The World Passes 400 PPM Threshold. Permanently.
September 29, 2016 11:11 PM   Subscribe

2016 will be the year that carbon dioxide officially passed the symbolic 400 ppm mark, never to return below it in our lifetimes. In the centuries to come, history books will likely look back on September 2016 as a major milestone for the world’s climate.

As noted previously, xkcd provides a helpful infographic to illustrate what kind of temperature change we're talking about here (long scroll, the end is worth it).
posted by splitpeasoup (142 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
Amazing! Stupendous! Incredible!

Sometimes life can seem kind of futile and meaningless, but it's events like this that remind me of what we can accomplish when we all work together. It's going to be so exciting to see how this develops!
posted by 3urypteris at 11:24 PM on September 29, 2016 [49 favorites]


.
posted by Lyme Drop at 11:26 PM on September 29, 2016 [10 favorites]


Yeah, but that's only in silly base 10. In hex we have, what? A year or two until 0x200?
posted by supercres at 11:31 PM on September 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


At least they think there will still be history books in the centuries to come: I admire their optimism!
posted by misteraitch at 11:35 PM on September 29, 2016 [45 favorites]


This is going to sound a little dumb but: what is the milestone specifically? In that first figure in the article the 400ppm line was crossed back in March 2015 and has crept ever upward. Is the milestone that 2016 will be the first year entirely above 400ppm (because September was the last realistic chance for a decline)?

I just want to be clear before I order the cake.
posted by selenized at 11:42 PM on September 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


If anyone needs me, I'll be in my couch cushion fort.
posted by kjs4 at 12:02 AM on September 30, 2016 [11 favorites]


what is the milestone specifically?

Basically, that we will never (in the foreseeable future) dip below 400 ppm again.

What's so special about 400? Nothing inherently, of course, but a few years ago, 350 was commonly spoken of as the maximum we should allow ourselves, whereas 400 was horrifically-high-number-that-should-never-happen. Well, we've now firmly hit horrifically-high-number-that-should-never-happen.
posted by splitpeasoup at 12:02 AM on September 30, 2016 [23 favorites]


It's the global commitment to warming which is the bitch. We could cut all CO2 emissions to zero tomorrow, like waving a magic wand, and we'd still be stuck with 30-40 years of increasing climate change because the effects of what goes into the system today doesn't have a full effect until decades later.

Right now, we're feeling the effects of CO2 emissions from the 70s and 80s. We haven't even begun to experience to what we've done since then.
posted by hippybear at 12:43 AM on September 30, 2016 [17 favorites]


"Centuries to come... historians..." - heh, good one.
posted by pompomtom at 12:46 AM on September 30, 2016 [11 favorites]


The key to tackling climate change: electrify everything:
All three of these advantages of electricity suggest the same two-pronged strategy for deep decarbonization:

1. Clean up electricity.
2. Electrify everything.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 12:47 AM on September 30, 2016 [13 favorites]


We're at 400ppm already? Jesus, I thought we were still around 350. And every month here in LA seems hotter than the previous goddamn month.
posted by Justinian at 12:58 AM on September 30, 2016


350.org picked a bad name.
posted by Going To Maine at 12:58 AM on September 30, 2016 [4 favorites]


I find it very frustrating when people assume that we're all going to die off, because humans are an almost ineradicable persistent invasive verminous plague; we are too damn ingenious and bloody-minded to die out. I am sure there will be historians in centuries to come, but the question is whether the world they inhabit bears much resemblance to the one we live in.

By one measure, this might be worse than extinction. A world without humans would be a world without human suffering. An ecologically devastated planet where billions of people lived out their lives in subsistence-level squalor, generation after generation - with, no doubt, a small elite enjoying relative luxury - is the kind of vision that leads to phrases like 'grim meathook future'.
posted by Major Clanger at 12:59 AM on September 30, 2016 [28 favorites]


I find it very frustrating when people assume that we're all going to die off

We ARE all going to die off. The question is when, and for what reason. Climate change might kill off a lot of us, or might not kill of many of us at all. Alligators have been around for how long? And jellyfish, even longer? And ferns, OMG.

Eventually the Sun will expand and swallow the planet. Whether there are still humans at that point, well, I cannot say. But I think it might be hubris to think that humans will have even a million years. We're only about 1/5 of the way there at this point (200,000 years), and we did pretty well for a long time, but the past 200 years have somehow become something entirely different from the previous 180,000.

*shrug*
posted by hippybear at 1:06 AM on September 30, 2016 [6 favorites]


(Note: I can't do basic math, apparently.)
posted by hippybear at 1:29 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


Well, shit.
posted by omredux at 1:46 AM on September 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


Who was it who said that living in 2016 entails knowing that the year will eventually be the title of a nonfiction book?
posted by kyrademon at 1:50 AM on September 30, 2016 [47 favorites]


The planet's life is finite (although the red giant phase is a long way off). I could understand if we were destroying our planet in an attempt to do everything possible to escape the limitations of our world and colonise other reaches of the galaxy - because that's humanity's only real hope of longevity. Otherwise, we'll just be another blip in the universe like possibly millions of other forms of life that either didn't have the time to escape their home, blew themselves up or preferred to live in a simulation rather than put resources toward space exploitation. We're just making our finite time crappier.

I would be interested in ready a study looking at how much carbon is absorbed by a tree by the time it reaches maturity. If we were to plant fast-growing trees in every conceivable space, harvest at maturity and store in a dry area (desert), how much could these carbon battery trunks and branches reduce the current PPM levels? There's little hope of convincing the world to commit to reducing emissions - so large-scale tree planting and storing seems like something people could get behind (if it were thought to have any noticeable effect on carbon dioxide levels)
posted by guy72277 at 2:31 AM on September 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


If we were to plant fast-growing trees in every conceivable space, harvest at maturity and store in a dry area (desert), how much could these carbon battery trunks and branches reduce the current PPM levels?

How many plant and animal species could we kill in creating this monoculture? How much water would we have to use to grow trees where they don't grow now? How many landscapes are we going to destroy?

I don't think that is something I could get behind.
posted by biffa at 2:37 AM on September 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


whereas 400 was horrifically-high-number-that-should-never-happen.

If it is any consolation, 400 will never happen again.
posted by Literaryhero at 2:51 AM on September 30, 2016 [12 favorites]


If it is any consolation, 400 will never happen again

Or for a less upbeat way of looking at it, 400 ppm or more will always be happening again and again from now on, like a boot stamping humanity's face forever.

We could solve all this, or at least free ourselves up to deal with it no matter the cost, with deep economic reforms and really aggressive public policy if we had the political will, but all the major powers are still too intent on winning history and we're still thinking in the same shortsighted ways we always do.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:33 AM on September 30, 2016 [8 favorites]




Dear Elon Musk,

I gotta hand it to you, you are seriously but seriously rocking the 'how to enjoy being a billionaire' thing, with your announced intention of colonizing Mars next week (or in ten years or was it five? Does it truly even matter?) Mad props man, you are really doing it right.
But, uh, I mean I know I can't really do this, not really, but maybe you could throw a little capital into a program of building CO2 scrubbers? Like, say, a billion? That we then install through out the arctic?
The way I see it is, you start the ball rolling and then countries who are kicking out a lot of CO2 - like our glorious ole USA - could buy the right to use the scrubbers to the point that they scrub out all the CO2 produced by that country.
Or something similar.
Because Mars, like that guy sang in that song, Mars is cold as hell and we need help down here. We should colonize Mars (and Europa (?)) and wherever else but we gotta get our shit here under control and since the gov's aren't willing - well you're doing an awesome job with the Tesla, you've truly moved mountains.
(Maybe you could interest Bezos or Gates ? I seem to have lost their numbers... stupid Palm pilot...)
posted by From Bklyn at 4:26 AM on September 30, 2016 [13 favorites]


Exxon Knew About Climate Change Almost 40 Years Ago; Spent Millions To Promote Misinformation

Destroy one life and it's a tragedy. Destroy billions and it's just good business.
posted by dazed_one at 4:32 AM on September 30, 2016 [5 favorites]


At this point it's a salvage operation.

The action now is "let the rich US coasts figure out WTF they wanna do with their shit, and refocus to bust ass with the UN to work in other places where resources are scarce and the coastal populations will be disastrously and acutely affected".

In other words, New York City can lose part of the tip of Manhattan, build their coastal barrier and be "ehhh, you know, now TERRIBLE off, but making do", but places like Micronesia? That's not something the developed world just sits by and lets dissappear with a shrug while they build their 30 billion dollar lock systems.
posted by Annika Cicada at 4:40 AM on September 30, 2016


At this point it's a salvage operation.

Serious inquiry: what does the non-salvage version look like in terms of environmental and system events and timing?

Eg,

0-10 years - increased climate crisis events, 6in rise in water
10-25 years - acidification of fresh water, conflict inducing migration, economic collapse
25-50 years - 2nd ice age, political collapse and re-organization, global war...
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 5:16 AM on September 30, 2016


I think in order to prioritize what "salvage operation" means it would help to model out cost of delay, where cost = increased mortality, increased starvation etc.

Then when you know what your costs are that you are trying to avoid, look for the steepest costs of delay (where inaction leads to a rapid and steep increase in the cost) and start there. Then try to get all the "steepest delay costs" handled first, that way *eventually* the cost of delay is a gentle slope and the human world is way ahead of the game.

This is gonna be a huge nasty clusterfuck, there's no way around it.
posted by Annika Cicada at 5:28 AM on September 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


I would be interested in ready a study looking at how much carbon is absorbed by a tree by the time it reaches maturity. If we were to plant fast-growing trees in every conceivable space, harvest at maturity and store in a dry area (desert), how much could these carbon battery trunks and branches reduce the current PPM levels?

A tree is mostly carbon, made mostly out of carbon from CO2 pulled out of the air.

And you don't need to store it in a desert, underground is fine.

What I'm saying is, we should make it illegal to recycle paper. And maybe put a tax on e-bills and similar paper-saving technologies.

And maybe start a major program of growing as much bamboo or similarly-fast-growing plant material as we can, and then burying that material in the desert.

The total mass of material we'd need to bury is on the order of the total mass of the oil we burn.
posted by Hatashran at 5:35 AM on September 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


James Lovelock isn't bothered.

But then he is 97
posted by Segundus at 5:41 AM on September 30, 2016


this is fine
posted by entropicamericana at 5:44 AM on September 30, 2016 [11 favorites]


Dear Elon Musk, ... maybe you could throw a little capital into a program of building CO2 scrubbers?

Mr Musk is the one billionare that should be exempt from being bothered, makes electric cars for crisakes.
posted by sammyo at 5:47 AM on September 30, 2016 [5 favorites]


All three of these advantages of electricity suggest the same two-pronged strategy for deep decarbonization:

1. Clean up electricity.
2. Electrify everything.


One of the biggest challenges that I see is that not enough people understand that with a major commitment to these two steps, we can make a huge impact on carbon emissions this century using just the technology that we have now and can see in the immediate future.

Some people simply don't know yet that it's possible to generate that much electricity with solar and wind with the available land / water that we have, and that it can be done for a price similar to today's generation costs. Prices for solar cells are probably dropping faster than prices for computing power now.

Others are focused on the intermittency problem (how do you keep the lights on at night?) but don't understand how quickly storage technology is improving in terms of price, scale, and performance. There aren't physical constraints on how much storage we can build and deploy; we aren't going to be running out of the materials needed, and the amount of space it will take up is insignificant.

Then there are others that are focused on the edges: we don't know that we will be able to electrify air transport, and getting 100% carbon-free generation might require large amounts of nuclear or even more massive amounts of storage. This is textbook "Perfect is the enemy of good" thinking. A path to reducing carbon emissions by 60%-80% with the technology we have now buys us time to solve the rest of the problem with technology we develop in the future.

The fact is that we can get very far by scaling the technologies that we have right now - we don't need miracle batteries or fusion power. It's far more important to eliminate the non-technical barriers that might prevent them from growing at the expense of incumbents.

Those barriers are all political and cultural, and I think many of them can be eliminated over the next 20 years. But to do so requires understanding that things aren't hopeless, and I think not enough effort has gone into convincing people that there is a path we can take that doesn't involve technological miracles or drastic changes to our living standards.
posted by Harvey Byrd at 5:51 AM on September 30, 2016 [26 favorites]


"And maybe start a major program of growing as much bamboo or similarly-fast-growing plant material as we can."
"How many plant and animal species could we kill in creating this monoculture?"

I guess the positive is that we might see panda populations rise..
posted by guy72277 at 5:53 AM on September 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


Equating "permanent" with "in our lifetimes" is exactly how we got into this mess. It's an important (and depressing) piece of news, but I dislike how they titled and framed the piece.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:59 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]



But, uh, I mean I know I can't really do this, not really, but maybe you could throw a little capital into a program of building CO2 scrubbers? Like, say, a billion? That we then install through out the arctic?


It is far, far cheaper to prevent emissions of CO2 than to remove it from the atmosphere once it has been burnt.

You should think of a solar panel as a virtual carbon scrubber. Any time it is producing energy, there is some fossil-fuel generation plant that is not burning fuel and releasing CO2 in the first place. And Musk is heavily invested in solar and battery storage.

The best way to sequester carbon is as unburnt fossil fuel, underground.
posted by Harvey Byrd at 6:05 AM on September 30, 2016 [18 favorites]


How many plant and animal species could we kill in creating this monoculture? How much water would we have to use to grow trees where they don't grow now? How many landscapes are we going to destroy?

Good point. I guess we plant local fast growing flora, in areas that that can handle it. No Cloud Atlas-style monoculture, just more trees, everywhere. Find a clearing, plant a tree. Tree subsidies or a clearing tax - We could aim to turn the great plains of the world US, Africa, the Steppes (back?) to forests by protecting the seedlings/saplings (we've already drastically reduced the fauna populations that need them for grazing anyway).

Or should we just give up? "Their leaders talked and talked and talked, but nothing could stem the avalanche. Their world crumbled."
posted by guy72277 at 6:11 AM on September 30, 2016


Is the milestone that 2016 will be the first year entirely above 400ppm (because September was the last realistic chance for a decline)?

Yes, September is the month that we typically see the lowest carbon dioxide levels, because of the annual cycle of tree growth. So this is the first year that our *low* is above 400 ppm.
posted by explosion at 6:22 AM on September 30, 2016 [8 favorites]


maybe you could throw a little capital into a program of building CO2 scrubbers? Like, say, a billion?

Say what you will about the man personally, but he's got most of everything he has on plans 1 and 2 above: clean electricity and electrify everything. He has a chunk set aside for Mars true, but I don't begrudge anyone planning for their retirement.

Scrubbers are kind of a waste IMO, as long as we have quick CO2 to biomass converters like poplars and bamboo and algae.
posted by bonehead at 6:27 AM on September 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


biffa: "How many plant and animal species could we kill in creating this monoculture? How much water would we have to use to grow trees where they don't grow now? How many landscapes are we going to destroy?"
The Amazon has been massively reduced in the last 50 years, with Brazilian cattle farming being the main culprit. The cattle farms themselves are major emitters of GHGs (Methane). Shutting down the cattle farms and re-foresting the vast tracts of land (the area deforested in the Amazon since 1970 is larger than Texas) would go a long way without having any of the undesirable side effects you mention. The water is there, the landscape is destroyed already, and the local flora is probably pretty fast to grow, given it's in the tropics.
Reasonably Everything Happens: "10-25 years - acidification of fresh water, conflict inducing migration, economic collapse"
The latter two are happening already.
posted by brokkr at 6:29 AM on September 30, 2016 [2 favorites]



It is far, far cheaper to prevent emissions of CO2 than to remove it from the atmosphere once it has been burnt.


True, my thought had more to do with the carbon already in the environment currently. A sort of carbon-arcane, as it were. I imagine that extra carbon could be scrubbed out by tree re-planting, and I'm all for that. But I don't know that merely impeding the production of more CO2 will be adequate, 400 PPM - and growing, because it sure as hell isnt shrinking - is just a hell of a lot.
posted by From Bklyn at 6:31 AM on September 30, 2016


"Carbon-narcone" not 'arcane'...
posted by From Bklyn at 6:42 AM on September 30, 2016


What, me worry? I am over 80
posted by Postroad at 6:49 AM on September 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


This is why I think it's hard for even allies of climate change action to interact seriously with the discussion.


The latter two (conflict inducing migration, economic collapse) are happening already.


See, no, no they're not. At least not in a way that is easily traceable to the carbon numbers. Certainly there are specific geographies that are experiencing the economic fallout of environmental changes, but that's not planet-wide economic collapse.

If it's something that will scale (eg, a given country/state's water supply being ruined leading to its collapse and this being the start of dominoes), show me.

I don't want scaremongering, I want to understand.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 6:54 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


'An Inconvenient Truth' is starting to seem more and more like an inconvenient truth. Many years since I've seen that film, but I remember a scene where Gore talks about geological evidence of a gigantic ice sheet sliding into the ocean, catastrophically raising the sea level overnight. He then says something like, "Of course, that couldn't happen today." Then looks pointedly at Greenland and says, "Uh oh." Anyway, here in Missouri, I should have some sweet ocean-front property, if the all-the-ice-has-melted predictions come true.
posted by jabah at 7:01 AM on September 30, 2016


When I was a dopey-ass goth teen (and occasionally as a very selfish adult), I thought I wanted to live forever. But even the daydream of eternity has no gloss now given that even humans are going to have some very nasty shit to survive through in 50 years (maybe more, maybe less).
posted by Kitteh at 7:04 AM on September 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


Eventually the Sun will expand and swallow the planet.

Quite some time before then, you will have climate change refugees from within the United States knocking on your door, some of whom voted for politicians in their (now-underwater) state who made it illegal to talk about climate change. Good luck with that. (For all of us.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:05 AM on September 30, 2016 [5 favorites]


If we were to plant fast-growing trees in every conceivable space, harvest at maturity and store in a dry area (desert), how much could these carbon battery trunks and branches reduce the current PPM levels?


Phytoplankton is probably a better option. The ocean can be seeded with fertilizers, to cause a bloom. Limited trials have shown an uptick in fish populations, including those that are experiencing a decline due to overfishing. We could theoretically sequester carbon and grow more delicious, delicious seafood.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 7:18 AM on September 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


But, uh, I mean I know I can't really do this, not really, but maybe you could throw a little capital into a program of building CO2 scrubbers? Like, say, a billion? That we then install through out the arctic?

The SpaceX video shows Mars being terraformed at the end. Mars' atmosphere is 96% CO2, so I would hazard that CO2 scrubbers will come in to play at some point. Hopefully not too late for Earth.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:20 AM on September 30, 2016


I don't want scaremongering, I want to understand.

This is why I keep bringing up "cost of delay" modeling.

There are things we know for certain are going to happen in the next 100-200 years. Like sea level rises, etc. We are past the "worst outcome" charts. Billions of people around the world need to start planning how to move entire civilization structures to higher and safer ground, otherwise tropical storms, hurricanes and tsunamis will begin to have "tens of millions dead" instead of "hundreds of thousands dead" in 10-30 years. It took thousands of years for these cultures to grow and establish in these places. Asking them to completely evacuate and relocate in 100 years is...a hell of a lot to ask, really. That's not something that an already struggling country can make happen on their own, so how do you sort that out? How do we work through the political ramifications? We need to start having planning sessions today. Not ten years from now, today. Massive resources need to be promised and allocated to solving this problem alone, and it will take at least 30 years to make any headway even then. So if we delay another ten years on this, then we shorten the time between "now" and "massive calamity", to 10-20 years away, yet we still need 50 years of runway to do this. At which point in time do we say "provide resources to address the super bad shit 50-100 years away".

I'm thinking it's downright ridiculously optimistic to think we can plan, prepare and execute on the goal of turning a "multi-generational horrific calamity" into "multi-generational mass dislocation" in 50-60 years. Yet, that's pretty much the situation we're at, and have been at for the past 25 years now. We have to steel ourselves to face some very tough unavoidable outcomes, and then create multi-generational plans to address them. Instead we are argue that it's just a silly hoax invented by Al Gore.

This to me, is the equivalent of those "alien threat to the future of civilization that unites the human race" kind of situations, except uh. We're the enemies in the movie and there's no aliens. So yeah it's a bad analogy but whatever.
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:21 AM on September 30, 2016 [18 favorites]


If Gaia theory i true, I guess maybe we'll get a little wiped out to the point we're a couple packs of hunter gatherers and a cooler animal will become the new consciousness to sentient-ly understand the planet for herself.

I'm rooting for the tapir. They are herbivores who spread biodiversity with their fruit-based diet. Good things to help the trees and rainforest come back after the old growth fails to adapt/gets knocked down by rich jerks for toilet paper and floors. And after peak oil, gas taxes might not work to help maintain the interstates, but tapirs are big and prone to just power through brush and obstacles when they want to go somewhere. They effectively build tunnels/trails for smaller animals.

Anyway, it's hard for me to take this seriously, because how can you take it seriously? It's 2016. Nothing's made sense yet this year, and causality might be broken.
posted by MuppetNavy at 7:40 AM on September 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


I can't read this and be glib about the deaths of billions of people, sorry.
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:45 AM on September 30, 2016 [7 favorites]


oh i can. i look forward w/great enthusiasm to being dead first so i don't have to worry about it.
posted by poffin boffin at 7:48 AM on September 30, 2016 [5 favorites]


[insert clever name here] Phytoplankton is probably a better option. The ocean can be seeded with fertilizers, to cause a bloom.

But how do you harvest that phytoplankton and turn it into a long-term storage carbon battery - cheaply? And it would be hard to get Greenpeace and Monsanto to see eye-to-eye on dumping gigalitres of fertilisers into the world's oceans.
posted by guy72277 at 7:49 AM on September 30, 2016


The SpaceX video shows Mars being terraformed at the end. Mars' atmosphere is 96% CO2, so I would hazard that CO2 scrubbers will come in to play at some point. Hopefully not too late for Earth.

Well, there's not much there in Mars' atmosphere. Getting rid of CO2 is probably not as important as supplementing it with oxygen and nitrogen.

<crazypants> And to do that, you'll want to kickstart Mars' volcanoes by inducing tectonic activity by putting the planet under gravitational stress by pushing Ceres into Mars orbit</crazypants>
posted by Jpfed at 7:53 AM on September 30, 2016


True, my thought had more to do with the carbon already in the environment currently. A sort of carbon-arcane, as it were. I imagine that extra carbon could be scrubbed out by tree re-planting, and I'm all for that.

My understanding is that total CO2 absorption by trees is maybe ~10% of CO2 emissions. So tree replanting doesn't hurt and may even be cost-efficient at some scales, but isn't a major part of the solution.

But I don't know that merely impeding the production of more CO2 will be adequate, 400 PPM - and growing, because it sure as hell isnt shrinking - is just a hell of a lot.

It doesn't matter if it is adequate to solve the problem today. What matters is that reducing CO2 production buys future generations the time to solve the problem. If you are driving at full speed towards a brick wall, hitting the brakes is a good idea even if you don't think you can stop in time.
posted by Harvey Byrd at 7:54 AM on September 30, 2016 [6 favorites]


I can't read this and be glib about the deaths of billions of people, sorry.

It's not being glib, it's laughing in the face of horrific absurdity. There's no way a purportedly intelligent species would act directly against its own safety and interest to the point that billions of its members would be imperiled. And yet here we are. It's absurd, but here we are. For now.
posted by Celsius1414 at 7:55 AM on September 30, 2016 [9 favorites]


So, does anyone know the threshold at which increased levels of CO2 start to have an impact on human health over decades?

I mean, if any other poisonous gas had increased in atmospheric concentration by 40% in a human lifetime, we'd be doing generational lab rat studies to see what sort of effects it had. And since there's some evidence that it can affect us in the short term, and some that says it's already affecting our physiology, and it's affecting plants and shellfish and insects, so... shouldn't we be doing some research into how this is affecting human beings?
posted by MrVisible at 7:58 AM on September 30, 2016 [5 favorites]


Yeah, but that's only in silly base 10. In hex we have, what? A year or two until 0x200?

In hex 0x200 parts per 0x10_0000 would be 488 ppm decimal. This is a bit high, and we probably wouldn't see this article until 2030 or so. 0x100 at 244ppm is too low as it's regularly been seen naturally. Given the same historic data to concern us we'd probably use the magic number 0x180 / 0x10_0000 or 366 ppm decimal, meaning this article would have been published in 1998.
posted by Bringer Tom at 7:58 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


There are things we know for certain are going to happen in the next 100-200 years. Like sea level rises, etc. We are past the "worst outcome" charts.

We know that there are bad things that can happen, but this is defeatist scaremongering. If you look at the IPCC reports, there are a wide range of scenarios, and there is a huge difference between "burn all the coal that we can get our hands on" and "accelerate the use of renewable energy" by the end of the century.

I don't know if you follow this type of thing, but over the last ten years, the cost of renewable generation and energy storage has consistently improved beyond the most optimistic estimates and the amount being deployed has steadily been increasing. It's quite possible that 25 years from now, it simply doesn't make economic sense to build a new fossil fuel plant, and that 50 years from now you can't even afford the fuel.

There's no guarantee that this will happen (or that it will be enough), but I know of one way to make sure that it doesn't happen: convince people that it's so hopeless that they don't bother trying. Know who you'll have on your side? All the people in the fossil fuel industry.
posted by Harvey Byrd at 8:11 AM on September 30, 2016 [12 favorites]


But how do you harvest that phytoplankton and turn it into a long-term storage carbon battery - cheaply? And it would be hard to get Greenpeace and Monsanto to see eye-to-eye on dumping gigalitres of fertilisers into the world's oceans.

I believe it's two ways. The first is the increase in other animals due to the bloom(s). Now I hear what you're saying about long term storage, but the neat thing here is we can both use it to benefit humans as food, especially with overfishing being the threat that it is.

But it also sequesters down in the deep ocean. Targeting silica-utilizing phytoplankton (diatoms), and they will sink quickly once they've exhausted their fuel. Whatever isn't eaten sinks, and eventually becomes part of the lowest levels of the ocean and stays there for hundreds of years, maybe longer.

The Wikipedia article is pretty good.

You're not wrong about groups disagreeing, it's been controversial to do even the small scale experiments. But like the tree/monoculture example in the thread- no one is ever going to just agree. But we need to do something.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 8:18 AM on September 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


Some people simply don't know yet that it's possible to generate that much electricity with solar and wind with the available land / water that we have, and that it can be done for a price similar to today's generation costs. Prices for solar cells are probably dropping faster than prices for computing power now.

In some alternate universe, when Obama first came into office during the financial crisis and with majorities in both houses of Congress, he enacted a new CCC program which took those who had lost their jobs and put them to work manufacturing solar panels and sent them out at work crews to install household solar panels on the roofs of basically anyone in the country who would take one.

I know the technology wasn't quite there at that time, but such a program might have force the tech forward a bit faster and we'd be in a lot better shape now.
posted by hippybear at 8:20 AM on September 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


We know that there are bad things that can happen, but this is defeatist scaremongering.

I will try to figure out a way to say what I'm trying to say without coming across like that. I don't feel defeatist. I certainly don't wanna come off that way.
posted by Annika Cicada at 8:55 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


Exxon Knew About Climate Change Almost 40 Years Ago; Spent Millions To Promote Misinformation

Caitlin MacNeal: House GOP Panel Now Targeting The SEC For Probing Exxon On Climate Change
Smith has now broadened his probe to include the SEC's investigation. He wrote in his Thursday letter that the SEC's probe is "couched in concerns related to the science of climate change" and that the investigation could intimidate scientists.

"The Committee’s jurisdiction over energy and environmental research includes an obligation to ensure that such research advances the American scientific enterprise to the fullest extent possible, free from threat of intimidation or prosecution," Smith wrote. "The Committee is concerned that the SEC, by wielding its enforcement authority against companies like Exxon for its collection of and reliance on what is perhaps in the SEC’s view inadequate climate data used to value its assets, advances a prescriptive climate change orthodoxy that may chill further climate change research through the public and private scientific R&D sector."

Smith also linked the SEC's probe to the New York attorney general's investigation into Exxon.

"More disturbingly, media coverage has directly linked the Commission's ‘far reaching’ inquiry to New York Attorney General (AG) Eric Schneiderman’s ongoing investigation into Exxon under state securities fraud law," he wrote.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:59 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


Monsanto is no more, btw. The plan is that they're Bayer only from now on.
posted by bonehead at 9:01 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


But why would they want to stop using the name 'Monsanto' after working so hard to make it synonymous with 'unrepentant evil'?
posted by Sing Or Swim at 9:10 AM on September 30, 2016 [6 favorites]



This to me, is the equivalent of those "alien threat to the future of civilization that unites the human race" kind of situations, except uh. We're the enemies in the movie and there's no aliens. So yeah it's a bad analogy but whatever.


As a species we're really good at identifying the "other" and the "alien" and fighting them. See: history.

We're really poor at fighting diffuse existential threats where the benefits come soon and the costs are distributed across the future.

Whenever I read about this, to quote a friend of mine "we'd better have a hero on hand". Like a stalin or khan or - I said it - hitler - , but friendlier.

I mean this - as a child of family lost to the holocaust. I hope for a transnational dictator of hideous power......... if a civilization that can feed and clothe and provide medicine and technology for its people has any chance of surviving - en masse - in the next hundred or so years.

I mean it. I mean things like: setting an ultimatum with regard to environmental laws, and bombing entities that won't comply - entities like towns or nations! This would be preemptive action that saves millions of lives.

Because we've shown that capitalism and "democracy" and our institutions and society as practiced ARE NOT UP TO THE TASK......and cannot be! By design.

See the Jevons Paradox and externalities.

EVEN if we retool everything to nice green electrical systems, capitalism and society as practiced just says "slough costs elsewhere via an externality" and "consume more, because you're saving some resources here....and you need growth!"

Take every war that we've fought in the 20th century. Climate change in the next 50±20 years will kill more. It will doom hundreds of millions of people to premature deaths, an cripple our ability to deal with further challenges, as a species likely irreversibly.

As far as I'm concerned, humanity gets to choose: some die now or more die later.
posted by lalochezia at 9:10 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


And so begins the Jackpot...
posted by sexyrobot at 9:10 AM on September 30, 2016


Who was it who said that living in 2016 entails knowing that the year will eventually be the title of a nonfiction book?


Luckily, we're actually horrible at forecasting what will come to matter about the past once we're past it. However, I respect the hustle.
posted by listen, lady at 9:14 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is where I am. Beyond just literally saying exactly what Annika posted in the larger comment, I am totally just feeling numb and hopeless about this. Like, I have personally generated 26 MWh of energy from the sun, and buy 100% of my grid-tie from wind. We need massive, massive re-tooling of society at all levels. This is an absolute crisis, but humanity seems literally incapable of dealing with it.

Yup. No amount of making responsible individual decisions is going to make a dent in this. Collective action via federal law and international treaty is the only way forward. The only way I can see to personally make an impact on that is to get involved in the environmental groups that use political action and become a single issue voter on climate change.
posted by indubitable at 9:14 AM on September 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


Mr Musk is the one billionare that should be exempt from being bothered, makes electric cars for crisakes.

Electric cars are, for all practical purposes, coal cars.

If Musk was serious about climate change, he'd be making electric buses and electric bikes, not electric cars. Car culture is the very problem.
posted by splitpeasoup at 9:19 AM on September 30, 2016 [7 favorites]


Whenever I read about this, to quote a friend of mine "we'd better have a hero on hand". Like a stalin or khan or - I said it - hitler - , but friendlier.

I mean this - as a child of family lost to the holocaust. I hope for a transnational dictator of hideous power...


I've been saying in the political threads, this does seem like a distinct possibility to me, minus the "friendlier" part. Given what the "conservative" electorate in the US is acceding to with Trump, it would be characteristic of them to accept a fascist leader who does a complete 180° on climate change, declares "We have always been at war with climate change", and uses it as the existential threat to stoke a wave of fear which they ride into power.

Unfortunately, as with Orwell's perpetual war, at that point the crisis is integrally useful to them and there's no reason to actually attempt to resolve it, just to use it as justification for continually tighter and more thorough control over society.
posted by XMLicious at 9:22 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


Electric cars are, for all practical purposes, coal cars.

That's not an end-user vehicle problem, that's a grid supply problem. It's also a nation-specific problem. Not everywhere has those issues.
posted by bonehead at 9:25 AM on September 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


That's not an end-user vehicle problem, that's a grid supply problem. It's also a nation-specific problem. Not everywhere has those issues.

What do you mean? Coal provides the majority of electricity in the USA, China, India, and most everywhere else.
posted by splitpeasoup at 9:31 AM on September 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


The defeatism in these comments makes me sad. There is yet much that we can (and should) do. Changes that we enact in our lives towards this - driving less, eschewing a suburban lifestyle, eating less meat, a mindful approach to consumerism - make our lives richer, not poorer. But policy must change to really make a difference.

We have a responsibility to not destroy life as we know it on this planet, and even with the state of things today it is still easier to terraform Earth than to terraform Mars. If we are thinking about the latter, we should certainly be thinking very seriously about the former.
posted by splitpeasoup at 9:43 AM on September 30, 2016 [4 favorites]


In the centuries to come there will be nobody around to look back on September, 2016.
posted by Splunge at 9:46 AM on September 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


Electric cars are, for all practical purposes, coal cars.

If Musk was serious about climate change, he'd be making electric buses and electric bikes, not electric cars. Car culture is the very problem.


This is the BS that I've been talking about.

First, it's untrue. In 2015, coal made up 33% of electricity generation nationwide, and in some regions (some of which are the ones that have the most EVs) it makes up very little of the generation mix.

Second, coal as a percentage of electricity generation has been dropping drastically over the last 5 years. Take a look a the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal for a breakdown, all the way to individual power plants that have been retired. Look how quickly the share of coal generation has declined.

Third, you are making exactly the "Perfect is the enemy of the good" argument that I was pointing out before. Yes, changing all of society so that we can use electric bikes and walk could potentially lead to a bigger reduction in the long run than switching to electric cars. But no, we cannot afford to stamp our feet and pout and do nothing since we can't get all of our wishes.

If you want to push for urbanization and reducing dependency on cars, that's awesome and I hope you have a lot of success. But don't shit all over people that are taking the problem seriously and making a bigger impact on the immediate problem than you.
posted by Harvey Byrd at 9:48 AM on September 30, 2016 [23 favorites]


Tesla have been upfront about the coal-produced grid energy problem. The argument they make is that as the grid gets cleaner the cars get cleaner. And even hand-wringing articles like Wired's "Teslas electric cars aren't as green as you think" hinge on arguments like "they're only four times better than gas cars".

On preview, Harvey's point about perfect is the enemy of good is absolutely right. As Wired said, for all the ways in which Tesla's still contribute greenhouse gasses they are also pushing us in the right direction in manufacturing, energy production, and recycling. Arguing that "coal-powered teslas" are not addressing the fundamental problem is disingenuous to the point of being disinformation.
posted by ianhattwick at 9:54 AM on September 30, 2016 [8 favorites]


That Wired article is quoting a Tesla spokesman making a citation-free claim that Tesla cars are four times better than gasoline-powered cars. That's not the argument the article is making, it's Tesla's response to the article.
posted by XMLicious at 10:02 AM on September 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


re: cars, carboncounter.com has a plot where you can play with assumptions like grid generation emissions and subsidy levels.
posted by indubitable at 10:02 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


If you want actual data on generation use, here are some charts to play with.

The take aways: the EU region is shifting away from coal relatively quickly, mostly replacing with renewables. The US (and Canada, though we've got a lot more hydro than our neighbours) are shifting more slowly, largely shifting from coal to natural gas. Africa is similar. South America is mostly rewables anyway: they've got a lot of hydro power, with gas and diesel making up the difference. India is indeed running on coal right now, as is China. China, however, is really putting on a push to switch to other sources and has probably hit peak coal now.

So that is my point: this isn't just as simple as coal only. Electricity forms a bridge for transportation, all ground transportation, to get off petroleum and coal sources. The challenge then is to make that switch on the grid side.
posted by bonehead at 10:06 AM on September 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


I will try to figure out a way to say what I'm trying to say without coming across like that. I don't feel defeatist. I certainly don't wanna come off that way.

Sorry, didn't mean to single you out. Honestly, this stuff scares me and keeps me up at night, and there are plenty of times when I think about how much suffering there is going to be if we don't figure this out (or, to be honest, even if we do figure this out since there's so much damage to be done even in the best case).

But if there's anything that I've learned about leadership, it's that great things can be done if the challenges are framed properly. Humans do best when they are optimistic, even if they rationally know the odds are against them. And a big part of that is making sure that people know that there are things that individuals can do that won't solve the whole problem at once but will contribute to success.

That's why I think it's really important for people that really care about this stuff to invest the time in learning what really can be done and sharing. Optimism, just like fear, is viral, and the more people understand what kinds of solutions are possible, the more they will push form them even if there's a limit to what they can do individually.
posted by Harvey Byrd at 10:07 AM on September 30, 2016 [4 favorites]


Has China hit peak CO2 emissions?

As said above, they're still using a majority coal in their generation mix (the majority of the "Thermal" category in the article), but that's changing dazzlingly quickly. The real question is if this is a blip from an economic downturn or if it's a permanent change.
posted by bonehead at 10:10 AM on September 30, 2016


Tesla's initiatives with battery storage are also important, because it allows us to save renewable energy for later when the renewable resource isn't available for whatever reason. It allows so that there doesn't have to be a constant generation which will completely revolutionize energy production.
posted by AlexiaSky at 10:12 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


You can see US electricity generation by source in this handy pie chart. Coal has the largest share at 38.8%, followed by natural gas at 27.4%.

China and India generate even more of their electricity from coal than the US (about 75% in each case).

Furthermore, car-commuting is not sustainable for many reasons besides direct emissions (*). We really need to move to alternatives for the bulk of our urban transportation needs.

(*) For instance: they encourage suburban living and longer commutes, which increases emissions indirectly. Congestion and road constructions are also problems in themselves.
posted by splitpeasoup at 10:13 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


I was first convinced that anthropogenic climate change was a real thing and our sad future by James Burke's After the Warming in 1989 (I was already a fan/admirer of his from "Connections"). I may have known the Inconvenient Truth before Al Gore (and I felt justified in my decision years earlier to not contribute to any future population growth). In fact, I was skeptical when the consensus opinion was that we'd "gotten that air pollution problem fixed" because Los Angeles was having a little less smog every year. And I was right. "92 Percent of the Global Population Is Exposed to Dangerous Air Pollution"

Now for my next prediction: while many of you are ridiculing Elon Musk for his plans for a Mars Colony while so much is going wrong on earth, I think he's making a genuine long-term commitment. If he can make something that keeps a group of humans alive on the hostile environment of Mars, it can be turned around to keep some of us alive and comfortable in an ever-more hostile environment here on Earth. The smart money is on investing in future survival - you won't have a potential market of 7 billion people, maybe 7 million, but a 99.9% die-off is not extinction, and future life can be pretty good for the .1%. I just know I won't be part of it (and neither would my potential children).
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:21 AM on September 30, 2016 [5 favorites]


Honestly, this stuff scares me and keeps me up at night, and there are plenty of times when I think about how much suffering there is going to be if we don't figure this out

Gotcha, thanks for your thoughtful response.

It's important to think about how my words meet others before I type them and press send, your comment definitely helps me understand better how my words will be received on this subject.

THANK YOU and hugs.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:23 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


Snapshots of the early 2010s aren't really good for understanding what's currently happening though, or the speed of shifts in generation technology. Renewables are changing the landscape incredibly quickly for a field that's usually very slow to change like grid generation (because capital costs are so high). The last five or so years have seen some pretty stupendous changes and all signs point to those tends increasing, not slowing down.

I think the conversation we may be having in five years could be as China as an exemplar of what everyone else should be doing.
posted by bonehead at 10:25 AM on September 30, 2016


vibratory manner of working: "The key to tackling climate change: electrify everything:
All three of these advantages of electricity suggest the same two-pronged strategy for deep decarbonization:

1. Clean up electricity.
2. Electrify everything."
Electric Sports Bra
posted by symbioid at 10:31 AM on September 30, 2016


If someone could help me get a better understanding of how moving to solar, electricity, carbon sinks, etc mitigates the looming disaster on the coasts and islands 50-100 years from now I'd appreciate it.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:32 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


Nobody can give you that because it doesn't exist. Global commitment to warming and all that.
posted by hippybear at 10:34 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]



You can see US electricity generation by source in this handy pie chart. Coal has the largest share at 38.8%, followed by natural gas at 27.4%.


Notice that your source uses statistics from 2014. Coal has declined from that to 33% in just two years!

China and India generate even more of their electricity from coal than the US (about 75% in each case).

Again, your link has statistics from 2013. I'm not as up to date with China and India's progress, but at least China has made a major commitment to move away from coal. They are also adding solar generation faster than any other country on the planet.

The decline in coal and increase in renewables has accelerated in just the last 2-3 years. It's really astounding. You owe it to yourself to understand this trend because it will have an enormous impact on how things will turn out over the next 50 years.

One of the biggest criticisms of the big agencies responsible for forecasting trends in energy production is that in the last several years, solar and battery technology has improved so quickly that they are beyond their previous projections for five, ten, or more years from now. Solar companies are bidding projects in the Middle East for ~$0.025 / kWh of production; Tesla is planning for battery costs to go to about $100 kWh by 2020. There are projections out in the last few years that don't expect those types of numbers until close to 2030.

Furthermore, car-commuting is not sustainable for many reasons besides direct emissions (*). We really need to move to alternatives for the bulk of our urban transportation needs.

(*) For instance: they encourage suburban living and longer commutes, which increases emissions indirectly. Congestion and road constructions are also problems in themselves.


Understood and even agreed, to a certain point. But short of a dictatorial regime renouncing property rights and forcing people to move into cities at gunpoint, any possible policy to change this is going to play out over 100 years, and the magnitude of the change simply isn't enough to make a dent in CO2 emissions.

So advocate this as part of a solution, but don't put down others looking to make a more drastic impact in a shorter time period.
posted by Harvey Byrd at 10:34 AM on September 30, 2016 [5 favorites]


it will have an enormous impact on how things will turn out over the next 50 years.

No, it won't. The impact of how things turn out over the next 50 years are bound up in what we've done in the past 50 years, because the CO2 we have poured into the system now won't have full effect until across the next 50 years. Global commitment to warming. Google it.

If we could cut all carbon emissions to zero today, it might have an effect in 100 years. But we will have to live with what we've done across the next two generations.

There were people sounding the alarm back in the 70s. I have clear memories of this as an elementary school kid. But nobody actually listened back then, and oil energy companies were working actively to suppress this as a cultural meme.

So this is where we are now. I hate to be the harbinger of doom, but any action we take now will only have effects several generations from now. That's how these systems work.
posted by hippybear at 10:40 AM on September 30, 2016 [6 favorites]


This could all be so much more easily solved and we could usher in our Star Trek utopia of post-scarcity tomorrow if we were just willing to let the Federal government fund its operations and labor costs through new money supply instead of taxation. As long as every new dollar went toward real work and real infrastructure, every new dollar would be backed by real growth in the commonwealth so there wouldn't be any reason for a currency crisis. Then we could let the actual costs of reaching our public policy goals drive budgeting and stop resenting each other so much in our neverending struggles to capture the tiny trickles of new money supply that come through Fed lending/old school monetary policy.

This suggestion's not strictly on topic, I guess, but I'm convinced it's right. We don't need to go into this challenge hobbled by the limits of how we designed our economic system to manage the realities of different times dominated by different kinds of industry.

Reich and the Keynesians are right. We can print money to work our way out from any problem as long as we immediately put that money to publicly valuable use. Any services we provide or any improvements we make through the state grows the commonwealth. All currency is just a claim to some share of the commonwealth in the first place. Conservative thought has ruined our best options for responding to large scale global crises with it's myopic focus on budgets and insistence on applying the metaphor of household finance to the almost completely unrelated domain of state finance and macroeconomic policy.

Global warming is as much an ongoing political and economic failure as it is an environmental and technological one. That's what makes it so devilishly hard to take on.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:42 AM on September 30, 2016 [4 favorites]


But if you want to oversimplify things on the "blame/credit" scale, remember Jimmy Carter put solar panels on the White House roof in the 1970s, and Ronald Reagan had them torn off and thrown away as soon as he moved in.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:50 AM on September 30, 2016 [12 favorites]


If someone could help me get a better understanding of how moving to solar, electricity, carbon sinks, etc mitigates the looming disaster on the coasts and islands 50-100 years from now I'd appreciate it.

The atmosphere is a reservoir of CO2 - there are sources that add CO2 to the atmosphere (primarily burning fossil fuels) and sinks that take CO2 out (for instance plant growth). The higher the amount of CO2, the warmer the climate and the higher the sea levels due to melting of ice.

There's a big range of how much CO2 might be in the atmosphere by the end of the century, depending on economic growth and how much fossil fuel is used to power that growth. The more solar and wind that is built, the less CO2 that will be emitted. Projections show a difference of several degrees C between best-case scenarios and-case scenarios. Those differences could lead to a difference of several feet of average sea levels.

There is going to be a significant increase in sea levels no matter what we do, and there are a lot of low level areas that are going to become uninhabitable. But for every foot of average sea level increase, there are thousands of square miles of area (some very densely populated) that need to be evacuated. There's also an increase in frequency of severe weather that could impact non-coastal areas. And there's also some risk of truly catastrophic sea level rises.

So it's in our best interest to minimize the sea level increase by reducing CO2 emissions and by increasing the amount of CO2 removed from the atmosphere. Not because it will solve the problem for those that are doomed in the next few years, but to minimize the effects further down the road.

The impact of how things turn out over the next 50 years are bound up in what we've done in the past 50 years, because the CO2 we have poured into the system now won't have full effect until across the next 50 years. Global commitment to warming. Google it.

Agreed.

So this is where we are now. I hate to be the harbinger of doom, but any action we take now will only have effects several generations from now. That's how these systems work.

So finish your argument. What we do now will mainly impact people living 50 to 100 years from now, meaning that... we should throw up our hands and say, screw them, I'm going to be dead by then so I don't care?
posted by Harvey Byrd at 10:55 AM on September 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


No, that's not at all what I'm saying. What I'm saying is that anyone who thinks that an action taking NOW will somehow alleviate drastic change within their lifetime (unless they are 10 years old) is fooling themselves.

We should by all means take every step necessary now to make changes (although I have personal doubts that change on a meaningful scale will happen within my own lifetime). To keep things from getting TRULY horrible for today's children's grandchildren. But we've committed ourselves to a path that we will have to endure, even if emissions were cut to zero TODAY, for the next 40 years or so. And even then, turning the tide will be far more difficult than changing the course of an ocean liner.

I'm not advocating for doing nothing. I'm just wanting anyone who is advocating change to be realistic about what exactly the change is going to be and when exactly that change will be felt.

Don't try to finish any argument I'm making by extending it into an argument I am not making, please.
posted by hippybear at 11:02 AM on September 30, 2016 [5 favorites]


The Lovelock link above is interesting. Global Warming is clearly now our Extinction Event and to be quite honest there is zero us concerned lefties can do now. Apart from all the Trump/capitalism/post-truth/money lunacy that nobody can stop, the planet is also being actively prepared by tech billionaires for AI robots to rule, and I'm not even sure if they'll get cut any deals when it happens. Companies like Google Deepmind are already slaves to robot intelligence.
posted by Coda Tronca at 11:13 AM on September 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


Dear Elon Musk

Pleas ship carbon 2 Mars. It's cold as hell.

kthxbai
posted by JohnFromGR at 11:13 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


Are we still not talking about overpopulation as a problem? Like (and I suspect this is hugely problematic, like on a Trumpian scale) would it be so bad to have a Children of Men situation where instead of having children who will live to suffer, we just...don't? And generations of humans currently living can finish out our lives in the usual way, and the planet can heal, and we won't have this "our children's grandchildren will exist in a hellscape" worry.

If we're headed towards a massive die-off anyway, could we not trade that in for a massive non-reproduction event?
posted by witchen at 11:30 AM on September 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


witchen, there is a negligible Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (with a couple of ancient previouslies).
posted by paper chromatographologist at 11:36 AM on September 30, 2016


Don't try to finish any argument I'm making by extending it into an argument I am not making, please.

In turn, read what I actually wrote in the context I wrote it in. I was making the point that renewables will have a big impact on CO2 emissions 50 years from now. Somehow you interpreted that as having a big impact on the climate 50 years from now, which is not the argument I was making.

Are we still not talking about overpopulation as a problem?

You can talk about it, but you have vastly more influence over the amount of CO2 that you personally are responsible for (directly and indirectly) than the number of people being born on the planet.
posted by Harvey Byrd at 11:37 AM on September 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


Ancient Previouslies would be a great band name.
posted by hippybear at 11:37 AM on September 30, 2016 [4 favorites]


renewables will have a big impact on CO2 emissions 50 years from now.

My point is that emissions NOW will have effects that aren't going to be fully felt until 50 years from now.

Maybe neither of us is reading each other closely enough. *shrug*
posted by hippybear at 11:39 AM on September 30, 2016


I would be more interested to have the discussion now, though, when we're faced with this data. And, in the years since the ancient previouslies, we've had loads more exposure to natural and human-made disasters. Katrina and Sandy were good examples of climate-related destruction on large population centers in the US, and I'm curious to know if that extinction movement has picked up steam.

And yes I know I could Google it, but this isn't an Ask and I like the discourse dammit! (whoo, okay!)
posted by witchen at 11:42 AM on September 30, 2016


Are we still not talking about overpopulation as a problem?

Probabilistic models for world population through 2100.

So maybe? Population looks very likely to hit at least 10 billion in the next century, but a) it's not clear what the carrying capacity of a sustainable world is; and b) we're on the bend of an S-curve right now. No one really knows where that's going to end-up.

Certainly energy and population futures are linked though.
posted by bonehead at 11:42 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


Are we still not talking about overpopulation as a problem?

I feel like this is inviting a well-worn derail into all kinds of questionable talk about "solutions" to this supposed problem, and who would have to bear the brunt of it, apart from the entire issue of whether the problem is rather an increasing number of resources going to a decreasing number of hands.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 11:49 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


I guess, to put what I think in a more positive light, is this:

1. start today with building the coalitions and finding ways to inspire massive movement away from low lying islands and coastal areas. We can do this. It's not easy, but so what, the alternative is hundreds of millions lives spared at least.
2. Figure out how the fuck to get off carbon-based energy sources.

Then work the plans, and stop the worst bleeding were we can once the heavy-ass climate change effects get underway in 50 years.
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:50 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


Are we still not talking about overpopulation as a problem?

Here is why I personally regard that as a derail from, and not a solution for, meaningful climate change discussion.

First of all, just on a level of basic humanity, when you talk about "overpopulation" being a "problem," you're talking about lots of people dying. Probably in the millions to a billion range. Like, who are you suggesting should go first, you know? And even if you mean that the solution would be attrition with lack of replacement births, you are implicitly invoking the admittedly better but in my opinion still unacceptably draconian measure of forbidding people reproductive choice. Who is to exercise such control over these deeply intimate decisions for basically everyone on the entire planet? You? There's never any discussion of how to even approach that question in a fair way, let alone come up with any solutions. So on that level I think that anyone bringing up overpopulation in a climate change discussion has really failed to engage with the basic humanity of the situation.

Secondly, strictly as to the question of carbon emissions, it's not technically the existence of people on earth that aggravates the problem, it's the presence of people living like Europeans, Americans, and Middle Eastern royalty. The parts of earth that are "overpopulated" like China, India, and Indonesia actually have dramatically lower CO2 emissions per capita than, for instance, the US. China may be the world's worst carbon emitter in an absolute sense, but they have 4 times the population of the US - per capita they're less than half as much. India's even lower. So "global capitalism" is really much more to blame than "overpopulation." But good luck getting the world's major powers to get together and agree to stop global capitalism, so instead we harp on overpopulation. Given the humanitarian issues (see above), it strikes me as yet another way to victimize the world's poor for the sins of the rich.

Finally, I'll disclose my own bias that the core reason climate change is a problem is that the world should be a nice place for people to exist. In the grand scheme of things, from a species-neutral perspective, even very dramatic climate change is not going to destroy all life on earth. It has happened before; species go extinct, other species evolve, and the planet soldiers on. Our whole problem is that humans are one of the species potentially up for extinction this time - and it makes no sense to try to wipe 1/3-1/2 of them off the planet as a "solution" to that problem.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 12:27 PM on September 30, 2016 [14 favorites]


I agree with Harvey Byrd's comment about perfect/good. Some of the areas we need to focus on that aren't mutually exclusive:

* building new tech and infrastructure to be more environmentally friendly - rail and buses, denser development, work/shop/live hubs - so the next generation can live in that world
* reducing the impact of people trying to live with the existing tech and infrastructure - better cars, solar panel subsidies, allowing more telecommuting ...
* reducing waste in production, use, and recycling or throwing away of goods
* figuring out how to reshape society to value consumption less and move away from a growth mentality to more of a steady-state economy (well, ok, that's a toughie)

There are a ton of people who are in a personal, career, and/or physical place where it's not possible to just turn the current flawed setup off and turn on some perfect replacement. I am 47 and I live in a suburb where I drive a minivan all over the place to get to work, my kids' 2 schools in their mom's district, grocery stores, etc. I manage a team at work so I can't work from home. I already live in a big, not-that-efficient house and don't plan to move (and if I did, that flawed housing stock just gets lived in by someone else). But I can totally shell out for solar panels, vote green, and do my best to consume less. And would I love for my kids to grow up to get a home next to public transport, with solar and gray water reclamation, in a society where consuming less doesn't ruin the economy? Absolutely.
posted by freecellwizard at 12:52 PM on September 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


And even if you mean that the solution would be attrition with lack of replacement births, you are implicitly invoking the admittedly better but in my opinion still unacceptably draconian measure of forbidding people reproductive choice.

...or you could just improve public health to the point that child mortality goes down and people choose to have fewer kids.
posted by Jpfed at 1:20 PM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


Mostly I just feel bad for all of my friends (and all of you) who have young children.
posted by chonus at 1:31 PM on September 30, 2016 [4 favorites]


And even if you mean that the solution would be attrition with lack of replacement births, you are implicitly invoking the admittedly better but in my opinion still unacceptably draconian measure of forbidding people reproductive choice

Stopping overpopulation through lack of replacement births does not mean forbidding anyone reproductive choice; what it means is reducing poverty, child mortality, and gender inequality in Africa - all of which would lead to smaller family sizes and predictably stabilize the world population at manageable levels, if we do it soon enough. Hans Rosling at Gapminder has done a lot of work on this that I encourage anyone who's interested to look into.
posted by waffleriot at 3:11 PM on September 30, 2016 [5 favorites]




Exxon Knew About Climate Change Almost 40 Years Ago; Spent Millions To Promote Misinformation

Exxon faces a first-of-its-kind lawsuit over climate deception: The Conservation Law Foundation wants to take Exxon to court over water pollution in Massachusetts.
posted by homunculus at 3:40 PM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


Thanks for fighting the good fight in this thread, Harvey. I can't do it any more, got too sick of ignorant mefite pessimism cropping up with the same comments every time.
posted by smoke at 6:14 PM on September 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


I take it back. Still got another round in me, it seems.

If you want to learn facts about climate change, and what is - and isn't - happening. Here are some good places to start:

The Climate Reality Project

350.org's facebook feed

Climate Change at NASA

The Conversation's Climate Change hub

The Guardian's climate change news

PV Magazine

Greenpeace Energy Desk

ThinkProgress Climate

Climate change is horrible and dreadful. But great progress is still happening. We can, and should, do more. But passive despair is damning ourselves, and our potential.
posted by smoke at 6:43 PM on September 30, 2016 [14 favorites]


Dear Elon Musk,
... maybe you could throw a little capital into a program of building CO2 scrubbers? Like, say, a billion? That we then install through out the arctic?
--Bklyn

There are so many other billionaires this letter should go to.

Elon Musk is already on it. His company Solar City installs more solar panels in the US than any other company. Electric cars were once little experiments with underpowered, low-range cars that no one really took seriously. Then Tesla came out with an extremely fast 200 mile range car and shocked the world into accepting electric cars as possible and real. He made electric cars cool, and electrified one of the most gas-guzzling categories: luxury cars. An electric car for the rest of us is on its way.

So he's working hard on the two things on vibratory manner of working's list:
1. Clean up electricity.
2. Electrify everything.
posted by eye of newt at 8:32 PM on September 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


But short of a dictatorial regime renouncing property rights and forcing people to move into cities at gunpoint, any possible policy to change this is going to play out over 100 years,

I mean, suburbanization took way less than 100 years so I don't see why desuburbanization would have to be longer and more painful? My "if I was king" plan would be to 1) dramatically increase gas taxes and sales tax on cars (particularly luxury and fuel ineficient cars) 2) funnel that money back to cities in the form of huge subsidies for mass transit and the construction of high density pedestrian/transit centered housing 3) but make those subsidies contingent on the cities removing zoning codes that require car centric development (parking minimums, minimum lot sizes, etc) and on a comprehensive reallocation of infrastructure priorities towards biking/walking/transit. Make it cheaper and easier to live in the city than the suburbs should spur a pretty quick change.
posted by bracems at 9:13 PM on September 30, 2016 [4 favorites]


At times like these, I like to bring up the Self-Centered Humans comic strip.

And point people at the Archdruid Report, especially going back to 2012 when he spent most of the year talking about how to live post-peak-oil. (Short version: It involves giving up a whole lot of modern conveniences.)
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:32 PM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


I feel like all the lobby groups associated with the auto industry would have more than enough money to block any proposal that makes less people buy cars, to say nothing of the oil industry lobby.
posted by dazed_one at 10:34 PM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah I know but like one of the other suggestions in the thread was 'what if we banned reproduction' so I think that on the scale of politically feasible actions to curb environmental catastrophe mines actually on the higher end.
posted by bracems at 7:48 AM on October 1, 2016


Wow, just after I clicked post on my defense of billionaire Musk I thought, "oh my goodness, will this thread devolve to genocide??" and here we are pretty close. And I agree, what ever happened to ZPG? I like living in an urban environment I'm sure a lot of folks do, so let's move the population of Bangladesh to the Chinese Ghost Cities, what could possibly go wrong ;-)

Personally I do not think going back to a small population will ever be practical, and while it sounds wacko scifi crazy I sure hope that all dangerous industry will move off planet relatively soon and most of the third planet will become a preserve and vacation area. After Musk's recent talk at a space conference there was a burst of volunteers, we are ready to go.

We are on an immense rock with a somewhat stable sheen of stuff on the surface that keeps us alive. We are a delicate but flexible species, with tech, increasingly flexible, perhaps we will use planned genetic evolution so some of us will have gills and glory in the slightly submerged skyscrapers? More likely technology will find new ways.

Change is the only certainty.
posted by sammyo at 9:09 AM on October 1, 2016


I mean, suburbanization took way less than 100 years so I don't see why desuburbanization would have to be longer and more painful? My "if I was king" plan would be to 1) dramatically increase gas taxes and sales tax on cars (particularly luxury and fuel ineficient cars) 2) funnel that money back to cities in the form of huge subsidies for mass transit and the construction of high density pedestrian/transit centered housing 3) but make those subsidies contingent on the cities removing zoning codes that require car centric development (parking minimums, minimum lot sizes, etc) and on a comprehensive reallocation of infrastructure priorities towards biking/walking/transit. Make it cheaper and easier to live in the city than the suburbs should spur a pretty quick change.

Quite. You don't even have to give up most of the "liberating" aspects of suburbanization / car culture to make a significant dent. Go to Google Maps (Satellite View) and compare the two biggest metros I've lived in personally, Chicago-Gary and Toronto-Hamilton. Chicagoland has about 10 million people; the GTHA has about 6.5m (but growing much more rapidly than the basically stagnant Chicago metro area). So that accounts for some of the larger sprawl in northern Illinois.

But look at those suburbs! In Chicago, the dense historic prewar core is evident (roughly, a rectangle from Evanston on the North Shore west to Rosemont (O'Hare), south along I-294 to Blue Island and east to Gary). And beyond is a vast penumbra of greenish yet clearly developed areas from the Wisconsin border clear down to Joliet in the southwestern corner of Chicagoland. By contrast, the Greater Toronto Area, which established a strict greenbelt around the area, does have major suburbs (Mississauga, Brampton, Markham, etc. not to mention the postwar-developed areas of Toronto city). But by means of relatively sane regional planning, you can get fairly compact development and still get the goddamn mcmansions and driveways that are apparently essential to the good life, north american style.

TL;DR - American-style suburbanization is a result of fragmented and ineffective governance structures.

I blame institutionalized racism, sometimes called "local control" but that's another megacomment....
posted by tivalasvegas at 9:31 AM on October 1, 2016 [2 favorites]


I guess we plant local fast growing flora

Kudzu to the rescue!

in areas that that can handle it

Oh.
posted by flabdablet at 10:49 AM on October 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


Voluntarily not reproducing is hardly the same thing as genocide! In fact, if you approach this from a point of wanting to limit the amount of human suffering that happens, one of the easiest ways to achieve that goal is to limit the amount of human existence. And not through violent killings, or through laissez-faire policies that leave 'em to their own devices when disaster hits. Just through asking, you know, could you not have babies? Or fewer babies?

Obviously, there's potential for abuse of power there, and who even knows how that could be handled responsibly and ethically. But if we're okay with making small changes in our driving habits and overall consumption of energy, why are we not also talking about limiting family size? It would be voluntary, same as switching to more efficient light bulbs. But if we put it on the table as an option, explicitly, we might alleviate a lot of suffering in the short term. Just begin to include it on lists of Simple Things You Can Do To Help the Environment. Recycle, reuse, think critically about the size of your family and how much life you/the planet can support.

Then, of course, the policy overhauls mentioned upthread. Even if we voluntarily all chose to have one child or no children, we'd still need change decreed from a higher level. No denying that.
posted by witchen at 11:30 AM on October 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think reproduction control, apart from unfeasible and possibly tyrannical, also ignores the larger problems of inequality of resource access, and large scale industrial pollution. That people have kids isn't the problem (and how would you even stop them? What would be done with "offenders"?) - hording of resources and irresponsible consumption is.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 5:45 PM on October 1, 2016 [3 favorites]


why are we not also talking about limiting family size?

Because that's a Malthusian idea, and MALTHUS WAS WRONG.

It would be voluntary, same as switching to more efficient light bulbs.

No, no, you don't understand. Malthus Was Wrong!

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrongetty wrong wrong wrong whaargarbl wrong!!1!eleventy
posted by flabdablet at 2:12 AM on October 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


not through violent killings, or through laissez-faire policies that leave 'em to their own devices

I have spent the last thirty years wondering, on and off, just how much land is going to have been devoted to feeding us, and how many other species are going to need to be going extinct in any given decade, before circumstances make it fashionable to accept that human population growth can't be sustained indefinitely and people choose to limit their own reproduction on the basis of that understanding.

My general conclusion has so far been that things would need to be pretty much apocalyptically bad before that would happen, at which point we would obviously be back to having our numbers limited by the difficulty of staying alive rather by anything as refined as voluntary choice.

We're pretty smart as creatures go, but I really don't think that as a collective we're significantly smarter than your average mouse plague or algal bloom as far as our ability to engineer a comfortably sustainable population size goes.

If we're going to get our greenhouse gas emissions under control, we're going to have to do that by getting per-capita emissions down to zero, not by controlling our overall numbers; I don't think we can do the latter fast enough by any means that's even vaguely ethical. Concentrating on improving the energy efficiency of buildings and industrial processes, electrification of transport, and a transition to renewable generation of electricity has a far better chance of getting the job done.
posted by flabdablet at 2:36 AM on October 2, 2016


One side of the coin is:
"Stop putting human-created carbons in the air"

The other side of the coin is:
"face the consequences of what we already put up there"

Because we're not getting out of this unscathed. There will be ramifications, we're past the point of avoiding them. By doing the first side of my imaginary coin, we're taking our foot off the gas pedal. By doing the other side of coin, we're making sure everyone has a seatbelt on and trying to lessen the damage on impact.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:06 AM on October 2, 2016


and how would you even stop them? What would be done with "offenders"?

you set up a system in which you trade those kids in for candy to make the other kids stronger
posted by poffin boffin at 10:59 AM on October 2, 2016 [2 favorites]


i think the candy is actually made of kids but tbh i am not sure?
posted by poffin boffin at 11:01 AM on October 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


Don't we... already have voluntary limited family size in most developed (and increasingly, developing) nations? Turns out if you give people (particularly women) choices about how many children to have and options for living that don't involve churning out fifteen kids so that hopefully half of them will make it to maturity and be able to support you when you get too old to work in the fields, most people opt for only having two (or three, or one, or no) children.

I... don't think that eugenics is a great solution here for a couple of reasons.
posted by tivalasvegas at 2:18 PM on October 2, 2016


also, if Werther's Original is made of children, that would explain a lot. Disgusting weird old people waxy mushy candy that it is
posted by tivalasvegas at 2:20 PM on October 2, 2016


Werther's is only made from the sweetest of children. Otherwise it wouldn't caramelize like that.
posted by hippybear at 4:21 PM on October 2, 2016 [3 favorites]


Isn't Werther's was a hard candy?
posted by LizBoBiz at 5:57 AM on October 3, 2016


I... don't think that eugenics is a great solution here for a couple of reasons.

Who's advocating eugenics? Forcing everyone to stop producing children =/= eugenics.
Of course, the only way to do that is through some world-wide dictatorship or a Children of Men-style disease as mentioned above.

I absolutely think that we need to seriously decrease the population of the earth, but I agree that the best way to do that is to offer birth control, education, healthcare, etc. Listen to the reasons that people have large families and see if there's anything that can be done to deal with those issues in a way that doesn't involve having many children (i.e. need many children to care for aging parents: better social safety net and healthcare for the elderly)
posted by LizBoBiz at 5:58 AM on October 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


you have to get the pan real hot though.
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:07 AM on October 3, 2016


First, it's untrue. In 2015, coal made up 33% of electricity generation nationwide, and in some regions (some of which are the ones that have the most EVs) it makes up very little of the generation mix.

On the other hand, another third nationwide is power generated by natural gas, and while that's only half as dirty as coal when burned, that's still not negligible - and there's the serious problem of methane leakage from pipelines and storage facilities, since it's is an even worse "greenhouse" gas than CO2.
posted by aught at 11:13 AM on October 3, 2016


Don't we... already have voluntary limited family size in most developed (and increasingly, developing) nations? Turns out if you give people (particularly women) choices about how many children to have and options for living that don't involve churning out fifteen kids so that hopefully half of them will make it to maturity and be able to support you when you get too old to work in the fields, most people opt for only having two (or three, or one, or no) children.

...which works if everyone gets middle-class and the current population is sustainable at that point.

More realistically, we're looking more at Gibson's Jackpot. Call it plutogenics.
posted by pompomtom at 5:36 AM on October 4, 2016


Why childlessness can't stave off climate apocalypse - "As a strategy for dealing with climate change, forgoing kids is garbage. Let me explain... children are not simply inputs to economic production — they're also part of why society exists in the first place." (via)

ramez naam: "People aren't just mouths. They're minds also. Each of us is both... Left in hunger, poverty, and without education, we are primarily mouths... Fed, educated, empowered, and guided by a future iteration of capitalism that values all of our resources and aligns incentives to protect them, our minds produce far more than our mouths consume. If we fix our economic system and invest in the human capital of the poor, then we should welcome every new person born as a source of betterment for our world and all of us on it."

also btw...
  • john baez: "Personally I think we as a species need to focus on global warming and the Anthropocene: the way we're transforming the Earth. In the last 25 years, 10% of the world's remaining wilderness has disappeared. Temperatures are rising at an ever-increasing rate. If we keep it up, we'll melt Greenland and the Antarctic, eventually flooding all coastal cities. Even now, weather patterns are changing, with big heat waves, floods and droughts becoming more common. Surviving the Anthropocene will require new math, new physics, new chemistry, new biology, new computer science, and new technology of many kinds. Most of all, it will require new attitudes - new politics and economics."
  • saul griffith: "People say 'this is a Manhattan Project, this an Apollo Project'. Sorry, those are science projects. Fusion is a Manhattan Project or an Apollo Project... The rest of this is more like retooling for World War II, except with everyone playing on the same team."
  • No country on Earth is taking the 2 degree climate target seriously - "If we mean what we say, no more new fossil fuels, anywhere."
  • Given that most present-day economic activity is driven by fossil fuels, it would mean, at least temporarily, a net decline in economic activity... to immediately begin driving net global emissions down, hitting zero some time midcentury or shortly thereafter, and in the meantime develop the technology and infrastructure to bury millions of tons of carbon from biomass [we'll need] 'decades of ongoing planting and harvesting of energy crops over an area the size of one to three times that of India... And then there are 9 billion or so human mouths to feed.' The third option is to allow temperatures to rise 3 or even 4 degrees, which Anderson has called "incompatible with an organized global community."

    When climate activists say, "We have the technology; all we need is the political will," they act like that’s good news. But think about the political will we need: to immediately cease fossil fuel exploration, start shutting down coal mines, and put in place a plan for managed decline of the fossil fuel industry; to double or triple the global budget for clean energy research, development, and deployment; to transfer billions of dollars from wealthy countries to poorer ones, to protect them from climate impacts they are most vulnerable to but least responsible for; and quite possibly, if it comes to it, to limit the consumptive choices of the globe’s wealthiest and most carbon-intensive citizens. That level of political will is nowhere in evidence, in any country.
maybe that's why obama is reading seveneves!? (which can be read as a metaphor for climate change ;)
posted by kliuless at 2:34 PM on October 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


Wow. That Vox article is... bracing.
posted by From Bklyn at 4:18 AM on October 7, 2016


another third nationwide is power generated by natural gas, and while that's only half as dirty as coal when burned, that's still not negligible

On the other other hand, that "half as dirty" really is a lot. Gas-fired thermal plant is so much cheaper to build and decommission than nuclear plant that every dollar spent on replacing coal with gas saves much more greenhouse gas emission than the same dollar spent on replacing coal with nuclear, even allowing for realistic levels of methane leakage. Gas-fired plant can also typically be spun up and down much faster than coal-fired plant, which makes it a good interim measure for meeting peak demand on an increasingly renewables-based grid until there enough electric cars and fixed-battery peak shavers to replace it, which will take some decades.

On the other other other hand, replacing coal with efficiency is just made of win from every conceivable angle.
posted by flabdablet at 7:25 AM on October 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


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