The shit that's going down has been testing my ability to block it.
July 8, 2015 5:30 AM   Subscribe

About once a year he has nightmares of earth becoming a very alien planet. "Part of being a scientist is you don't want to believe there is a problem you can't solve."
posted by bitmage (86 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
 
Relevant SMBC
posted by lalochezia at 5:32 AM on July 8, 2015 [25 favorites]


Crawling under a rock isn't an option," he responds, "so becoming overcome with PTSD-like symptoms is useless."

Ridiculous. Of course it's an option.
posted by thelonius at 5:51 AM on July 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


a study by the U. S. Navy says that the Arctic could lose its summer sea ice by next year, eighty-four years ahead of the models

God it hurts to read that.
posted by andromache at 6:13 AM on July 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


Great article. I've read so many that lays out how fast things are turning gloomy, but it's fascinating to learn about how difficult it is for these scientists to deal with all this. And that SMBC really hits home, lalo.
posted by numaner at 6:18 AM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Jeffrey Kiehl was a senior scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research when he became so concerned about the way the brain resists climate science, he took a break and got a psychology degree. Ten years of research later, he's concluded that consumption and growth have become so central to our sense of personal identity and the fear of economic loss creates such numbing anxiety, we literally cannot imagine making the necessary changes.
posted by j03 at 6:19 AM on July 8, 2015 [50 favorites]


Well, I suppose one way to deal with the horrors is to just keep swimming.

We'll have to, in a few years anyway. And maybe look for someone with a map tattooed onto their back.
posted by qcubed at 6:32 AM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Glad tidings my friends, be of good cheer! Let your hearts fill with joy for behold, our long-held dream is on the horizon, and we are truly blessed! We are of the generation that will see 30% of humanity die!
posted by aramaic at 6:35 AM on July 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


So, Waterworld was amazingly prescient, huh?


Crap.
posted by SPUTNIK at 6:36 AM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


As the article points out, so is The Day After Tomorrow. When movies like those are prescient, I can only imagine how on point Mad Max is, and that movies like Blade Runner are so far off the mark they'll become fantasy about alternate worlds rather than vice versa.
posted by numaner at 6:54 AM on July 8, 2015


Whelp from now on I'm calling basically all Fortune 500 companies "climate profiteers."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:56 AM on July 8, 2015 [16 favorites]


movies like Blade Runner are so far off the mark they'll become fantasy about alternate worlds

No, they'll become Historical Documents about the Before-Times when the Gods walked the Earth.
posted by aramaic at 6:57 AM on July 8, 2015


We just have to accept this is happening and learn to be happy anyway, while still trying to do whatever we can to make things better without tearing ourselves to pieces in frustration. It's not going to be easy, but we screwed up and the process is too far along to expect a turnaround. In the meantime, I wish we were less determined to attack and persecute each other in our personal lives with all this stuff going down, because we're going to hell one way or the other. We could at least have some nice conversations and enjoy each other's company on the bus ride on the way there, if we didn't all seem so eager to judge and condemn each other on the basis of political stereotypes, personality quirks, assumptions based on superficial identity markers, and slight differences of opinion. But it feels like we're often in a mode of attacking each other these days because deep down we know we can't attack the real problems.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:01 AM on July 8, 2015 [15 favorites]


t feels like we're often in a mode of attacking each other these days because deep down we know we can't attack the real problems

Or, phrased differently, we're encouraged to attack each other so that we don't attack the real problems.
posted by aramaic at 7:03 AM on July 8, 2015 [23 favorites]


Or, people just really like attacking each other. They don't want to change that.
posted by thelonius at 7:04 AM on July 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


. . . and that movies like Blade Runner are so far off the mark they'll become fantasy about alternate worlds rather than vice versa.

Via @BrentToderian:

Blade Runner was set in 2019, 4 years from now. This isn't an outtake from the movie — it's the real Beijing.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:19 AM on July 8, 2015 [20 favorites]


I haven't gone and dug for it, but I know I've made at least one comment on the blue about how depressed a number of climate scientists I know have become by the data they're getting and the treatment they're getting.

And it wasn't a recent comment, either.
posted by eriko at 7:22 AM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have a young son and when I read things like this I die inside.
posted by beerbudget at 7:24 AM on July 8, 2015 [12 favorites]


Man, that SMBC is depressing. So, how do we get the parts for a our world's climate jetpack? How do I, as an individual, help?

I can't even figure out how to use spacebar to go down one page on the Esquire article. (There's a floating title banner at the top, and when I hit spacebar to page down, some of the text I want to read is hidden by the banner.)
posted by nat at 7:26 AM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Every time I read something like this, I become happier that I didn't have kids.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:27 AM on July 8, 2015 [20 favorites]


To build on something I said about climate change in an old thread: There seems to be a fundamental mismatch between how humanity practices politics and the imperatives of climate change. By the standards of politics, we have made leaps and bounds in our awareness of environmental problems and the development of clean energy alternatives--every day now, for example, I read something about the explosive growth of renewables. But by the inexorable, irreversible standards of climate change, it's all not even a drop in the bucket. To confront the problem effectively, we would have to imagine a politics far more authoritarian than we would tolerate--and even in the case of an authoritarian state like China, it's not clear the needle can be moved in any significant manner.

I have a young son and when I read things like this I die inside.

Me too.
posted by Cash4Lead at 7:33 AM on July 8, 2015


Ironically, the climate profiteers have stalled us for decades until the scientists can only give us news that means acting is hopeless. Now they can use that hopelessness to sell more crap to us sad sacks and justify the 1%ers.

Like earth day wasn't part of this plan all along.

I hope the moderates choke on this for as long as they said the bad news was all made up, and maybe we should wait a few years. And upgraded their cars in air conditioned sales rooms.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:33 AM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Or, people just really like attacking each other. They don't want to change that.

Maybe, some people do. There are always a few kids on the playground who like to goad other kids into fights to feel more powerful and because they can't handle getting bored, and they never have much trouble getting a crowd of less screwed up kids to join in the fun once it becomes a show. But unreleased tension always comes out somehow. And there's no doubt there's a lot of unreleased tension out there.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:35 AM on July 8, 2015


I am also curious which lake they're talking about; 100kr doesn't seem like much to earn for a cold swim.

As far as I know there aren't any Danish politicians that are climate deniers, but there are definitely a few who are xenophobic jerks. And as the article points out, one of the effects of climate change will be mass migration. The whole world is going to have to learn how to deal with that problem, too.
posted by nat at 7:35 AM on July 8, 2015


The whole world is going to have to learn how to deal with that problem, too.

When drones do your killing, you don't have to worry so much about feeling bad. Plus it's really cost-effective. Automated gun platforms and resupply drones mean the only witness to the toll will be some dude in a bunker somewhere noticing increased ammunition consumption on platforms 1 through 7, so maybe they should bring the resupply missions up a few days to ensure maximum efficiency even in the face of higher systems utilization.

Shit, that might bring down the quarterly stats by like 2.5%. Probably make it up by tweaking the power systems a bit, bring down the cycle time on the batteries. Fewer incidents at night these days, probably won't need the IR running at max range all the time, put it on a delay slaved to the LIDAR rangefinders. Wonder if the coffee is fresh?
posted by aramaic at 7:43 AM on July 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


nat: "As far as I know there aren't any Danish politicians that are climate deniers ..."
Derail but: Villum Christensen, the climate spokesperson for Liberal Alliance, does not believe in anthropogenic climate change.
posted by brokkr at 7:47 AM on July 8, 2015


I gotta confess I can only read this kind of stuff when I'm feeling particularly, uh, good. Because if you don't keep the truth of it at bay, its overwhelming. That's right, keep the truth at bay…
posted by From Bklyn at 7:48 AM on July 8, 2015


Am I being too cynical, or does the only apparent real-world solution seem to be to let the world burn, bunker down and prepare for disaster, and hope there's enough resources and people left afterwards to build anew, hopefully this time with a more sustainable model of civilization?
posted by Blackanvil at 7:59 AM on July 8, 2015


You're being too cynical. The range of possible outcomes is still incredibly wide.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 8:12 AM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Am I being too cynical, or does the only apparent real-world solution seem to be to let the world burn, bunker down and prepare for disaster, and hope there's enough resources and people left afterwards to build anew, hopefully this time with a more sustainable model of civilization?
Blackanvil

You're being almost childishly optimistic.

If the world goes to hell the people surviving will be the rich and powerful who control the resources and the guns. The world that emerges won't have eve a facade of equality or freedom, it will be thriving enclaves of the 1% served by whatever dregs managed to survive on the outside.

Climate disaster isn't a story of the wicked reaping what they sow, it's a story of everyone else reaping what the wicked have sown, and the wicked continuing to do just fine.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:19 AM on July 8, 2015 [18 favorites]


The range of possible outcomes is still incredibly wide

Perhaps I can interest you in some options on lovely ocean-view property! They're quite expensive now, but if you can afford to wait a decade or two, the option price is extremely reasonable. Buy now and your descendants will thank you for it!
posted by spacewrench at 8:59 AM on July 8, 2015


>We just have to accept this is happening

There's a quote from Dune I can't put my finger on right now where Paul is in some terribly dangerous situation and he describes hearing his entire ancestral line cry out in defiance and refusal. That's close to how that idea makes me feel and I'm not usually a fan of Dylan Thomas.

>But it feels like we're often in a mode of attacking each other these days because deep down we know we can't attack the real problems.

But that's just it, people and their recklessness and blithe contrarianism *are* the problems. In the same way ninety-plus percent agreement among experts isn't a controversy, the perpetuation of this situation isn't the work of faceless organizations or impersonal forces beyond our control. It's being done on the ground by actual people, people who will have to be opposed if we don't want to see waves of parents mercy-killing their own children and suiciding to escape an ecological nightmare and the geopolitical hellscape that will ensue.
posted by Appropriate Username at 9:06 AM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


These articles terrify me when I think of the people this will destabilize.
I am oh so grateful for where I live, away from the ocean, well above sea level, in cozy Canada, in a middle class job. This is going to relatively impact me far less than a wild majority of people.
posted by Theta States at 9:07 AM on July 8, 2015


This is going to relatively impact me far less than a wild majority of people.

Until that wild majority comes knocking.
posted by srboisvert at 9:18 AM on July 8, 2015 [11 favorites]


he's concluded that consumption and growth have become so central to our sense of personal identity and the fear of economic loss creates such numbing anxiety, we literally cannot imagine making the necessary changes.
That quote struck me too, because the problem of consumption's not just a pathology of the Right. The self-identified left these days seems to confine itself more and more purely to the proxy world of popular culture, which is to say: consumption. We'll tear each other apart arguing about gender balance in MarvelTM fan fiction, or the degree to which BBHMM strikes a blow against white supremacy, rather asking whether maybe—just maybe—they and other manifestations of Big Content might simply be expressions of the hyper-capitalist ideology that's quite literally destroying the planet and irrelevant to our real interests of—you know—basic survival as a species.
posted by Sonny Jim at 9:29 AM on July 8, 2015 [15 favorites]


I have a young son and when I read things like this I die inside.

Same here, three daughters, and I don't know what to tell them when they ask me if the world is going to end. I grew up with Russian ICBMs hanging over my head, now they're growing up with this.

Every time I read something like this, I become happier that I didn't have kids.

FWIW I think it's OK to think and feel that, and I hope no one gives you a hard time for saying it.

---

One thing I wonder - if things do go bad heat-wise, would previously inhospitable places like Siberia/Alaska/Greenland become...more hospitable, more viable to human civilization?
posted by sidereal at 9:30 AM on July 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


he's concluded that consumption and growth have become so central to our sense of personal identity and the fear of economic loss creates such numbing anxiety, we literally cannot imagine making the necessary changes.

I wish they'd gone into this more, because it doesn't make much sense as written.

Obviously we literally can imagine making the necessary changes: people talk and write about it all the time, the very people in this article are thinking about it. Are there just some superhumans who can rise above the idiot herd to think these thoughts?

Kiehl's claim can't have been made the way it was written in the article. Maybe he found that it's difficult for people to imagine changes? Then what factors allow some people to open their minds to such thoughts while others seem stuck?
posted by Sangermaine at 9:41 AM on July 8, 2015


I have a two year old and one on the way.

I can't panic about it. And I can't ignore it. Or I won't be able to look my kids in the eye.

Buck up, buttercups. Got shit to do.
posted by ocschwar at 9:43 AM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


The self-identified left these days seems to confine itself more and more purely to the proxy world of popular culture, which is to say: consumption.

Quite so. The remedy is to return to Marx and the examination of the meaning of human labour. Specifically, the value of labour must be understood in terms of the well-being of the planet as a whole.
posted by No Robots at 9:51 AM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


One thing I wonder - if things do go bad heat-wise, would previously inhospitable places like Siberia/Alaska/Greenland become...more hospitable, more viable to human civilization?

Look at an area-conserving map projection for the globe.

Siberia is not as large as you think.

Then imagine an ice age causing the Sahel to march north against the Sahara. I think you can see which scenario would be preferable.
posted by ocschwar at 9:53 AM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


There's going to be a point where all the people who've been denying climate change their entire lives suddenly switch gears and scream about how nobody warned them. The cognitive dissonance may give me a stroke.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 9:56 AM on July 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


Obviously we literally can imagine making the necessary changes: people talk and write about it all the time, the very people in this article are thinking about it. Are there just some superhumans who can rise above the idiot herd to think these thoughts?

Yes we can literally imagine it in the sense that we can craft a narrative about it in our minds but if tomorrow someone came to your house and said "sorry, no more electricity or running water for you; also, these eleven strangers now live here" you only think you'd know what to do.

Buck up, buttercups. Got shit to do.

Care to elaborate on what that "shit" is? Because fuck if I know.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:04 AM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


I live in Victoria, British Columbia and for the last week the sky has been orange with smoke from fires burning across the coast. It feels apocalyptic, the light. Two fires, north of Whistler, are now 25,000 hectares in size and burning at 0% containment through a region which has had almost zero measurable rainfall since the beginning of May. We're 6 weeks early on the fire season. They project that 30 fires per day will start from this point forward.

Despite it being almost impossible now for anyone to deny that climate change is real, it's not going to get better at an individual level in any meaningful sense. It's really the best example of a tragedy of the commons that I can think of - nobody feels like they can individually do anything, and as a result there is no real change in behavior. We as humans are hard-wired to survive in the face of nature. Protecting it is not our strong suit.
posted by jimmythefish at 10:35 AM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


I will add that my feeling has always been that the ultimate wake-up call will come, ironically, when we are no longer able to produce enough coffee. Until then, nothing.
posted by jimmythefish at 11:00 AM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


Care to elaborate on what that "shit" is? Because fuck if I know.

Sure. Development of carbon capture technologies; development of newer and more efficient solar and fuel cell technologies; improved battery storage and integration with the grid; improved efficiency of current technologies. Focus on local adaptation to climate change conditions. Work on contingency plans for agriculture, food production. Sane policies on natural resource extraction and biodiversity management. And much much more. Vote fucking Inhofe off the Senate Environment Committee.

It definitely looks hopeless right now, but none of these is impossible, and indeed most of them are on-going. Whether or not they can provide counterbalance to "drill, baby, drill," remains to be seen.

We're not going to stop climate change. It's happening. The oceans will rise and acidify, CO2 will keep increasing, mean global temperatures with rise. We can change how we adapt to it, we can keep working and driving for the actions we CAN influence.
posted by Existential Dread at 11:04 AM on July 8, 2015 [16 favorites]


I periodically engage in climate activism, volunteering for Toronto 350.org. It's really draining for a pessimist who has been struggling with a very down period and strongly depression-tending bipolar II.

I find it very hard to muster up the energy to even talk to other people about this issue, especially in Canada, where otherwise decent people become downright venomous and hostile the minute you mention the subject.

It's really hard when this kind of thing is what you were trying to do to give your life meaning. Instead, I just wake up day after day wishing I hadn't, and with a stubborn inability to muster energy or enthusiasm for anything. Thinking about the future gives me vertigo.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 11:18 AM on July 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


It's really hard when this kind of thing is what you were trying to do to give your life meaning. Instead, I just wake up day after day wishing I hadn't, and with a stubborn inability to muster energy or enthusiasm for anything. Thinking about the future gives me vertigo.

Ouch. You know about the "circle of concern" vs. "circle of control" thing, right? If you find global warming is getting you down, you may want to focus more on things that are directly under your control.

We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese: Care to elaborate on what that "shit" is? Because fuck if I know.

Here's a good-news example: The Sierra Club's successful campaign to shut down coal-burning power plants. Politico:
Beyond Coal is the most extensive, expensive and effective campaign in the Club’s 123-year history, and maybe the history of the environmental movement. It’s gone largely unnoticed amid the furor over the Keystone pipeline and President Barack Obama’s efforts to regulate carbon, but it’s helped retire more than one third of America’s coal plants since its launch in 2010, one dull hearing at a time. With a vast war chest donated by Michael Bloomberg, unlikely allies from the business world, and a strategy that relies more on economics than ecology, its team of nearly 200 litigators and organizers has won battles in the Midwestern and Appalachian coal belts, in the reddest of red states, in almost every state that burns coal.
Global warming is a collective action problem. It can't be solved through individual action: the cost of individual action is borne by the individual, while the benefits are spread out across the entire world. Fossil fuels are awesome: they're "concentrated sunlight", they deliver huge amounts of energy. That's why they're so hard to give up.

Political philosopher Joseph Heath:
“Outcome x is really bad, and our doing y is making it worse. We should all stop.”

Time passes

“Nothing happened. People are still doing y, and we’re still getting outcome x. How could that be?”

“It must be that they don’t understand how bad outcome x is going to be. Guys! Outcome x is going to be REALLY BAD, don’t you get it?

Time passes

“Nothing happened. People are still doing y, and we’re still getting outcome x. How could that be?”

“It must be that they don’t understand how bad outcome x is going to be. Guys! Outcome x is going to be a FUCKING CATASTROPHE, don’t you get it?

Time passes

“Nothing happened. People are still doing y, and we’re still getting outcome x. How could that be?”

“It must be that they don’t understand how bad outcome x is going to be. Guys! Outcome x is going to be the END OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION, don’t you get it?

Time passes

“Nothing happened…”

Repeat ad infinitum….
Because it's a collective action problem, the challenge is now primarily political and economic, not scientific. Scientists can and should tell us what's going to happen, even if it's going to be terrible. (Would it help if they pretended they were describing what was happening on some completely different planet?) But it's our political institutions that will need to respond.

If you ask economists how to tackle global warming most efficiently, with least economic cost, the answer is to use a carbon tax: whenever you buy fossil fuels--e.g. gasoline or coal--and burn them, you need to pay a tax. Right now, adding more CO2 to the atmosphere is completely free. The actual cost, in terms of the damage done, isn't visible. Putting a price on CO2 emissions will make this visible, and provide incentives for businesses and households to reduce the cost.

To minimize the economic impact, you want to use the revenue from the carbon tax to reduce other taxes, like income taxes.

The current estimate of the optimal tax level is USD $30-40/ton. (That's based on models of the damage done by climate change. If it turns out that the actual damage is worse than expected, the optimal tax will be higher.)

Within a single jurisdiction with an effective government, it's not actually hard to do this. Back in 2008, it only took the province of British Columbia about six months to set up a revenue-neutral carbon tax, from decision to implementation. It's basically just a sales tax on fossil fuels, so it's not hard to put in place. The initial level was CAD $10/ton, becoming more stringent each year. It's currently CAD $30/ton.

Within a particular jurisdiction, then, your individual responsibility is pretty clear: support political candidates who favor this kind of policy. (Cap-and-trade is more administratively complex, but basically equivalent.)

The question is how to get agreement across jurisdictions. William Nordhaus, an economist who's been studying this problem for years, has a new proposal: climate treaty as a climate club. If you're outside the club, you need pay a tariff on your exports to the club. Talk. Article in the New York Review of Books. Paper.

The emergency solution is geo-engineering, like constructing a giant parasol.
posted by russilwvong at 11:32 AM on July 8, 2015 [14 favorites]


I should add that being in Vancouver right now, with a giant cloud of smoke hanging overhead and blocking the sunlight, is giving me a visceral understanding of some of the geo-engineering proposals. In the mornings, I'm surprised how cool it is. (Although that might be because I just got back from Austin.)
posted by russilwvong at 11:48 AM on July 8, 2015


>Care to elaborate on what that "shit" is? Because fuck if I know.<

And as an indirect action, vote smart too.
posted by twidget at 12:14 PM on July 8, 2015


I should add that being in Vancouver right now, with a giant cloud of smoke hanging overhead and blocking the sunlight, is giving me a visceral understanding of some of the geo-engineering proposals.

Vancouver also recently made the top ten in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development's list of cities threatened by rising sea levels.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:45 PM on July 8, 2015


(I feel like I should elaborate that "fuck if I know" is because I'm a middle-aged English major with zero science or engineering background, which basically makes me a useless novelty in the present world and "lunch" in the future. I know there are things that someone can do; but I also feel that there is literally nothing I can do except try to die young and in the meantime try to find someone to vote for who isn't too appalling.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:54 PM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


Gloom and doom and throwing up your hands is rarely useful. I know how it is - I have two kids and I go through regular cycles of "OMG WTF" and "At least we can hunker down here away from rising sea levels" and "Welp we're all gonna die in a total civilizational collapse" and even "Maybe it's time to take the Preppers seriously?" before I snap back to sanity.

But there is good news too, if you look for it. Maybe it's too little too late, or maybe it isn't.

Here is Al Gore on The Turning Point: New Hope for the Climate: ... we will have to take care to guard against despair, lest it become another form of denial, paralyzing action. It is true that we have waited too long to avoid some serious damage to the planetary ecosystem – some of it, unfortunately, irreversible. Yet the truly catastrophic damages that have the potential for ending civilization as we know it can still – almost certainly – be avoided. ... There is surprising – even shocking – good news.

(And yeah, the 2000 US election will turn out to have been a landmark event in human history, where a global colossus at the height of its power turned its back on climate change in favor of someone they could see having a beer with. I blame so many people, including Al Gore himself with his earth-tone shirts, and Bill Clinton with his bimbo eruptions that started the media circus, but the right wing Republicans fueled by the poisonous Chamber of Commerce business-as-usual folks most of all.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 1:49 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese : I'm a middle-aged English major with zero science or engineering background, which basically makes me a useless novelty in the present world--

Not at all. Global warming isn't a science or engineering problem, it's a political problem. If you can write persuasively and can convince the undecided that global warming is a serious problem which we need to tackle, that's totally useful.

Part of the difficulty is that global warming isn't intuitive. It's like knowing that the Earth is round--if you just look around you, it looks like the Earth is flat. It's hard to believe that rising levels of an invisible gas can have such drastic effects.

My attempt at explaining global warming in 60 seconds:
Fourier asked in 1824: the Earth receives energy from the Sun continuously (minus what gets reflected). Why doesn't it keep heating up? The answer is that it also radiates heat ("thermal radiation") into space. You can feel thermal radiation when you hold your hand over a hot stove. A warmer object radiates more heat.

When incoming solar energy and outgoing thermal radiation balance each other, the Earth's temperature is stable. (No matter how complicated the Earth's climate is, we know that it has to obey conservation of energy.)

We know that CO2 blocks heat, and that by digging up and burning fossil fuels, we've added a lot more CO2 into the atmosphere, exactly like a super-volcano. The additional CO2 reduces outgoing thermal radiation, so incoming solar energy is now greater than outgoing thermal radiation. The trapped heat accumulates, like water behind a dam. The Earth's temperature has to rise until they balance each other again.

We can see this happening by looking at how much of the Earth's surface has summer temperatures which are more than three standard deviations greater than the 1951-1980 average. It's already causing dangerous heat waves; for example, the 2003 heat wave in Europe killed 70,000 people. This is with 0.5 C of warming from the 1951-1980 average. Best case (rapid decline in fossil fuel use), we can expect 2 C of warming. Worst case, more like 4-6 C.
there is literally nothing I can do except try to die young--

Actually, I'm not that pessimistic! (I suspect this may have something to do with growing up in the 1980s, when people were extremely worried about nuclear war. Having gotten past that threat, global warming doesn't seem that bad!)
posted by russilwvong at 1:51 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you spend enough years telling people there is no climate change, but that God will strike us down if we allow X Immoral Thing, then whatever is the X Immoral Thing du jour when climate change sows disaster can be the scapegoat.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:53 PM on July 8, 2015


My Calvin & Markov strip was sorta freaky-relevant to this.
posted by aramaic at 2:01 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


"One thing I wonder - if things do go bad heat-wise, would previously inhospitable places like Siberia/Alaska/Greenland become...more hospitable, more viable to human civilization?"

If the studies I have been reading about tundra's and how they have switched from being carbon sinks to actively releasing methane into the atmosphere, no. Also, from the article, where they talk about the active methane vents in the arctic ocean? That's a BAD THING, along the lines of making the arctic ocean extremely dangerous to try and traverse in anything but a giant supertanker.

When methane vents in the ocean, it changes the density and buoyancy of the water, which will cause smaller vessels to actual sink very quickly if they hit a a major out gassing. Here is a video explaining how this works.

Of course, you were asking about on land. In 1986, a lake in Cameroon had a sudden release of C02, which is documented as a massive release of several million tons of C02 gas. CO2 is heavy, so it will displace the breathable air at ground level. This event killed 1700 people and around 3500 livestock with in a 25 kilometer range around the outgassing.

Now think about all the carbon dioxide that would be released along with the methane (which is, I guess thankfully, lighter than air). That released CO2 is going to displace the air along the ground, making the environment toxic to most life.
posted by daq at 2:09 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's hard to believe that rising levels of an invisible gas can have such drastic effects.

What's so drastic about a rise of 2K against an ambient temperature of 300K?

Oh, right, we don't do Kelvin scale.

The issue isn't that the greenhouse effect is drastic. The issue is that our civilization is so fucking brittle that we're best off not letting this happen.
posted by ocschwar at 2:33 PM on July 8, 2015


I blame so many people, including Al Gore himself with his earth-tone shirts, and Bill Clinton with his bimbo eruptions that started the media circus

Gore won the popular vote. Bush and his boys stole the election, and Gore (for whatever goddamned reason) chose not to fight it. If you're going to be pissed off at Gore for anything, be pissed off at him for that. And Clinton's approval ratings were great, despite the sex scandal silliness. America cracked a lot of stupid Lewinski jokes, but Clinton did not leave office under a cloud of shame.

I want to throttle people who say it doesn't matter if we elect Republicans or Democrats because both parties are basically the same. That is a fuckton of bullshit. Al Gore is not George W Bush. Obama is not John McCain. The Democrats will disappoint you, but they don't do enough of the right things while the Republicans never stop doing the wrong things. Every time one of those conservative swine gets elected, we lurch another few steps closer to the pit. You want to save the planet? Start by never, ever voting Republican.

The self-identified left these days seems to confine itself more and more purely to the proxy world of popular culture, which is to say: consumption. We'll tear each other apart arguing about gender balance in MarvelTM fan fiction

Somebody made a very similar point the other day on Metafilter, and it stopped me cold. I see so, so much online about gender in comics and movies and TV shows about superheroes. It's kind of inescapable. And I find myself wondering how we got there. Pop culture does matter, and people aren't idiots for being upset about harmful portrayals of women in Marvel comics (for example). I am not saying those discussions simply need to go away. But I hear so much about the paucity of Black Widow toys, much more than I hear about issues of greater concern affecting women in the real world. And I know stuff like toys and movies are more fun to argue about, and they can feel more relevant to our daily lives than what a bunch of old dudes are doing in Washington... but I read an article like this, and it feels like our damn planet is dying while we're all getting through our work days snarking at strangers online about Power Girl's boob window.

(I apologize if this comes across as dreadfully self-righteous, but I'm criticizing myself here at least as much as anybody else. How much time have I lost getting into scraps on Fanfare? And lest it seem like I'm focusing unfairly on the gender stuff, I could make the same point about racial diversity in the Star Wars saga or whatever. The left seems to be bogged down in arguments about media, and I'm as guilty of it as anybody.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:41 PM on July 8, 2015 [12 favorites]


That quote struck me too, because the problem of consumption's not just a pathology of the Right. The self-identified left these days seems to confine itself more and more purely to the proxy world of popular culture, which is to say: consumption. We'll tear each other apart arguing about gender balance in MarvelTM fan fiction, or the degree to which BBHMM strikes a blow against white supremacy, rather asking whether maybe—just maybe—they and other manifestations of Big Content might simply be expressions of the hyper-capitalist ideology that's quite literally destroying the planet and irrelevant to our real interests of—you know—basic survival as a species.

i find myself thinking about this quote a lot lately:
"This is a world in which the neoliberal ethic of intense possessive individualism and financial opportunism has become the template for human personality socialisation. This is a world that has become increasingly characterised by a hedonistic culture of consumerist excess. It has destroyed the myth (though not the ideology) that the nuclear family is the solid sociological foundation for capitalism and embraces, however tardily and incompletely, multiculturalism, women’s rights and equality of sexual preference. The impact is increasing individualistic isolation, anxiety, short-termism and neurosis in the midst of one of the greatest material urban achievements ever constructed in human history."
--David Harvey
posted by p3on at 3:59 PM on July 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


Actually, I'm not that pessimistic! (I suspect this may have something to do with growing up in the 1980s, when people were extremely worried about nuclear war. Having gotten past that threat, global warming doesn't seem that bad!)

Every article that gets posted to the Blue pretty much states that climate change is happening faster than the worse case scenario models, and you're not that pessimistic? And yes, I read the linked comment.

I can't even read the articles anymore. I've been getting more and more anxious over the past couple of summers, with how hot its getting in Portland, and every time one of these articles gets posted my anxiety levels spike for like a week. Then that nuclear war with Russia post last week put me up to whole new unheard of levels of anxiety. I was finally starting to get past that and then this drops this morning.

I don't know how to deal with this anymore. I mean, it seems like carbon capture is our only hope. Those towers in that Atlantic article sound pretty good, but if the Arctic is likely to lose its summer ice next fucking year, seems like we should have been building them yesterday. Is there any way to invest in something like that? It doesn't seem like there's any chance of congress funding anything like that any time soon. Maybe China will get on it?

I've seriously been considering an AskMe about how best my wife and I can euthanize ourselves when civilization finally starts collapsing. I thought I had a few years, but that Russia thread really drove up my urgency on the matter. The only reason I haven't yet is that probably a question about the best way to kill yourself would probably get deleted, because while I'm only suicidal in case the collapse of global civilization, there are actual suicidal people out there and it's probably not ideal to have a thread about good ways to kill yourself. I was thinking of making a throwaway e-mail, though I guess my actual e-mail is in my profile. I don't know how I can keep living like this, though. I don't know what to do.

I just thank the stars that I haven't accidentally had a child, and that my wife and I have pretty much decided against any.
posted by Caduceus at 4:31 PM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


I don't know about anybody else, but as a robust man of middle years, awareness of the magnitude of the issue that's going to almost certainly immiserate the rest of my life, makes it harder and harder for me to keep on keeping on.
posted by ob1quixote at 4:32 PM on July 8, 2015


Wendell Berry said something about the world's crisis meaning that we need to learn how to be patient in an emergency. There is every reason to despair and yet we can't despair. There is no time (it's an emergency) but we must remain patient.

Patience is a bulwark against despair.
posted by kaymac at 4:41 PM on July 8, 2015 [9 favorites]


I don't know how to deal with this anymore.

I've been going to therapy for a while. It helps.
posted by teponaztli at 4:56 PM on July 8, 2015


I've been looking into that. I don't know how a therapist deals with apocolyptic anxiety, but I really need to get moving on it. It's genuinely affecting my life like it never has before. Thank you.
posted by Caduceus at 4:57 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


"When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
― Wendell Berry, Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community: Eight Essays
posted by kaymac at 5:22 PM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


Caduceus, people have been living with apocalyptic terror and despair for a long time. When I was a kid in the 1980s, we had the threat of nuclear annihilation hanging over our heads every day. Going back decades and centuries before that, people had reason to worry the end was near. Any day now Yellowstone Park could explode or we could get hit by a meteor or there could be an unprecedented plague or some damn thing. There are all kinds of ways we could die horribly.

I don't say all this to make you even more alarmed, but to try and remind you that there is always reason to be terrified and you can't let that terror take over your life. As I write this I am facing some super shitty medical decisions relating to my ongoing cancer mess, and I have every reason to be a shrieking freak about it all but instead I'm trying to just get on with life. The alternative is to just be miserable all day every day, and I really don't want to live like that.

Prepare for disaster, but don't live like disaster is simply inevitable. You don't know what's coming.

And see a shrink. It helps.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:56 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Caduceus, people have been living with apocalyptic terror and despair for a long time.

Since the dawn of civilization. They're virtually always wrong. And when they're right, it is by sheer coincidence of the "a stopped clock is right twice a day" variety.

Anyone reading this has it better off than 99% of humanity in all of history, including future prospects. We shouldn't lose sight of that.
posted by Justinian at 6:06 PM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


Until that wild majority comes knocking.

living in New Zealand is looking more sensible by the day tbh
posted by Sebmojo at 6:56 PM on July 8, 2015


I've seriously been considering an AskMe about how best my wife and I can euthanize ourselves when civilization finally starts collapsing.

please don't euthanize yourself caduceus
posted by Sebmojo at 6:57 PM on July 8, 2015


We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese:
>I'm a middle-aged English major with zero science or engineering background, which basically makes me a useless novelty in the present world--

russilwvong: >>Not at all. Global warming isn't a science or engineering problem, it's a political problem. If you can write persuasively and can convince the undecided that global warming is a serious problem which we need to tackle, that's totally useful.


I think a big part of it is a communication problem that's grown out of control as society's expectations have diverged from reality, and this leads directly to p3on's David Harvey quote above. I tend to think of it as the "How do I learn to be wrong?" problem. How do we explain to a large segment of the population that their expectations and behaviour are leading us over a cliff?

Put like that it sounds self-centred, which is why every climate-related event is an opportunity to explain to people that it really is happening, and the consequences are only going to be more dire the longer we put off any significant action.

What can we do?

One of my answers is to do what the deniers claim us "leftists" have always wanted: go back to the Stone Age, or at least to the 19th C. (energy-wise). Learn to suffer through with less of everything - food, energy and transportation. If nothing else, it'll build character calluses. Even a hundred years ago, our ancestors managed with a fraction of the material goods and energy we casually burn through every day.

Elect people who aren't idiots.
Plant a shit load of trees, nature's carbon capture and storage device.
posted by sneebler at 7:33 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's a major challenge in communicating about climate change: how do you convey the potential magnitude of the problems without making people just go hide under the bed and wait for disaster?

The thing is, it is a big problem (to put it mildly) but it's not an impossible one. I went to a talk once by glaciologist Richard Alley in which he pointed out that converting from fossil fuels to renewable energy is a problem roughly on the same scale as going from chamber pots to indoor plumbing. It requires major infrastructure changes at every scale, large and small, but it's totally doable. (Alley also hosted a miniseries called Earth: The Operator's Manual, which covers both the problems of climate change and the solutions to some of them--I keep meaning to make an FPP about it. )
posted by fermion at 7:33 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Trees aren't really a solution since the carbon goes right back up when the tree dies.
posted by Justinian at 7:58 PM on July 8, 2015


Trees are a fine solution, just not a particularly long-term one. And forests can accumulate more carbon than a bunch of isolated trees. I don't claim it's the solution, just one that has both positive environmental and psychological effects. Plus you can build houses out of them if you want to hang on to the carbon a bit longer.

One of the side effects is that people could learn to think about the carbon cycle. Earth's biota cycle huge quantities of C every year, and buffer the effects of human emissions. Without that buffer (and the oceans) heating would occur much more rapidly and erratically. I put some faith in the the carbon cycle to smooth out the temperature effects, although it would help if we stopped removing large chunks of forest and poisoning the oceans.
posted by sneebler at 8:09 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


i like the tree/forest idea too! (and so does john baez and freeman dyson ;) plant them by the drone!

I grew up with Russian ICBMs hanging over my head, now they're growing up with this.

well now we have a new pope :P
Pope Francis’ optimism, indeed joy, reminds me of a statement of President John F. Kennedy, as he embarked on an arduous, and ultimately successful quest to negotiate a nuclear arms agreement with the Soviet Union in 1963. “Man's reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable, and we believe they can do it again.”

This historical reference is apropos, not only in spirit but in the fact that this earlier episode of human problem solving, a half-century ago, was also helped by an epochal encyclical, “Pacem in Terris” of Pope John XXIII, which sought to place international affairs of state within a moral framework. Back in 1963, as the world teetered on the brink of nuclear self-annihilation, Pope John XXIII labored to inspire world leaders with a vision of survival and the common good. His great encyclical was hand delivered to the White House and the Kremlin.

We have cause to believe that “Pacem in Terris” helped to inspire the moral vision of Kennedy, Khrushchev and other leaders of the day. We have similar cause to believe that Pope Francis today has given us a message that will speak to all humanity, including the political leaders who will soon head to the United Nations to adopt Sustainable Development Goals in September and to Paris to decide on a vital course correction on human-induced climate change. Yes, we have before us at least the possibility of epochal change.
re: the politics of it, since i've been liberally quoting ramez naam:
Why is the divide so stark? Dan Kahan at Yale has done research that points to a key factor. Kahan ran an experiment where he brought in vaccine experts to present an argument to mixed audiences of conservatives and liberals that vaccination against HPV was safe or not safe. The audience got to see both views. When the two views were presented by supposedly neutral experts, 56 percent of the conservatives thought the vaccine was safe. After the same presentation of views, where the expert presenting the vaccine as safe was presented as a liberal... [yadda, yadda, etc.] So hearing the exact same position presented by a perceived political ally or a perceived political foe swung opinion by 14 points. The lesson, Kahan says, is that people respond to an argument an expert makes in large part based on whether they think they agree ideologically and politically with that person...

The burden, then, is on leading conservatives—the ones who acknowledge that climate truly is changing, and that the changes pose dangers to both humanity and the planet—to actually lead. There is plenty to like for conservatives about a revenue neutral carbon price. Lower payroll and income taxes. Less money sent to Russia and the Middle East. The creation of new, higher-paying green energy jobs. More opportunity for investors and entrepreneurs to flourish in this new industry. A new wave of market-led approaches to environmental protection that got their start under Ronald Reagan.

Indeed, even before signing the Montreal Protocol, Reagan prided himself on his record on the environment. As Governor of California he'd worked to reduce air pollution and tighten vehicle emission standards, something he talked about in later years. And in a 1984 speech commemorating the opening of a new headquarters for the National Geographic Society, Ronald Reagan drew the connection between conservative political philosophy and protecting the environment.
You are worried about what man has done and is doing to this magical planet that God gave us. And I share your concern. What is a conservative after all but one who conserves, one who is committed to protecting and holding close the things by which we live? . . . This is what we leave to our children. And our great moral responsibility is to leave it to them either as we found it or better than we found it.
In his State of the Union address of that year, Reagan put the politics of it clearly: "Preservation of our environment is not a liberal or conservative challenge—it's common sense." He made that statement just before asking for a budget increase for the EPA, even as he was cutting federal spending overall.

It's time for Republican leaders to stand up... and work with their colleagues across the aisle to address the largest challenges facing our nation and our world today.
yes, tribalism, etc. (and maybe that's what will return us to the stone age?) but elite opinion matters and you have some heavy hitters coming thru...

Scientists can and should tell us what's going to happen, even if it's going to be terrible.

not only that, scientists should tell us what to do:* "Ultimately, economists need to step up on climate change. It is more than a textbook example of externalities and far more nuanced than many simple accounts make it to be. It is also far more harmful than many of their models suggest (consider the limits). Economic logic sometimes fails... [I]f an asteroid was about to crash into New York City, we wouldn't ask economists to create a poorly-founded model of its costs. We would tell NASA to do whatever it can to save us. Economists need to stop telling us what the program for change should be, but rather identify the most efficient means of implementing a program scientists already deem necessary."
posted by kliuless at 9:22 PM on July 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


Heresy!
posted by sneebler at 5:13 AM on July 9, 2015


Caduceus: Every article that gets posted to the Blue pretty much states that climate change is happening faster than the worst case scenario models, and you're not that pessimistic?

I'm not pessimistic enough to be contemplating suicide, or to think that we shouldn't have had children. I think things could be pretty terrible in the medium term. But the prospect of dealing with heat waves, drought, floods, famine, and rising seas just doesn't seem as apocalyptic to me as nuclear war.

I want to do everything I can to help ensure the stability of our society and civilization. But if we fail, and our civilization collapses, that's not literally the end of the world, unlike nuclear war.

To me, the problem isn't technical, it's political. Most political leaders worldwide accept that we're facing a major problem. (I'm assuming that the Democrats hold the White House in 2016; if a Republican wins, I would become more pessimistic.) And the recent climate-change agreement between the US and China is a good sign.

Even on the Republican side, as the weather becomes more and more extreme, it'll be harder and harder to argue that nothing is happening. Katharine Hayhoe notes that if you ask people whether global warming is happening or not, the current temperature of the room they're in makes a significant difference in how they answer.

kliuless: not only that, scientists should tell us what to do--

If they're willing to step into the public arena (like Michael Mann, or Katharine Hayhoe), that's great, but I don't think it's reasonable to expect them to take the abuse and death threats as a matter of course. That's more up to our political leaders.
posted by russilwvong at 10:08 AM on July 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I grew up in a family of conservationists, immersed in concern about the environment from day one. We bought in bulk, reused everything from plastic wrap and tin foil to clothes and toys, campaigned against billboards, sprawling housing developments and shopping centers, donated to clean water funds, bought organic, drove less, consumed less, and so on. We spent lots of time in nature. Even as a little kid, it made me really sad that climate change was slowly endangering the people and places I love.

Then my own son was born and the sadness has gotten terrible and black and large. Now I don't even know how to describe how ashamed and sad I am that he will have to suffer the terrible consequences of our inaction. The beautiful place in Maine that my family has adored for 100 years will be submerged in his lifetime. His birthplace will probably be under water, too. Based on the timeline, he'll probably start to suffer real hardships just as I'm getting old and dying, unable to do anything about it. It just breaks. my. heart.
posted by Cygnet at 10:09 AM on July 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


A friend of mine posted this in our Slack today, which I found oddly helpful.

Fuck That: A Guided Meditation
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:42 AM on July 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


If they're willing to step into the public arena...

we had dr. steven chu as energy secretary :P
The toughest call I made was: I think we have to begin to start to tell [BP] what to do, or at least stop them from doing things until we approve of them. And another person on my team said, “If you start doing that, then you begin to own it. So you should not do that.” And I said, “That’s OK, I’ll own it.” There are lots of bureaucrats who never want to own anything. They’ll hide behind a committee; they’ll hide behind God knows what. You couldn’t hide behind a committee on this one.
viz. "So what should we do..." (c.2012) [cf. Mariana Mazzucato's 'Innovative State' & gov't investment + capital formation (thru fiscal spending; arpa-e!)]

and now we have dr. ernest moniz (who kinda looks like ben franklin with that haircut ;) [and sec.defense ashton carter is also a physicist!]

also btw...
-A Key Moment is Coming for the IPCC's Future
-Pope Francis and the IPCC: can technology mitigate climate change?

oh and fwiw, i've been flipping thru lee kuan yew's 2013 book, which my father-in-law sent us, and there's a chapter near the end on energy and climate change, with a pretty frank assessment:
Ice caps are melting away before our very eyes... Global warming and climate change threaten human survival. This calls for governments to act together to cut total emissions significantly. Unfortunately, it is very unlikely to happen... At the heart of the issue is the perceived unavoidable trade-off between cutting emissions and growing the economy...

The earth can only hold so many people without serious damage to our habitat and to biodiversity. How do we put a stop to the relentless growth? The key, in my view, lies in educating women...

What is to be done in the meantime? First, it may be wiser for countries to devote time and energy to bracing themselves for the human catastrophe that would probably hit us in a matter of decades... Are there plans in place to deal with rising sea levels, more extreme weather, scarcer food and water, and other problems? If the glaciers of Central Asia and China melt, for example, cities living downstream may first experience floods, then droughts as the water supply falls when there is no more ice to melt. River basins will no longer be able to support as many people.

Furthermore, as sea levels rise, people living in low-lying areas will have no choice but to move. A one-metre rise could displace as many as 145 million people worldwide and contaminate drinking water for millions more, according to one study. Large swathes of land – indeed, entire cities – may be submerged under water. Livelihoods will be at stake, since in many cases, moving to higher terrain will involve forsaking alluvial soil that people need for farming... in the case of Bangladesh, which occupies a low-lying area, people may be forced to move to India. The long and porous borders mean it will not always be possible to keep them out. In any case, you cannot stop the flow of human beings when they are running away to save their lives. The implications, then, are enormous. If massive waves of people move, the risk of conflict increases significantly.

Second, it is worth noting that some action is possible despite the dilly-dallying at international conferences because being green is not always a matter of altruism... For these reasons, many countries are already acting unilaterally. That explains the rise of environmental consciousness in China... for each country, the penny will drop when people see the consequences of global warming themselves and feel a real threat to their way of life – just as Europe has. Until it hits you, it is merely a theoretical problem...

At the end of the day, though, there has to be recognition by all countries that there are limits to what the world can sustain. We have to live within those limits [or raise them /ed.note] to live comfortably. We occupy the same planet and our fate is bound together. It matters little, therefore, who wins the debates. If the world is destroyed, we will all be in serious trouble. Of course, by the time the most destructive consequences of global warming are manifested – sometime, perhaps, between 50 and 150 years from now – I will not be around, nor will many people alive today. Nevertheless, we have a responsibility towards our children and grandchildren to pass on to them a world full of hope and vitality, just as it was passed on to us.
in a Q&A at the end of the chapter he's asked about what rising sea levels mean for singapore and he goes: "We will be turning up at other people's shores... we've invited people from Holland to have a look, and they said no dykes [british sp?] were possible. You have to have a sea wall... The problem for us will be in figuring out a way to have a seaport outside that sea wall..."

anyway, i thought it was an interesting look at one man's 'elite opinion', but if you take his initial assessment and tweak it a little, one conclusion you could draw to become more optimistic is the importance of shifting perceptions among world leaders that there is an "unavoidable trade-off between cutting emissions and growing the economy." so for example, that in a nutshell, is what fairly influential publications like BNEF and GTM are all about... but then you hear moniz talking more about 'implementing standards' rather than regulating GHG emissions or carbon pricing/taxation, say, and it sounds like a long war for hearts and minds, for which we do not have the time... so as beckett sez i guess: "i can't go on. i'll go on." :P

cheers!
posted by kliuless at 1:06 PM on July 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


THE USE AND MISUSE OF MODELS FOR CLIMATE POLICY by Robert S. Pindyck[PDF]
In recent articles, I have argued that integrated assessment models (IAMs) have flaws that make them close to useless as tools for policy analysis. IAM-based analyses of climate policy create a perception of knowledge and precision that is illusory, and can fool policymakers into thinking that the forecasts the models generate have some kind of scientific legitimacy. But some have claimed that we need some kind of model, and that IAMs can be structured and used in ways that correct for their shortcomings. For example, it has been argued that although we know little or nothing about key relationships in the model, we can get around this problem by attaching probability distributions to various parameters and then simulating the model using Monte Carlo methods. I argue that this would buy us nothing, and that a simpler and more transparent approach to the design of climate change policy is preferable. I briefly outline what that approach would look like.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:36 PM on July 9, 2015


“Killing Us Softly: The Industry of Lies Around Climate Change,” Charles P. Pierce, Esquire Politics Blog, 10 July 2015
posted by ob1quixote at 3:06 PM on July 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


THE USE AND MISUSE OF MODELS FOR CLIMATE POLICY by Robert S. Pindyck[PDF]

It is worth noting that this guy is an economist, not a climate scientist, and also being crystal clear about which models he is criticizing and why. The Monte Carlo methods he describes are certainly somewhat problematic in certain ways and don't give us a perfect picture of the future - but they are still our best practices and the best we have available to us in many areas of climate science, especially hindcasting and forecasting. Further, the mechanistic climate models in almost all integrated socio-environmental models are nearly always the strongest and most defensible part of the entire approach; the economic models are nearly all more arbitrary and over-sensitive than any aspect of the modeled climate system. We know a hell of a lot more about predicting climate than we do about predicting economic behavior, if only because we know a lot about the physical behaviors that drive climate - but we know even less about the interactions between the economic and climate systems.

While at first glance the abstract makes it sound like he's criticizing Monte Carlo-based approaches to all climate modeling, when you dig into the text, he's primarily criticizing the use of these methods as link functions between physical phenomena like temperature rise or climate sensitivity with economic phenomena like the discount rate or unemployment. It's mostly an argument against the way we construct and interpret integrated assessment models (IAMs), not so much the underlying climate models themselves.
posted by dialetheia at 3:33 PM on July 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


John Baez: Science and the emotions - "denying there's a problem and despairing that there's a solution have similar consequences: namely, inaction... I think it's crucial, when we tell someone about a big problem, that we also tell them something they can do about it. Maybe not something that will solve it, but something that will ameliorate it. Otherwise they may lapse into denial or despair. Purely individual goals are not enough to be satisfying. National goals are a bit too big for most of us. Maybe a city is the right size. Residents of Copenhagen are trying to make their city go carbon-neutral by 2025."

also btw, re: methane - "it seems that human-produced carbon dioxide will be much more important for global warning than Arctic methane release, at least for the rest of this century. A few centuries down the line, if we don't get a handle on this problem, then it could get scary."

oh and...
-Bye-bye, carbon
On Quora someone asked: "What is the most agreed-on figure for our future carbon budget?"

My answer: Asking "what is our future carbon budget?" is a bit like asking how many calories a day you can eat. There's really no limit on how much you can eat if you don't care how overweight and unhealthy you become. So, to set a carbon budget, you need to say how much global warming you will accept... Our total carbon budget for [a 50% chance of] staying below 2°C was about 1 trillion tonnes. We have now burnt almost 60% of that.
-Two new U.S. solar initiatives could help level the playing field for low income households
-#Keepitintheground: "$1.3 Trillion of oil and gas projects risk becoming stranded assets as the world acts on climate."
posted by kliuless at 6:42 PM on July 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


The burning question of global carbon reduction - "Governments cannot simply sit back and wait for cheap green energy"
Now a group of academics, businessmen and policy makers have stepped forward to challenge official defeatism. In their New Climate Economy report, they argue that halting global warming without denting economic growth can be done more easily than many realise...

In the end, however, the problem of achieving a binding global deal remains. The report’s authors rightly argue that cities and countries should work collaboratively on measures such as raising energy efficiency standards, cutting aircraft pollution and boosting investment in clean energy.

But such initiatives will avail the world little unless backed up by states setting tough emissions targets and giving hard commitments to meet them. While costs may be falling, that still means kick-starting huge investments in global urban infrastructure.

Governments also need to spend far more on research into new forms of renewable energy. Only 2 per cent of the world’s public R&D goes into this area, according to the global Apollo programme. That is not enough.

Lastly they must back up binding targets by sticking a higher price tag on carbon. The practical and political obstacles to widespread carbon pricing are daunting. Nearly every tradeable good includes a carbon component. Make it more expensive to produce things in one place and activity simply leaks abroad.

The falling cost of renewables is something to celebrate. It lowers the price of political action. But it does not absolve the delegates to Paris from taking the hard political decisions necessary to decarbonise. If they duck them, the conference will enjoy no more success than the last.
Seizing the Global Opportunity: Partnerships for Better Growth and a Better Climate
-Executive Summary (671.88 kB pdf)
-Full Report (5.38 MB pdf)
-Working Papers
posted by kliuless at 7:34 PM on July 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


              WILL McAVOY
              (concerned)
Mr. Westbrook, we want to inform people
but we don't want to alarm them. Can
you give us a reason to be optimistic?

           RICHARD WESTBROOK
Well, that's the thing, Will. Americans
are optimistic by nature. And if we
face this problem head on, if we listen
to our best scientists, and act
decisively and passionately, I still
don't see any way we can survive.

             WILL McAVOY
            (frustrated)
Okay. Richard Westbrook, Deputy
Assistant Adminstrator of the EPA. Thank
you for joining us.

          RICHARD WESTBROOK
             (cheerfully)
Thanks for having me.
posted by ob1quixote at 8:57 PM on July 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


russilwvong: Even on the Republican side, as the weather becomes more and more extreme, it'll be harder and harder to argue that nothing is happening. Katharine Hayhoe notes that if you ask people whether global warming is happening or not, the current temperature of the room they're in makes a significant difference in how they answer.

Agreed, and I also think (sadly) that we're waiting for a "serious" event to convince us that we need to change. Unfortunately, to continue the nuclear war analogy above, I kind of think the missiles have been launched and we're standing around going, "See, it's not so bad! We've still got time."

kliuless: not only that, scientists should tell us what to do--

If they're willing to step into the public arena (like Michael Mann, or Katharine Hayhoe), that's great, but I don't think it's reasonable to expect them to take the abuse and death threats as a matter of course. That's more up to our political leaders.


I'm suspicious of this line of argument for two reasons. Michael Mann is still being abused in the press over the Hockey Stick; he's being made into an icon of Junk Science by people who have no interest in allowing science to inform politics in the US. Second, there's been a transparent effort to exclude scientists from speaking out on this issue. "Scientists need to stay in the lab and do their work. Scientists have no role in speaking about policy - that's the job of politicians." etc etc.
posted by sneebler at 1:26 PM on July 11, 2015 [1 favorite]




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