. But bravo for the campaign to "remedy ignorance" with Wikipedia articles and by talking about this phenomenon like it's science fiction.

Go ahead and pat yourself on the back for how much more effective your worrying is than mine, since evidently being worried about all of the aquifers we use for farming disappearing, constant hurricanes and typhoons, glaciers and permafrost disappearing, the coasts of all the continents being submerged or becoming salt marshes, and so much of the world becoming desert that we end up farming in the mountains of Antarctica just isn't enough worrying.

But such self-congratulation is kind of foolish when at most we're discussing what either of us is thinking about the problem and the future, rather than doing. (Indeed, I would be pretty surprised if either of us is doing substantially more about this than the other.) And it seems to me that you are the one embracing cognitive dissonance to simultaneously claim that you aren't doomsaying or wailing about the end of the world but then express a standard that unless I worry about a much worse outcome than what I've described, (and a worse outcome is difficult to interpret as anything other than the end of the world) the consequences of climate change I'm concerned about don't even count as worrying.
posted by XMLicious at 11:35 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


We are the only people that can save us.
posted by nTeleKy at 12:09 PM on November 12, 2012




IEA World Energy Outlook 2012

U.S. to become world's largest oil producer before 2020, IEA says

IEA World Energy Outlook 2012 Executive Summary

IEA World Energy Outlook 2012 Factsheets

Energy‐related CO2 emissions rise from an estimated 31.2 Gt in 2011 to 37.0 Gt in 2035, pointing to a long‐term average temperature increase of 3.6 °C.
posted by Golden Eternity at 5:34 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


No More Magical Thinking
posted by homunculus at 6:43 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


The kernel of this comment formed when I read something homunculus posted in another thread about a lady chalking the 100-year flood line in Brooklyn. I reconsidered and just closed the tab, as you're supposed to do when all you're really doing is venting your spleen. However, reading some of those IEA links rekindled the white-hot and ultimately impotent rage I feel about this entire situation. My apologies in advance.

I'm just the right age to have lived in the past as a child, only to have all that jerked out from under me as I was coming to adulthood. I got over that, mostly. Now that I've passed through the end of youth and have become a robust man of middle years, I see clearly that I'm going to get to live out my elder years in a wildly different world: a blasted hellscape of drowned metropolises with a population of 10 billion people all trying to live and eat and love and die while piled on top of one another in an increasingly small habitable zone.

Those of us who came of age in fin de siecle America knew we were never going to get what our parents got. Still, we were optimistic about the promise of Moore's law and the Internet. We thought we could have a high-tech future that, while not the 2.6 kids in the suburbs life our parents had, would still be carrying the torch of progress that had been passed from hand to hand for a thousand generations before us.

Now, instead of anything good, or even the less-bad dystopic Gibsonian future so many of us grew up reading about, we're going to end our days in something more like Soylent Green than anything else. I just can't wait for some twenty-something born in 2022 to roll their eyes at me about how we used to vacation in Seaside Park, New Jersey or how beautiful spring in North Georgia used to be; How it would look like snow had fallen if you were flying into Atlanta because of all the dogwood blooms in the woods.

On the day I was born, there was still time. There were still options for the future. Our elders knew something must be done. By 1973 when Soylent Green came out, most thinking men and women couldn't deny that the course must be changed if the human project was to continue. Yet in the interceding four decades nothing—absolutely nothing—was done. Men who will be long dead by the time the piper must be paid prevaricated and hemmed and hawed and wanted further study and in the end they did nothing!

Everyone who bears even an iota of blame will be long dead, of course. It's just us, and our children and grandchildren that will live through the horror. A thousand generations of progress burned away for what? Nothing lasting. Nothing important. Nothing worthwhile. Nothing but an extra nickle of profit that won't even be worth a dime thirty years from now.

Despair is a sin, of course, but what else is there?

Again, my apologies.
posted by ob1quixote at 7:44 PM on November 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


My favorite part of these sorts of posts is how everyone is off to left arguing furiously to a large empty space on the right thinking they are accomplishing something.
posted by Bonzai at 9:37 PM on November 13, 2012




“Look, we're still trying to debate whether we can just make sure that middle-class families don't get a tax hike,”

This is incredibly frustrating, especially from a dude who doesn't even need to worry about re-election. "Middle-class families", and everyone else in the US who can practically pay more tax, need a tax hike, if only because if those Americans who are not poor didn't have so much disposable income, the Climate Clusterfuck would be less of a problem. It would be great if, whenever I was tempted to by fake plastic shit, I realized I couldn't afford it, having already instead paid for meaningful public transport infrastructure, or solar panels on the roof or the free (for them) education of an army of climate-savvy civil engineers or whatever.

Has a US major politician ever had the gumption to be like "Holy fuck, folks, we overconsume. This is problematic. It's time to see if it's even possible to restructure the economy in a serious way, and mitigate some of the damage that's been done. This is going to cost all of us money and effort, and we will have to display adaptability and avoid immature emotional commitment to unsustainable lifestyles. We're very likely all fucked anyway, but we have to give this a try."?

No. It's just "hurf durf let's spend all our energy and public goodwill doing minor tinkering with capitalism; let's fiddle (with minor shit) while Rome burns, (because rising sea levels will extinguish the fire anyway)."
posted by kengraham at 6:05 AM on November 16, 2012


("fake plastic shit" here refers also, or even mostly, to lots of stuff that is necessary, or almost necessary, for most folks at present. It turns out that if people are presented with a limited range of options, all of which are irresponsible and shitty, they'll make irresponsible, shitty decisions, through no fault of their own. I feel weird advocating autocratic measures, but, for example, it wouldn't be bad if the right-wing paranoid fantasy of The Day they Round Up the Guns came true, with "guns" replaced by "cars", following a serious infrastructure change, paid for by a public who no longer has to pay for cars and the attendant gasoline and insurance and maintenance and whatever.)
posted by kengraham at 6:19 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]






World Bank Envisions A 4 C Future

Here's a more recent thread, btw.
posted by homunculus at 1:43 AM on December 4, 2012


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