No civilisation by 2100?
January 18, 2011 7:33 PM   Subscribe

The world is well on track to achieve 4 degrees of warming by 2100. In September 2009, a conference organised by the Tyndall Centre looked at this scenario, with the papers recently published in a special issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. Pr. Anderson of the Tyndall Centre suggests that only 10 percent of humanity may survive this conflagration.
posted by wilful (114 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
No you're wrong technology will save us we can geoengineer massive heatsinks plus you hate capitalism and you must be racist against Chinese and Indian people also scientists aren't that smart sometimes they lie what do you expect from a bunch of government-funded atheists it's too expensive to fix anyhow.

/Fox News
posted by Avenger at 7:39 PM on January 18, 2011 [35 favorites]


well, the comments on the scotsman link are pretty depressing in their level of mindless denial - but, what i would like to know is - what exactly are the details that bring pr. anderson to believe that only 10% of humanity will survive this? - i don't deny for a minute that the consequences aren't serious - but THAT serious?

what's his thinking here?
posted by pyramid termite at 7:45 PM on January 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


The one and only hope is to limit population. Nothing else matters. All the conservation, efficiency, recycling, etc. in the world won't help is population is not checked.

Failing that, population will find itself limited involuntarily, and painfully.
posted by smcameron at 7:50 PM on January 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


The one and only hope is to limit population.

So the one and only hope is that everyone voluntarily resists the single most powerful human drive?

On an individual basis, it's possible, and people do it all the time. Statistically, in the aggregate: no.
posted by IjonTichy at 7:51 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


On an individual basis, it's possible, and people do it all the time. Statistically, in the aggregate: no.

The question of whether we can is separate from the question of whether we need to. If we don't, the planet will do it for us and the more I think about it, the more acceptable that outcome is.
posted by cmoj at 7:55 PM on January 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


How can anyone read a prediction on something as chaotic as the climate and not laugh when it's 90 years into the future?
posted by indubitable at 7:55 PM on January 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


I did a quick Google search, and also checked out the Tyndall website, but there was nothing I could find that qualified why only 10 percent of humanity might survive. Not that I disbelieve what they're saying, but it would be nice to know why.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:55 PM on January 18, 2011


i don't deny for a minute that the consequences aren't serious - but THAT serious?

what's his thinking here?


The period of human expansion (last 13 000 years) can be defined as a period of stable sea level. The rising of the sea level will have massive, massive detrimental effects on our ability to feed ourselves, and most importantly an unstable sea level will result in unstable food sources.
posted by mek at 7:55 PM on January 18, 2011


It's not population that's the problem, it's consumption - specifically a North American/First World form of consumption that results in high per capital GHG emissions.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:56 PM on January 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


The comments just remind us how powerful the human ability to deny the obvious is. Until the tidal wave is surging up their garden path, many people will continue to deny that global warming exists. It's real, it'll happen and we are running out of chances to do anything about it thanks to people being unable to take what are effectively small actions - conserve, drive less, pollute less - because they will involve expense and inconvenience. The problem is that the expense and inconvenience are short-term as economies of scale kick in, but the problem isn't short-term unless we act.
posted by arcticseal at 7:57 PM on January 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Pr. Anderson of the Tyndall Centre suggests that only 10 percent of humanity may survive this conflagration.

Well, at least there's a bright side.
posted by Trochanter at 7:58 PM on January 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


"killyourselfnowandavoidtherush" is not a helpful tag.
posted by pts at 7:59 PM on January 18, 2011 [18 favorites]


The world is well on track to achieve 4 degrees of warming

OK, Kevin Bacon was in The Big Picture with Perla Walter, who appeared in Maid to Order with Katey Sagal, who played Leela on Futurama, which featured a cameo by Al Gore, star of An Inconvenient Truth!
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:03 PM on January 18, 2011 [41 favorites]


The rising of the sea level will have massive, massive detrimental effects on our ability to feed ourselves, and most importantly an unstable sea level will result in unstable food sources.

Why would that be? Even the highest estimates of future sea levels don't come close to reducing more than a small fraction of arable land.
posted by Tsuga at 8:04 PM on January 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Global "warming" has always been a particular innocuous selection of words. Upheaval is better. Given just how much of humanity lives near a coast — more than half within about a hundred miles — any significant rise in sea level means a lot of lost homes. The weather won't just be warmer, it will be weirder. All of that extra heat pumped into a system means more churn, more uncertainty, or in other words, more strange weather systems. More hurricanes per year, and larger ones, too. Knock the ocean ecosystem too far out of balance with more ultraviolet radiation, higher temperatures, and increased acidification and the people who depend on seafood (see that big bunch of folks near the coast) suddenly go hungry even as Kansas starts measuring its weather systems in dorothies per hour.
posted by adipocere at 8:06 PM on January 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


How can anyone read a prediction on something as chaotic as the climate and not laugh when it's 90 years into the future?

I'll handle this one: Probably because their knowledge of what climate scientists do and how climate modelling works is more than offhand.
posted by gompa at 8:07 PM on January 18, 2011 [16 favorites]


The period of human expansion (last 13 000 years) can be defined as a period of stable sea level.

Actually, global sea level has risen about 60 metres in the last 13,000 years, about 20 times the pessimistic estimates of sea level rise in the next century. This itself is a portion of the ca. 120 metre rise in global sea level since the end of the last ice age.

I do agree that flooding of productive and populous coastal zones will be important with even a single metre of sea level rise though and catastrophic with a three metre rise. Population displacement and resulting conflict and pressure may be the main effect I would guess, though regionally actual loss of land will be significant (e.g. Bangladesh). I doubt that sea level rise itself though will be anywhere near as important as climate change itself.
posted by Rumple at 8:08 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


When I look at the population growth curve of the past century, the words 'malthusian trap' always pop into my head and say hello.
posted by mullingitover at 8:08 PM on January 18, 2011


for a simple sea level rise map, check this out. Probably of greatest economic interest is the area around Shanghai.
posted by wilful at 8:10 PM on January 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


The rising of the sea level will have massive, massive detrimental effects on our ability to feed ourselves, and most importantly an unstable sea level will result in unstable food sources.

Why would that be? Even the highest estimates of future sea levels don't come close to reducing more than a small fraction of arable land.


Global changes in weather patterns are a universal feature of models of climate change, which would render many areas now suitable for farming unsuitable.
posted by IjonTichy at 8:13 PM on January 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


But it's snowing right now!
posted by Curious Artificer at 8:14 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hurry up and get me that robot body!
posted by iamck at 8:14 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


KokuRyu: It's not population that's the problem, it's consumption - specifically a North American/First World form of consumption that results in high per capital GHG emissions

Wrong. Unless you argue that consumption is not proportional to population. The earth cannot sustain infinite population. But we naturally act as if it can unless we take drastic action to curtail population (which we generally don't.)
posted by smcameron at 8:14 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Possible technology saviors:
-Algea Biofuel -- thoeretically grow all the biofuel you need in tanks at ultra high density. Still some hurdles but lots of big players like Exxon and Craig Venter are pouring money into it. One danger is you could start sucking too much carbon out of the atmosphere.

-Organic Solar Cells-- produced like film instead of from crystalline silicon. Promises < $1 watt and rapid production
posted by humanfont at 8:16 PM on January 18, 2011


How can anyone read a prediction on something as chaotic as the climate and not laugh when it's 90 years into the future?

Climate is not weather.
posted by jet_manifesto at 8:17 PM on January 18, 2011 [13 favorites]


So the one and only hope is that everyone voluntarily resists the single most powerful human drive?

Maybe.

On an individual basis, it's possible, and people do it all the time. Statistically, in the aggregate: no.

Tough titty.
posted by steambadger at 8:21 PM on January 18, 2011


Tough titty

Well... yeah.
posted by IjonTichy at 8:21 PM on January 18, 2011


Climateprogress ("scenario" link above) states that entire issue is public access through Tuesday (today?). It looks like about half the articles are open-access, but if you don' t have an institutional subscription or access, probably safest to download immediately.

Lots to read there. I've only just finished the Betts paper (ok, skimming), just trying to get a sense of what they've done beyond the IPCC 4th Assessment. Some original modeling is done, but for the most part they're focusing on the more dangerous scenarios, in particular a scenario wherein economic and population growth continues a pace, and remains fossil fuel (esp. coal) intensive. This is the A4FI scenario. The thing is, this is not looking like the outside member of a range of possibilities (the way it could be read in the IPCC report) but, increasingly, like the 'most likely' case, hence the special attention.

From the preface
Many emissionspolicy scenarios had (i) underestimated the rate of increase of emissions in the last decade and (ii) been unrealistically optimistic about when global emissions might peak, given the time it takes to transition out of carbon-based energy systems. A pessimistic, or some might say realistic, appraisal of the slow progress of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process, also suggested that avoiding two degrees would be highly unlikely, and that the chances of warming by four degrees in this century much less unlikely than previously thought

Maybe you could put it like this. The IPCC panel presented a series of future scenarios that ranged from "well, bad" to "pretty terrible", but mostly focused on the central "looks pretty bad" set in the middle (and only obliquely mentioning that there lots of things that they didn't want to get into that would make things "truly f*cking horrible" -- ice sheet feedbacks, etc.). This is: "well, given the way policy and growth are going, looks like 'pretty terrible' is actually the most likely case, so lets focus on it instead".
posted by bumpkin at 8:23 PM on January 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


It's 2011 right now, so 2100 is 89 years from now. Yeah, it sounds like safe money to bet that less than 10% of humanity will live another 89 years. Medicine and technology can't advance that fast.
posted by explosion at 8:25 PM on January 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Walter was a bit anti-populationist over the Bush term, especially in his moments of novel infidelity, but in the later part of the novel his wife came back to him and they ended up with two children just like the rest of them.
posted by localhuman at 8:34 PM on January 18, 2011


From the Wikipedia link:
In 2009 the human population increased by 74.6 million, and it is projected to fall steadily to about 41 million per annum in 2050, at which time the population will have increased to about 9.2 billion. Each region of the globe has seen great reductions in growth rate in recent decades, though growth rates remain above 2% in some countries of the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa, and also in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Latin America.
posted by No Robots at 8:35 PM on January 18, 2011


Why would that be? Even the highest estimates of future sea levels don't come close to reducing more than a small fraction of arable land.

It's a whole host of reasons, not just one. Here are some examples:

- Ocean acidification removes the base of the food chain. A third of human sustenance comes from fishing. Gone.

- Agriculture requires water and/or irrigation - that water comes from rivers (or aquifers) that must flow all year. But rain is seasonal, and what we really have today (but don't notice) is scorching droughts followed by massive floods. We don't notice this because the floods fall as snow on the mountains, and stay there, gently feeds rivers all year, until the snow is replenished again next year. Mountains are conical, so if warmer air means snow caps are smaller, the snow volume becomes "smaller"-squared, which means the annual drought/flood effect on (what was once) arable land increases in a dangerously non-linear fashion.

- Monsoon growing, and lands-that-may-become-arable-in-a-warmer-climate, are also hit, because the climate is changing the weather ceases to be stable (the monsoon doesn't come every year any more, for example). You don't have areas that will stay within the tolerances for crops. One year is too hot, the next is too cold, no established patterns any more to guess ahead of time what the weather will be like.

- At much less than 4 degrees, massive increase in desert size is expected, swallowing up more arable land.

TL;DR - At almost everywhere we look, the conditions we need for food production are shattered.
posted by -harlequin- at 8:37 PM on January 18, 2011 [27 favorites]


Curious Artificer: "But it's snowing right now!"

Just because you're sober at the moment doesn't mean you're not a drunk.
posted by notsnot at 8:38 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


explosion, cleverdickery wordplay requires precision in your language, otherwise the joke falls flat, like yours did. Humanity refers to the collective of the species. Humans refers to individuals. Sorry mate.
posted by wilful at 8:39 PM on January 18, 2011


Anderson of the Tyndall Centre suggests that only 10 percent of humanity may survive this conflagration.

So it's populate or perish then?

*starts collecting etchings*


"killyourselfnowandavoidtherush" is not a helpful tag.

You don't like TISM, or are there a bunch of TISM posts this will get lumped in with?
posted by pompomtom at 8:39 PM on January 18, 2011


[i]Actually, global sea level has risen about 60 metres in the last 13,000 years, about 20 times the pessimistic estimates of sea level rise in the next century. This itself is a portion of the ca. 120 metre rise in global sea level since the end of the last ice age.[/i]

Of course according to that chart sea levels have risen about 5m over the course of human civilization.

And anyway, it's the rate of change we're worried about, and the rate of change we're looking at is about the same as that meltwater pulse 1a on that graph.
posted by Zalzidrax at 8:43 PM on January 18, 2011


explosion, cleverdickery wordplay requires precision in your language, otherwise the joke falls flat, like yours did. Humanity refers to the collective of the species. Humans refers to individuals. Sorry mate.

So, how exactly do we define that statistic, then? What percentage of "humanity" is currently alive? It's not exactly like we're predicting a catastrophic event like a meteor strike in which X% will die in a year. If the world population will be reduced to under 700 million, you should just say that.
posted by explosion at 8:44 PM on January 18, 2011


dude, don't get defensive, you we're just trying to have a bit of fun with loose language, but it was wrong, the language wasn't as loose as you were trying to say it was.
posted by wilful at 8:46 PM on January 18, 2011


I'm more worried about the ticks. With warmer winters the motherfuckers will infect the world.
posted by jeremias at 8:47 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Possible technology saviors:

These are not enough. They needed to be real and in mass production over ten years ago. Holding out for a savior at this point is just putting a gun to your head. (Well, your kids heads I guess.)

There is not more time to wait for an easier way out. The hard road is the only one left.

If these technology saviors eventuate, fewer people will die, that's all.
posted by -harlequin- at 8:49 PM on January 18, 2011


yeah, it ought to be obvious, but it's not like we all get to the year 2100 and then everyone keels over in the heat. Climate change refugees and victims are already being created. Solutions needed to have been agreed ten years ago really, or in the next decade at the latest.

While I certainly wouldn't want to put all the blame on the USA, they're major international leaders, and it may be that the greatest cost of the 2000 Florida electoral scandal was this.
posted by wilful at 9:00 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


While I certainly wouldn't want to put all the blame on the USA, they're major international leaders, and it may be that the greatest cost of the 2000 Florida electoral scandal was this.

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a hanging chad.
posted by vorfeed at 9:11 PM on January 18, 2011


See the Jevons Paradox for why techo-utopianism ain't gonna help - in fact it may hurt - our consumption problems. (For those of you with new yorker subscriptions, the amazing Annals of Environmentalism article summed it up well: even the first paragraph, free to all, is chilling....)

Simply pit

i) We need less people
ii) We need a less consumption/growth-based culture and economy

Anything less than i/ii is simply deluding ourselves into an early grave. How early is an open question......but the ground is opening up, and all we seem to do is dig faster.
posted by lalochezia at 9:13 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Actually, global sea level has risen about 60 metres in the last 13,000 years, about 20 times the pessimistic estimates of sea level rise in the next century.

Sorry, you're right - 8000. So that means stable sea levels correlate with about 5000 BC. I wonder what happened then?
posted by mek at 9:19 PM on January 18, 2011


I'm more worried about the ticks. With warmer winters the motherfuckers will infect the world.

Ticks? Seriously? Try jellyfish.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:22 PM on January 18, 2011


Okay, part of me (most of me) is hyperventilating as I just tucked in my (one) sleeping child in her bed and my mind is racing with "Oh crap! Oh crap!"

A tiny little emotionally detached part of me is wondering what the 10% is going to do with all of our stuff. I mean, really. Where will they put all of the Pillow Pets and Beanie Babies?
posted by jeanmari at 9:24 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


i) We need less people

Well, it's an interesting sentiment that resonates with a lot of people, probably, but... so what? There's nothing you can do to prevent the human population from capping at 9B in 2050.

There are some things that can help, such as better healthcare, better education, and better women's rights, but we will still have 9B people on Earth in 2050.

I find the entire "do the world a favour and kill yourself" and "we need less people" arguments pretty chilling. It usually means the speaker wants someone else in some other place to die, or may even be willing to commit suicide themselves to prove their point. Neither option is particularly humane, and humaneness is the only thing that will help us get through this century.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:25 PM on January 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


Just because you're sober at the moment doesn't mean you're not a drunk.

Ooh, that's one of mine!

Always liked that one; glad to see it make a comeback.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:37 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Articles like this are why people won't do anything. 8 billion dead in 89 years? Please.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:40 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


i) We need less people
This is utterly wrong. It's fewer people.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 9:41 PM on January 18, 2011 [22 favorites]


KokuRyu: I find the entire "do the world a favour and kill yourself" and "we need less people" arguments pretty chilling. It usually means the speaker wants someone else in some other place to die, or may even be willing to commit suicide themselves to prove their point

No. It means "stop fucking. Or, if you must fuck, at least wear a condom."
posted by smcameron at 9:47 PM on January 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


At much less than 4 degrees, massive increase in desert size is expected, swallowing up more arable land.

Why is that necessarily so? If you increase the temperature, the vapor pressure (of water) increases, the evaporation rate increases, and you're putting more water vapor into the atmosphere. That's half of the battle right there.
posted by crapmatic at 9:49 PM on January 18, 2011


Cool Papa Bell: "Articles like this are why people won't do anything. 8 billion dead in 89 years? Please"

But actually, CPB, most people over 20 will be dead in 89 years, even in a best case scenario. See you in the dirt!
posted by mwhybark at 9:51 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, I for one don't plan to stop fucking.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:51 PM on January 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


I predict that all participants in this thread will have a long, rewarding life, untroubled by all but the most statistically unavoidable misfortunes.
posted by eeeeeez at 9:52 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Neither option is particularly humane

Neither is reality. Personally, I doubt humaneness will have much to do with a world in which only 10% of the species can survive -- bellum omnium contra omnes is more like it, literally and figuratively.
posted by vorfeed at 9:52 PM on January 18, 2011


KokuRyu: I find the entire "do the world a favour and kill yourself" and "we need less people" arguments pretty chilling. It usually means the speaker wants someone else in some other place to die, or may even be willing to commit suicide themselves to prove their point.

I've never heard someone argue that 'we need less people' and suggest that anyone needs to die. That argument is always about reducing birth rates. The less radical versions usually advocate handing out birth control and educating people in its use - the most radical versions involve worldwide birth restrictions, similar to those in China. Never have I heard anyone make a serious argument that anyone needs to die now. VHEMT is no more meant to be taken literally than A Modest Proposal was.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:53 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Previously: Peak population in 50-100 years.
Also previously: other dire predictions.

Objectively, some bad things are going to happen. Some of them are already happening. But it seems to me that, as slow large civilizations are to change intentionally, there is some wiggle room between the stormy weather (literal and figurative) we're seeing now and global annihilation of the populace. Maybe it's wrong thinking, but action on this issue is moving about as fast as I could hope at this point.
posted by zennie at 9:54 PM on January 18, 2011


Humaneness got us into this situation. We're going to have some very chilly decisions to make or Nature will make them for us. If anything will get us through it will be a widespread willingness to fight against our very natures, natures which say "more babies" and "I'm sure we can move somewhere else" and "... you know, we could always bonk that guy on the head and just take it." The nature is a mixture of optimism, wildly inappropriate risk assessment, and stubborn denialism that keeps getting us into these little situations. We're wired to pick that different-looking person over there as our threat rather than ourselves and migration always seems like a great idea until you run out of places you can migrate to. The optimism that suggests space as an easy solution to population growth blinds us to the fact that we're not doing a great job settling the much more hospitable Antarctica.

Change or die. You thought humans were bad now, anything like us alive two or three centuries from now is going to be cold.
posted by adipocere at 9:56 PM on January 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


So what I'm hearing is that we need to increase the population by a factor of 9 or 10 in the next 89 years. It's going to take an army of super-virile men scoring around the clock. I'll do my part. Kif, clear my schedule.
posted by Eideteker at 10:02 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


How can anyone read a prediction on something as chaotic as the climate and not laugh when it's 90 years into the future?

Yes, because mocking our as-yet-unborn descendants and the world they will or will not inherit instead of working to make it worth living in is ever so much fun.
posted by blucevalo at 10:10 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


crapmatic, the issue is that while some areas will get wetter and others drier, most ecosystems have equilibrium points that it's hard to adjust out of. Deserts became desert due to lack of rain, but they don't become grasslands again, at least not on useful timescales, when it starts raining. So you can have newly dried deserts together with now wet deserts.
posted by wilful at 10:11 PM on January 18, 2011


How can anyone read a prediction on something as chaotic as the climate and not laugh when it's 90 years into the future?

Weather is chaotic (e.g., it might rain next Tuesday); climate is predictable (e.g., summer in the tropics is warmer than winter in Antarctica).
posted by Sys Rq at 10:20 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


wilful - conflagration?
posted by russm at 10:20 PM on January 18, 2011


yes, conflagration (second use).
posted by wilful at 10:22 PM on January 18, 2011


So the one and only hope is that everyone voluntarily resists the single most powerful human drive?

If you're a member of one of the high-consumption, generally well-educated cultures, go and get yourself a vasectomy or a tubal ligation. Then you can drive all you want.

If you object to this on the grounds that raising kids is your thing: raise a kid who already exists. They're not hard to find. Wherever you live, there will be more kids in desperate need of good parents than foster parents willing and able to take them on.

If you object to this on the grounds that it makes so small a contribution to population reduction as to be meaningless: consider that your personal contribution to the solution should be roughly proportional to your personal contribution to the problem.

If you object to this on the grounds that it constitutes an unacceptable degree of sacrifice: consider how much worse your kids would have it when they find themselves considering the same issue once they get to your age and the population's twice as dense.

If you object to this on the grounds that reproduction rates in First World countries are already shrinking, so there is room where you live for your kids: take a good long look at the rest of the world, and do what you can to increase the number of refugees your country accepts each year.
posted by flabdablet at 10:31 PM on January 18, 2011 [11 favorites]


I, for one, will be dead.
posted by disillusioned at 10:33 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Love those who love you. Be kind. Be mindful. Help those who are in need. Volunteer. Start are garden. Teach children about our world. Assist the elderly and infirm. Take time to understand why others may disagree with you. Pay attention. Go out to the countryside. Look up at the stars. Breath in the salty air of the sea. Feel the wind blow against you as it moves across the face of the waters. Empathize. Don't rush to judgment. Be fair. Make Love. Paint the majesties of desert canyons. Visit a bustling Metropolis. Don't litter. Dance. Don't be afraid to meet new people. Embrace others.

Know that these are the golden days of us... of all of us.

Be brave.
Be brave.
Be brave...

For what is coming.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 10:51 PM on January 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


How can anyone read a prediction on something as chaotic as the climate and not laugh when it's 90 years into the future?
I think that every single one of us has predictions about what the climate will be like in 90 years. Some people say "exactly like now," others look at the energy balance, use our knowledge of physics, and try to do better, and still others choose to listen to those who have bothered looking into it. Who deserves to be laughed at?

The technical term "chaotic" does not mean unpredictable. For example, the quintessential chaotic system, the Lorenz attractor, turns out to be extremely predictable. As in, change the coefficients, and you can predict what trajectories will look like, and you know the critical points. Our climate is much more like the Lorenz attractor than a random walk through phase space. Climate science and climate models had a lot of influence on chaos theory.
posted by Llama-Lime at 10:54 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Upper temperature estimate * lower population estimate = Malthusian apicalypse OMFG.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:04 PM on January 18, 2011


For example, the quintessential chaotic system, the Lorenz attractor, turns out to be extremely predictable.

That's awesome.

Now, I'll give you $1 hojillion dollars if you can predict the weather 10 days from now.

What's that? Speak up, I can't hear you. It suddenly got quiet ... ?

Yeah, I know. Hardy har har, I've created the very definition of a strawman argument. But you have to admit, even the best understanding of chaos theory says you can't extrapolate it into anything useful given a fixed time frame. If you could, you'd try to hit the stock market -- there are far fewer variables on the NASDAQ than the weather.

Is the planet heating up? Yes. Is that bad. Oh my god, yes. Are humans doomed? That's a certainty. Are they doomed in 89 years? No, no. You can't say that.

And trying to say that gets you nowhere. Trying to say that ... that exactly ... gets you the "but it's snowing right now" reaction. The complete opposite of what you want.

Completely wild assertion I'm starting to believe: There'd be more electric cars on the road today if no one had ever coined the term "global warming." Simply because the boogeyman got a name, people rebelled against it, out of fear and sinister desires to sell more oil by playing up the perceived infantilization of a "boogeyman" that wasn't immediately obvious and required thought to see.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:08 PM on January 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


While I tend to think global warming is real and will be a big deal, it strikes me that most of these terrible predictions assume only the climate will change in the next 90 years. And they assume populations will need to suddenly deal with a 20 foot increase in sea level (rather than have 90 years to adjust).

In 90 years I'm pretty sure we'll be able to grow nutritious food from sand, have infinite renewable power, and will have 90 years of advances in things like build materials and engineering.

90 years of science can trump 4 degrees of global warming. We made it through the ice ages and saber tooth tigers with animal skins and sharp rocks. I think we can find a way to deal with coastal flooding and shrinking farmland.

Yes, it's a big deal. But even if the worst happens we have 90 years to adjust.

Also, in the last 90 years we've had a couple world wars, cities flattened by nukes, a near continuous series of ethnic genocides, a few plagues, Chernobyl, 9/11, exploding space craft, numerous volcanic disasters, etc. I'm pretty sure we'll still have enough of that sort of thing - all unrelated to climate - that global warming won't be seen as a huge problem in context.
posted by y6y6y6 at 11:09 PM on January 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Now, I'll give you $1 hojillion dollars if you can predict the weather 10 days from now.

If you start out with that, how do you expect any of the rest of what you say to be taken seriously?
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:13 PM on January 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes, it's a big deal. But even if the worst happens we have 90 years to adjust.

We already had thirty years in which to adjust. We didn't. How many more is it going to take before we stop telling ourselves we'll worry about it tomorrow?
posted by vorfeed at 11:17 PM on January 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you object to this on the grounds that reproduction rates in First World countries are already shrinking, so there is room where you live for your kids: take a good long look at the rest of the world, and do what you can to increase the number of refugees your country accepts each year.

Bringing refugees to a "first world" country would have a multiplier effect, in that they'd use up quite a few more resources in their lifetime. Other people have said it, but I'll re-iterate: it's not a population problem, it's a consumption problem.
posted by one_bean at 11:21 PM on January 18, 2011


"We already had thirty years in which to adjust. We didn't.

Are you saying we had 30 to adjust to things we didn't need to adjust to, and we didn't? I think that's what you're saying. And if there hasn't been anything worthy of adjusting to in the last 30 years, I don't think that really bolsters the doom and gloom argument.

Look, I'm from the 60s. I've been reading about this for 40 years. And I've seen 40 years of actual climate change. What have I seen? Real gradual changes in longterm climate, alongside massive and wide ranging changes in science, engineering and infrastructure.

In other words, climate has changed like this -
...

And our ability to deal with things like global climate change has changed like this -
...............................................................................................................................

It's not like a Hollywood movie. It doesn't sneak up on you and suddenly flood the whole planet in 12 hours.
posted by y6y6y6 at 11:33 PM on January 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


We already had thirty years in which to adjust. We didn't.

Untrue. People are considerably more conscious of their energy usage and environmental footprint than they used to be 30 years ago. Are they fully efficient? Far from it. Is that the same as total indifference? No. Mindless doomsaying is no better than mindless panglossianism.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:34 PM on January 18, 2011


The "there's too many people" argument seems to not make any sense to me. We're just not using our resources efficiently enough. We just need to elect Captain Planet dictator for life and he'll organize us into an ecofriendly world. Just put all the human population in Europe. Make a large tract of Asia where we grow our food and let the rest be a protected area. Some might die in the forced relocation, but we'll recover.
posted by runcibleshaw at 11:40 PM on January 18, 2011


We made it through the ice ages and saber tooth tigers with animal skins and sharp rocks. I think we can find a way to deal with coastal flooding and shrinking farmland.

Yes, it's a big deal. But even if the worst happens we have 90 years to adjust.


I understand that every age believes its own apocalypse to be the worst that's ever been, but see, the thing is, when we made it through the ice ages and saber tooth tigers, there were not so many of us as to constitute a major threat to the function of most of the rest of the ecology. This time, there are.

Anybody who has seen footage of the recent Rio or Brisbane floods, or been close to a bushfire, understands that natural disasters are simply too big to be controllable by human engineering. And the thing about climate change is that it is ratcheting the rate of natural disasters inexorably up.

At some point in the present century, dealing with natural disasters seems set to become the major component of every country's GDP. I can't see how that can go anywhere but general economic collapse. And since all the fabulous technology that optimists feel will help us out of this mess relies fairly and squarely on a functional economy for its production: I think we're screwed.

Which is, of course, why I chose not to make children.

If I live long enough to get old and feeble, and things are still basically OK, I will happily allow any of you to tell me you told me so. There's no shame in being wrong. But it seems to me that there is a tremendous amount of shame in inflicting terrible wrongness on one's descendants.
posted by flabdablet at 12:05 AM on January 19, 2011 [7 favorites]


Untrue. People are considerably more conscious of their energy usage and environmental footprint than they used to be 30 years ago.

I honestly do no believe that to be true. Or, rather, it's a mistake to assume that merely being conscious of a problem is all it takes to solve it.

People used to consume far, far, far less than they do now, and there were a lot less things to plug in. I'd bet there's been a hefty net increase in people's individual environmental footprints over the past three decades, not counting things they've been forced to do by law, like not spraying DDT all over the place.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:07 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I honestly do no believe that to be true. Or, rather, it's a mistake to assume that merely being conscious of a problem is all it takes to solve it.

And I honestly believe it to be true. So that's a bit of a conundrum, isn't it? I may merely be conscious of the problem, but since I've deliberately abstained from owning a car all my life, avoid running the heating if I can avoid it, and have been recycling since the 1980s, I feel fairly confident about not being part of the problem.

People used to consume far, far, far less than they do now, and there were a lot less things to plug in. I'd bet there's been a hefty net increase in people's individual environmental footprints over the past three decades, not counting things they've been forced to do by law, like not spraying DDT all over the place.

Not 30 years ago they didn't. Even the oil shocks of the 70s didn't push the price of oil as high as it was during the Iran-Iraq war, and after that it fell into a trough until the early 2000s. People spent less on energy than they do now but that doesn't mean they used less. Compare the power consumption of a 1980-ish refrigerator or TV with a modern model, or the mpg of a 1980 car with a contemporary vehicle, and so on. You'll find power draw and fuel consumption have been greatly reduced over the last 30 years.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:32 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Untrue. People are considerably more conscious of their energy usage and environmental footprint than they used to be 30 years ago.

What planet do you live on? Per capita electrical usage is up. Personal caloric consumption is up. Water usage per capita is up. The miles driven per capita is up. Per capita use of difficult-to-replace metal and mineral consumption is up. The average house size (with all the resources - land, energy, materials, etc) per capita is way up. The average distance our food travels to get to our table from its origin is up. The amount of farmland lost to development is up. The percentage of our jungles and forests lost each year is way up. The amount of land made uninhabitable due to pollution, chemical spills radiation, reclamation by the sea or deserts increases each year.

This is true not only in America and the rest of the West, but also in countries with previously small per capita footprints - the former Communist nations, China, India, pretty much the entire developing world.

Mindless doomsaying, in this case, appears fairly accurate.

And hey, did you hear that Starbucks will soon be offering 31-ounce coffee drinks?
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 12:39 AM on January 19, 2011 [7 favorites]


y6y6y6: Look, I'm from the 60s. I've been reading about this for 40 years. And I've seen 40 years of actual climate change. What have I seen? Real gradual changes in longterm climate, alongside massive and wide ranging changes in science, engineering and infrastructure.

The problem is, our ability to adjust is going to go down and the rate of change is going to go up. Climate change isn't just getting worse, it's getting worse faster. Also, a lot of climate change mechanisms have positive feedback (melted ice can release CO2, perturbed oceans can dump methane into the atmosphere, etc.) As far as our ability to change, it gets worse every time the population goes up (more inertia) and it goes down as the environment gets more badly damaged and thus more fragile.

With regard to science and technology, well... there are only so many end runs you can make around the laws of physics. There's a real chance that we'll run out in the foreseeable future. Also, research has become extremely reliant on the global economy and civilization - the equipment you need to do real science gets more and more expensive as time goes on. If civilization takes a good solid hit, you won't see any more LHCs or Hubble telescopes or anything like that.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:41 AM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


"As far as our ability to change, it gets worse every time the population goes up (more inertia) and it goes down as the environment gets more badly damaged and thus more fragile."

You just made that up didn't you?

Even a cursory glance at the history of the last hundred years show exactly the opposite.
posted by y6y6y6 at 1:13 AM on January 19, 2011


We're pretty much fucked? Even the most liberal of liberals in the U.S. still feels like having more than 1 biological child is perfectly ok, because, you know they drive a fucking Prius. Or rather, somehow they believe everybody will be willing to give up their toys vs considering maybe they shouldn't make little people that use these toys in the first place.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 2:44 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


y6y6y6: look into the positive feedback mechanisms Mitrovarr mentions. We don't get 4 degrees of change over 90 years, we get 4 degrees of change over the next 10-15 years, and the rest of our lifetimes to watch the consequences unfold.

The environment is currently under huge strain: oceans are overfished and increasingly acidic, deforestation is picking up pace, soils are depleted. You aren't up to date on these things, obviously.
posted by harriet vane at 2:50 AM on January 19, 2011


California has managed to cut its contributions to global warming, too. Carbon dioxide emissions per capita in California have fallen by 30 percent since 1975, while U.S. per capita carbon dioxide emissions have remained essentially level.
posted by humanfont at 3:35 AM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's important to recognise how modelling works. Basically climate models are the same as economic models. Take simplified causal mechanisms and combine them with oceans of data and calibrate on the past. I think we all know enough now about the limitations of economic models in forecasting the future - we must be equally careful not to take climate ones simplistically at face value.

It's science. It's a work in progress. It's not truth.
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 3:36 AM on January 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Unfortunately, California has almost exactly twice as many people living in it now than it had in 1975. (40 million vs. 20 million) Isn't that a net CO2 increase of 40% over 1975 levels?

That's the problem with a booming population. If the growth rate is 10% per year (for example), you better be decreasing the per capita footprint of everyone by 11% per year or you're, at best, treading water.
posted by maxwelton at 3:45 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


yes, conflagration (second use).

bloody metaphors... I swear, when I've hollowed out my volcano lair in Mt. Terror and start making demands, it's the metaphors that will be first up against the wall...
posted by russm at 4:04 AM on January 19, 2011


anigbrowl: "You'll find power draw and fuel consumption have been greatly reduced over the last 30 years."

Total world energy consumption almost doubled between 1975 and 2005 (and has almost tripled since 1965).
posted by ceedee at 4:06 AM on January 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


Climate instability is one thing, of course, but even at this point, social instability is a problem.

Six billion armed people can't figure out how to get along now. When there are nine billion, (a lot more of whom get nuclear and other WMDs).... ick. If experience is any guide, we really won't get much smarter/wiser between now and 2100.

I think humanity's big problems will include climate change, but won't only be climate change.

Regardless, I blame Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin! Sarah Palin! Sarah Palin!

Sorry, I couldn't help myself.
posted by FauxScot at 4:06 AM on January 19, 2011


It's hard to imagine being both optimistic enough to think that population growth can continue until we have 9 billion people, and pessimistic enough to think that 90% of them will be killed by climate change. I guess it requires thinking of global warming as the only problem.
posted by sfenders at 4:47 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


When the Yellowstone caldera erupts, right before dying some of these scientists' children will go, "Hmm. Mommy and/or Daddy didn't see that coming."
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:13 AM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


> Bringing refugees to a "first world" country would have a multiplier effect, in that they'd use up quite a few more resources in their lifetime. Other people have said it, but I'll re-iterate: it's not a population problem, it's a consumption problem.

Ignoring population growth in the developing world because per capita consumption there is smaller and thus less of a problem doesn't seem ethical to me. It's as if you're condemning those people to poverty: "OK, have all the children you want, as long as you all stay in your country and don't consume as much as I do!" I'm aware people don't say it with that intention, but I'd like to bring attention to that. The point of reducing population is to allow everyone to have an acceptable standard of living - that means reducing individual consumption in the first world and increasing it in most of the rest.


> And our ability to deal with things like global climate change has changed like this

At the expense of ever-increasing, unsustainable resource consumption, ie, the very thing that is causing most of the problems.

It's not like a Hollywood movie. It doesn't sneak up on you and suddenly flood the whole planet in 12 hours.

Nobody is assuming that, AFAICT.


> I may merely be conscious of the problem, but since I've deliberately abstained from owning a car all my life, avoid running the heating if I can avoid it, and have been recycling since the 1980s, I feel fairly confident about not being part of the problem.

I bet you still are. While your effort is commendable, it's still far from what is needed. Even if you have a footprint half of a typical American, it's more than your fair share. Once again, I'll recommend everyone who hasn't yet done so to read David MacKay's excellent and free Sustainable Energy – without the hot air.
posted by Bangaioh at 5:19 AM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


When the Yellowstone caldera erupts, right before dying some of these scientists' children will go, "Hmm. Mommy and/or Daddy didn't see that coming."
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:13 AM on January 19 [+] [!]


Ironically we could power the entire continent off the readily accessible geothermal energy in Yellowstone, but we like that 90 minute water show at Old Faithful too darn much. Goddamnit America WTF is wrong with you. Youd rather play around with the nukes and hydrocarbons that shit poison into the air you breath, water you drink, etc. The other bullshit excuse is that the transmission lines are too expensive. Even though the cost is less than one nuclear power plant. Yellowstone geothermal now!
posted by humanfont at 5:28 AM on January 19, 2011


I'll be dead, and my daughter in her old age. Fuck all y'all, I guess. I mean, why should I care about the future?

We had a good run, but I'm not convinced we want to survive. So why should we?
posted by clvrmnky at 5:35 AM on January 19, 2011


Philosopher's Beard: It's science. It's a work in progress. It's not truth.

And it'd be well to remember the old adage - Garbage in, Garbage out. Any flaws in the data input will be magnified in the output. You 'smooth' a temperature reading at a site that's located in a bad position (like next to a heat pump) over an area and you get a false warming over that area. And if it's the only site within a 30-50 mile radius, that buggers your overall model and would indicate warming where none existed.

We fret about tenths of a degree rise - but we've only been able to measure with such precision for a few decades. We're like mayflies trying to predict tomorrow's weather by what's happening right now. So I've got a hard time believing that in 90 years we're going to be completely fucked by warming, sorry.

AGW? I believe in it - but if you go by Ruddiman's hypothesis of agriculturally-induced methane skewing the normal ice age cycles (Figure 1) then if it weren't for it we'd have a couple thousand years till we hit the bottom of an ice age. We SHOULD be having severe glaciation at this point. I'm glad we're not. (I like winter sports as much as the next guy, but there's such a thing as 'entirely too much' of a good thing.)

Add in a potential Maunder Minimum type event with low sunspot numbers indicating reduced solar activity (though it's got to sustain over the next few solar cycles) and it looks like we might be in deep cold kimchee.

Will humanity survive? I think so - we're pretty adaptable critters, able to live from the Arctic to the Equator. Will civilization survive? That's another question entirely - but from past trends, I don't think the folks in 2100 are going to be terribly concerned with their CO2 outputs - they're just as likely going to just be worrying about how to keep warm.
posted by JB71 at 5:58 AM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Tough titty

Well... yeah.


Yeah, sorry; that was a little brusque. My point was that a lot of people seem to think this is something we can negotiate. It's not. The universe doesn't care. If the Cassandras are right, and we don't do anything about it, then we'll die. Nobody's going to float down out of a cloud and say "Well, it was really hard, and you tried; so I'll let you slide this time."
posted by steambadger at 7:16 AM on January 19, 2011


I keep picturing scientists and futurists of 1911 wondering how on earth humanity will face the challenges they're sure to meet by the year 2000.
posted by rocket88 at 7:52 AM on January 19, 2011


I'll be dead, and my daughter in her old age. Fuck all y'all, I guess. I mean, why should I care about the future?

I'm in the same boat (as are most of us) -- more so, as I have no offspring. But I don't see how this attitude is any better, any less evil, than "Fuck people in third world countries! I got mine!!"

Thing is, I think most people fundamentally feel this way. Or, rather, they sorta-kinda worry about the Earth for future generations but aren't willing to make drastic changes until forced to. I do think collapse is inevitable, to some degree, but we ethically need to make every effort to cushion that collapse.

We had a good run, but I'm not convinced we want to survive. So why should we?

Humanity, even civilization, will survive -- it's just going to suck for an awful lot of people.
posted by LordSludge at 8:07 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


The article basically says "scientists have assumed policy efforts would reduce CO2, but in light of recent failures, here's the no action scenario." To me, that's the story here. The whole point is to draw attention to governments' failure to create a framework for reducing emissions.

It would be pretty great if we could instead get back to the "we succeed in reducing emissions" scenario.
posted by salvia at 8:21 AM on January 19, 2011


"killyourselfnowandavoidtherush" is not a helpful tag.

Helpful? No. Funny? Yes.
posted by josher71 at 8:47 AM on January 19, 2011


The thing about all these dystopian futures is that their so much cooler.

Who the fuck wants to be some uptight redshirt placing crystals on their nipples for sex when they can be a Mad Max clone snorting coke off a stripper's arse while you scream down an abandoned highway searching for hydrocarbons.
posted by fullerine at 9:37 AM on January 19, 2011


It's important to recognise how modelling works. Basically climate models are the same as economic models. Take simplified causal mechanisms and combine them with oceans of data and calibrate on the past. I think we all know enough now about the limitations of economic models in forecasting the future - we must be equally careful not to take climate ones simplistically at face value.

A lot of it is not modelling. A lot of it is "well, we know from the geological record that X million years ago, the climate was different by Y amount. Let's look at fossil and geological record and see what different areas of the world were like in that era".

That's actually where a lot of the scary stuff comes from. I don't remember particulars, but things like only a couple of degrees climate change the other direction is the difference between New York as we know it vs New York a mile underground, where ground = ice. And we're not heading for a mere two degrees of change. And we're not heading for a rapid change ie one that takes place over thousands of years, we're talking decades. Something absolutely unheard of.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:44 AM on January 19, 2011


Why would that be? Even the highest estimates of future sea levels don't come close to reducing more than a small fraction of arable land.

It's a whole host of reasons, not just one. Here are some examples:
etc.

Late in responding to this, but my original comment was in response to the specific assertion that rising sea levels would majorly reduce our ability to feed ourselves. Yes, I'm well aware that a changing climate will impact agriculture, but I'm skeptical that rising sea levels by themselves will have a large effect on out ability to feed ourselves.
posted by Tsuga at 11:49 AM on January 19, 2011


According to some scientists, the world has been through abrupt climate change before.

And again. Just not on so large a scale as what Professor Anderson is projecting.

Human populations have been reduced and then come back again. During the Black Death, 30-60% of Europeans died.

Archaologists believe that the first wave of anatomically modern humans to make it out of Africa 50,000 years ago were a tiny band of maybe 150 people. These hardy souls went on to populate everywhere else, while others remained in Africa and are the ancestors of today's Africans.

So Professor Anderson's estimate of 500,000 people surviving isn't necessarily unrealistic, but it also doesn't mean complete extinction. These survivors will repopulate the world quickly if this doomsday scenario actually occurs.

Plus, it's not going to occur overnight, but more likely over a period of tumultuous decades or even centuries.

And yes, we can restrict our part in the current change, which is substantial. But it's unlikely we'll be able to prevent it entirely because there are so many other things fucking up the world. To wit: peak oil, epidemics, pollution and nuclear waste without the technologies to clean up and contain them, ocean acidification and methane pouring into the air, and a stripped ozone layer. Our too-numerous descendants are so going to hate us. In a few generations we may be the legendary evil gods of their post-apocalyptic cosmology.
posted by xenophile at 12:15 PM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Avenger: No you're wrong technology will save us we can geoengineer massive heatsinks

A recent article in the Atlantic discusses the emergency fallback of geo-engineering.
"Geoengineering makes the problem of ballistic-missile defense look easy. It has to work the first time, and just right. People quite rightly see it as a scary thing."
According to the Atlantic, the most promising approach involves continuous injection of sulfur aerosols into the atmosphere. Less intrusive approaches: industrial-size scrubbers to remove carbon dioxide from the air; spraying seawater into the air to increase the albedo of clouds, causing them to absorb less solar energy.
posted by russilwvong at 12:18 PM on January 19, 2011


At this rate it's going to take only another 50-100 years for the majority of people to understand that weather is not climate.
posted by normy at 12:35 PM on January 19, 2011


russilwvong, the problem with most geo-engineering solutions is that they don't address ocean heat and acidification. I think that any geo-engineering solution has to focus on the ocean.

Mind you, I think it'd be easier to just emit less.

My personal preference is for Gen IV nuclear power for all power generation.
posted by wilful at 3:30 PM on January 19, 2011


Plus, it's not going to occur overnight, but more likely over a period of tumultuous decades or even centuries.

To quote a friend of mine, "anthropogenic climate change is not a danger to the Earth in the sense that the planet will continue to be a ball of mostly iron orbiting the sun." But hopefully we expect more of our governments than "500 000 people surviving." We certainly will be those evil gods of a post-apocalyptic cosmology if we fail to act, but there is no good excuse for our failure, just fatalism, nihilism, and stupidity.
posted by mek at 5:45 PM on January 19, 2011


The major problem with geoengineering is we lack a second earth where we can do reliable field trials. No matter I'm sure it won't turn out like the invasive species or the Mississippi river delta.
posted by humanfont at 6:07 PM on January 19, 2011


I'd be more frightened of major armed conflict resulting from the stresses of climate change (candidate: China and India have a nuclear war over water) or of eco-terrorists releasing a deadly virus in order to decimate the human population NOW. The survivors might thank the virus engineers a couple of generations later, but the price is too high to pay: such a crime would make the Holocaust look like small potatoes.
posted by bad grammar at 6:50 PM on January 19, 2011


humanfont: The major problem with geoengineering is we lack a second earth where we can do reliable field trials.

Right. There was a moratorium on geoengineering put in place recently: countries agree that the risks are just too high at this point.

Unfortunately, by pumping so much CO2 into the atmosphere, we're basically conducting a large-scale geoengineering experiment.
posted by russilwvong at 8:58 AM on January 20, 2011


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