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The Despair of Climate Scientists

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If I were a climate scientist, the despair I would feel about the future of the planet would make it difficult to live. It’s bad enough reading about climate science. And the scientists here who are making claims that “we can do this and save ourselves!” are stating opinions that really sound pretty distant from where their own science leads them. If “we can do this!” includes 100 million refugees in Bangladesh as a starting point, we aren’t really doing well. And as for comparisons between the sudden shift in gay marriage and a possible sudden shift in doing something about climate, they are cheap, easy, and disconnected from reality since a) fighting climate change means taking on huge corporations and gay marriage does not and b) gay marriage is a freedom issue and that has a particular appeal to Americans while climate change does not.

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  • Derelict

    Aparrently a majority of Americans do think climate change needs to be addressed. However, as the linked article indicates, they don’t think it’s an issue that will affect them personally. I guess there will have to be surf contests in Death Valley before Americans get it.

    And even then, taking on the likes of Exxon will still be a nigh-on-impossible task. So, yeah–we’re doomed. My only hope is that Obamacare gets repealed, thus depriving me of healthcare so that I die before the global famine begins.

    • postmodulator

      My only hope is that Obamacare gets repealed, thus depriving me of healthcare so that I die before the global famine begins.

      I do daily struggle to recall why I stopped smoking.

      • ChrisS

        Not for nothing but smoking really does negatively impact day-to-day life before lung cancer and emphysema turns out the lights.

        Now, cocaine and heroin OTOH …

        • postmodulator

          Yeah, I’m able to exercise more than I have since high school. Although at my age weight loss is pretty much slapping a coat of paint on a garbage barge.

          • tsam

            The satisfaction for yourself makes every minute of it worth it, though? I know it does for my creaky old ass.

      • tsam

        I have coughing fits nightly from my smoking. I can record one for you if you’d like a reminder.

        Also, congrats on staying quit. I couldn’t do it.

        • postmodulator

          Did you try vaping?

          • tsam

            No. Not yet. The night time coughing is getting scary enough that I’m motivating myself to knock this shit off once and for all.

            Is that how you did it?

            • ChrisS

              I quit cold turkey New Year’s day in 2001. It’s been 14.5 years and I’ve probably had a handful of cigarettes and a couple dozen cigars since then.

              That was also about the 6th time I tried to quit cold, but perseverance pays off.

              • tsam

                I’m an incorrigible sissy about it. I just need to fucking get it DONE.

            • Derelict

              If you haven’t tried Chantix, do so. However, DO NOT follow the directions. Titrate your dosage up as instructed, then just keep on smoking for as long as you feel like it. Eventually, you just won’t want a cigarette any more. Then, slowly taper yourself off the Chantix.

              My wife and I both quit this way. Took three months for me, four months for her. I’ve stayed quit for going on 10 years now despite being exposed to lots of smoke and smokers.

              • tsam

                I am getting Chantix, I think. I quit on it once before. I had to go see my psych doc and make sure it wouldn’t be a bad mix with my crazy pills. He says go for it.

            • Rob in CT

              I quit in an entirely different way than most people seem to.

              It’s like weight loss: what works for you might not work for others, and vice versa.

              I staged a long, slow withdrawl from smoking. I set a weekly limit on the # I was allowed to smoke. I was not a super heavy smoker, and mostly only smoked when drinking on Fri/Sat nights anyway, which may render this unhelpful to you. I started with “I can smoke 1/2 pack a week.” After I did that for a year, I dropped it to 5 cigs a week for a year.

              Then I just quit.

              Now, there were moments of weakness and even now I may bum one at a happy hour. But I probably smoke 1/2 a pack a year at most.

            • postmodulator

              Vaping is how I did it. I know the jury is out on whether it is much better for you, but it must be at least a little bit better for you, because my own coughing stopped and I feel healthier.

    • Snarki, child of Loki

      Hey, great real-estate opportunities in Greenland!

      • njorl

        The oil companies have stepped up exploration efforts in Greenland because the melting ice has made drilling there more economical.

        I wish it were a joke.

        • Jed

          You can’t buy land in Greenland.

    • Rob in CT

      Support is wide but shallow. People support “doing something.” Until the details appear and are attacked. Then people go all wobbly.

      Most of us live in glass houses when it comes to this. We commute to work and/or heat our homes with oil and/or use a bunch of electricity generated by burning carbon, we’re meat-eating monsters, etc.

      One of the things that convinced me that Conservatives are bugfuck insane was the reaction of just about any of them to the idea of a Carbon Tax. This is the most market-friendly mechanism to combat climate change. Instead of pushing for it (and, of course, arguing that it should be enacted in a way that advances their other goals, like replacing the income tax with it or somesuch), their general response was to deny CC was even happening. That was very revealing.

      This is not to let the wishy-washy Dems off the hook. They had a shot at passing something in 2009 and did not. That’s a major failure, and it’s likely that it will overshadow the good they’ve done in other areas… possibly by a country mile.

      • Nobdy

        Climate change is an area where individual action doesn’t accomplish all that much, while government action can do a good amount, especially in the U.S. where we cause so much of the problem.

        You want to talk about 2009 as an inflection point? What about Bush v. Gore? Imagine if we had had 8 years of “An inconvenient Truth” Al Gore as our president. It wouldn’t have fixed things but I cannot imagine that we wouldn’t be in much better shape.

        Bush v. Gore truly is a clear historical inflection point that’s almost impossible to overestimate.

        • Bush v. Gore truly is a clear historical inflection point that’s almost impossible to overestimate.

          Back during the Bush years, I used to joke that 2000 and Bush v. Gore had sent us into an alternate, shitty timeline like Back to the Future 2 or that universe where Spock has a beard. It stopped being funny after a while.

          • postmodulator

            Patton Oswalt had a pretty good routine along those lines in 2003 or so. “In our world, spinach can kill you!”

          • Snarki, child of Loki

            It that OTHER universe, Y2K was an absolute disaster. Ya win some, ya lose some.

        • Rob in CT

          Sure, there’s that. The longer we wait, the harder it becomes. If we had started in the early 90s, it would’ve been easier.

          Meanwhile, the argument made by the obstructors that even if we get our own carbon emissions down we’re screwed b/c of the developing world is, sadly, possibly correct (but not justification for inaction). We have a the worst collective action problem in human history here.

          I suppose, viewed in that light, it would be surprising if we avert total disaster.

          • Nobdy

            The way we would bring our emissions down is through clean tech like solar and wind. The more invested in this the easier it gets to spread to the developing world. Imagine if the Chinese solar boom had started before they built the last round of coal plants.

            Would it have solved everything? Of course not. But it would have helped.

            • Rob in CT

              Sure. And hey, I’ve got panels on my roof. So yay for that*. But we didn’t approach the problem even close to rationally. In a more rational world, the federal tax credit/subsidization program would have been set up the way Connecticut’s was: taking into account all the likely efficiency of the installation to determine the subsidy. The result of this would have been to basically hand out PV arrays to people in the SW, and probably not subsidize me at all. And the same thing with wind. And massive investment in research into tech we need for “smart” grids (batteries and/or other modes of energy storage, etc). And, most likely, some more nuke plants, even though I view that as transitional in the same way I see Nat. gas as transitional. Better than coal, certainly, but flawed (obviously in different ways).

              There’s a lot that could have been, and still could be done. And, in bits and pieces, we’re sort of doing it.

              Even if we got most of our electrical power from non-carbon sources, and even if we all drove electric cars, we’d still be emitting a bunch of carbon, no? I mean… shipping, aircraft, farm machinery, home heating, manufacturing, and more I’m likely forgetting. As I understand it, if we want to save future generations from *serious* trouble, we need to get to ZERO carbon emissions, soon. To say that’s a tall order is massive understatement.

              * of course, generating ~90% of our electrical power usage ourselves is nice. But I’m pretty sure it pales in comparison to the ~1000 gallons of heating oil we chew through per year.

              • Nobdy

                Everything counts. The more we do the more we reduce suffering and buy time, and time translates into better tech and new solutions. We do not have all the answers, but we have some of them, and something is definitely better than nothing here. This is not an all or nothing issue. It’s a matter of…well…degrees.

              • njorl

                It’s the ultimate “big government” problem at a time when big government has been aggressively attacked for 35 years.

              • Area Man

                Electricity and transportation account for about 60% of carbon emissions in the US. Since roughly half of emissions are absorbed by natural sinks, eliminating that 60% would be pretty huge.

            • postmodulator

              The way we would bring our emissions down is through clean tech like solar and wind.

              Well, we could bring emissions down by going big on fission plants. But you get a different environmental impact, albeit it one that should be more manageable. But on the gripping hand humans are too damned stupid to be allowed anywhere near nuclear energy.

        • Woodrowfan

          Climate change is an area where individual action doesn’t accomplish all that much,

          It can make people think they are participating so that they have a vested interest in supporting larger policies. It also encourages others to participate as well. Think of WWII recycling. Did my turning in some flattened tin cans really help the war effort?

          on the flip side it can lead to complacency too.

          and yeah, Bush v. Gore will probably go down with Dred Scott and Plessy as the worst SC decisions ever.

      • LeeEsq

        Kevin Drum got it right when he said that climate change is the ultimate collective action problem. It benefits everybody to act but it harms individuals and nations to do something alone to combat it. Doing something about climate change is going to require a lot of changes to the suburban, sprawly way of life beloved by many Americans, Canadian, and Australians. Its going to require China, India, Bangladesh, and Indonesia to engage in a more expensive path to prosperity and give up some of their individuals wants for a lifestyle like that in the West with cars and all.

      • Derelict

        One of the things that convinced me that Conservatives are bugfuck insane was the reaction of just about any of them to the idea of a Carbon Tax.

        This is especially bizarre because it was Republicans who originally advanced the idea of a carbon tax. George H.W. Bush pushed for it way back in the early ’90s. Conservatives only went insane over the concept when Democrats started talking about it. Then it became anathema.

        • xq

          As with healthcare, conservatives were never actually serious about doing anything.

          • Area Man

            This. Conservatives favor a carbon tax only as a weapon against other proposals. The fact that Republicans renamed the cap-and-trade bill as “cap-and-tax” tells you exactly how they would respond if an actual carbon tax were on the table.

    • SIS1

      Problem is, they aren’t wrong. Most Americans will not be personally affected to a high degree. The more catastrophic consequences are decades away. Its poor countries that are going to get really shafted in the interim.

      • Derelict

        And yet, I look at people like my brother-in-law who’s a serious rightwinger. Discussing climate change with him always follows the same path: It’s not real. If it is real, it’s not a big deal. If it is a big deal, it’s too expensive to do anything about. If it’s not too expensive to do anything about, I don’t care because I’ll be dead before it gets severe.

        But the really maddening part? When I ask him, “What about your daughter? She will be living in that world.” And his answer is, “That’s her problem.” WTF!?!?! I know conservatives lack empathy, but being unable to even give a shit about your own offspring is just amazing.

        • Ahuitzotl

          I hope to god his daughter hears that

      • urdsama

        Actually they are. Look at the massive drought in California, the rising sea levels, and the massive sinkholes that are appearing all over the US due to excessive water well drilling. The US is already being affected. Ask people in drought areas how they like the water restrictions. And this is just the beginning.

        Now, I do agree that poorer nations age getting shafted now, but in the interim all nations will be affected. The long game is now turning into massive human die offs.

  • D. C. Sessions

    100 million refugee (or dead) Banglasdeshi is bad. Writing off all of our coastal cities is worse. Rendering most of the tropics and much of the temperate zone completely uninhabitable is much, much worse.

    Preventing the first may well be impossible at this point given what we’ve found recently about glacial erosion. The second may be preventable, or mitigatable (write off New Orleans, it was doomed long ago by the levees. Boston and LA may have a chance.)

    That third, though, …

    For those who haven’t gone into the error bands of the models, it’s really pretty simple: total temperature rise matters quite a bit to sea life and vegetation. But warm-blooded animals (looking at YOU!) and in particular mammals, which are evaporatively cooled, are very sensitive to peak wet-bulb temperatures. I routinely work outdoors in temperatures exceeding 45 degrees, but raise the wet-bulb to 38 noncondensing and it’s find shelter or die. No exceptions.

    And that’s the peak over a reasonable lifetime, something like 40 years. If the wet-bulb gets up to 38 for more than a day or so once every 40 years, that part of the world cannot sustain long-term human populations. Period.

    • That third, though, …

      Looks like I picked the wrong century to stop sniffing glue.

      • Snarki, child of Loki

        You can still drink (more) heavily.

    • The Pale Scot

      Long before the seas or the air temp have risen that much, the global food supply will be chaos.

      “The GRO is chiefly funded by the Dawe Charitable Trust, but its partners include the British government’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO); British specialist insurance market, Lloyds of London;…..

      ….Before you panic, the good news is that the scientists behind the model don’t believe it’s predictive. The model does not account for the reality that people will react to escalating crises by changing behavior and policies.”

      Huh, time to panic.

      That report seems to just cover crops, I think the fisheries will collapse first because ocean acidification reduces the survival of fish larvae.

      Global food supplies have fallen IIRC from 60 days to 30 days in the last 2-3 decades. All it will take is concurrent crop failures in the USA, Aus.. Ru., Argentina.

      So what does a 1st world government do when faced with the starvation of its population?

      • The Pale Scot
      • Redwood Rhiadra

        So what does a 1st world government do when faced with the starvation of its population?

        Invade its neighbors for food. I fully expect food wars by 2050.

        Cannibalism will become widespread shortly thereafter.

        • John Revolta

          Soylent Green is tasty!

      • Brett

        Clamp down hard on food exports and buy-up harvests for emergency redistribution, like Russia did back in 2008. The countries with food harvests will pass the suffering on to those that import food, like a bigger version of the 2007-2008 world food price crisis.

        I doubt it would lead to anything other than some higher food prices in the rich countries themselves – too much diversity in climate areas, and too many different food crops (some of which will almost certainly be grown in greenhouses en masse). But in the poorer countries, it could lead to gigantic food riots, out-migration, and mass starvation.

    • BigHank53

      It does provide a plausible answer to the Fermi Paradox, though. Where are all the other technological civilizations in the galaxy? Choked to death on their own sewage, just like us.

      • SNF

        Yeah, I’ve thought about this too.

        Maybe every species that developed an advanced civilization either killed themselves with nuclear war, or had their society collapse as a result of climate change.

        Perhaps it’s not possible for a society to actually advance much further than we have because of those risks.

        Alternatively I sometimes think maybe other civilizations may view these issues as a kind of test. If a species is responsible and worth contacting, they’ll avoid killing themselves with things like climate change.

    • Brett

      Then they’ll find shelter – or more likely they’ll change patterns of activity. Both humans and other mammals will shift more and more towards working in the dawn and twilight hours (and at night), while sleeping more during the day. Many of the apex predators already do that in the hot places of the world. Those that don’t will die.

      As for the coastal cities of the US, look at how tenacious the coastal home-owners and developers are at defending their subsidized flood insurance in the Southeastern US. When it’s the highly populated, wealthy coastline itself as stake, do you truly see them doing anything aside from spending trillions on building massive dikes, barriers, land fill-ins, and other things that will turn the coast into a gigantic version of the Netherlands? I don’t. And it will be trillions, because they’ll likely drag their feet on it until the flooding and sea level rise is too frequent and high to ignore, especially in Florida.

  • Todd

    If you wanna get yourself nice and angry, glance over this rant from UK writer Matt Ridley. According to him, climate scientists barely have a right to be involved in the debate. He actually bemoans how well-funded the forces of climate science have become. Poor fossil fuel lobbyists! Where will the money come from?

    http://quadrant.org.au/magazine/2015/06/climate-wars-done-science/

    • Nobdy

      These huge green multinationals, with budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars, have now systematically infiltrated science, as well as industry and media

      Oh if only fossil fuels and “do nothing” had supporters as powerful as these huge green multinationals, but they are powerless before the resources and might of Greenpeace. Pity the poor oil companies for they have been infiltrated and cannot hope to compete with the massive wealth and power of big green.

      • Barry Freed

        …huge green multinationals…

        Won’t anyone think of the small mom and pop oil companies?

  • Barry Freed

    The harassment they receive for expressing even mild opinions is really unbelievable. Can you imagine having your job threatened, not to mention your own life and your family, just for doing science. And science that’s pretty fucking much in accord with other scientists are doing in your field. Unreal.

    We’re fucked.

    • Ahuitzotl

      Yes.

    • skate

      I work at a prominent climate research institute. I don’t have to imagine it.

  • Nobdy

    I am sure that as things get really bad in the United States our wonderful Republican politicians will offer creative solutions.

    A.K.A. Annexing Canada.

    If I were Canada and in possession of all that loverly soon to be valuable temperate land with the biggest military on earth to the South of me I would be pretty worried.

    • Malaclypse

      Not just land – water. Canada has the most renewable fresh water on the planet.

      • Internet Traditions Awareness Week

        When the wingnut hordes evacuate Florida and overrun Ottawa, they can repeal single-payer health insurance too. Win-win.

      • D. C. Sessions

        Who cares about renewable? Greenland has all the fresh water I or my children or their children could possibly need. Even for avocado farms.

        Once that’s gone, we won’t care anyway.

    • postmodulator

      Annexing Canada.

      You mean New Dakota?

      • Warren Terra

        Norther Dakota?

      • Snarki, child of Loki

        “Fifty-Four Forty or FRY”

    • Snarki, child of Loki

      Well, they better get busy and start building “The Wall” (a la Game of Thrones) to keep those crazy Wildlings of the southlands from invading.

      The f’in “White Walker” of Wisconsin is the worst of ’em.

    • Todd

      How can we sit by and let 35+ million people remain under the iron-fisted nominal yoke of some crown-wearing scepter-wielding lady potentate from the land that burdened the world with mashed peas?

      You talk to me of Commonwealth, and I counter with Common Sense.

      • Internet Traditions Awareness Week

        And look at how Her so-called Majesty burdens the job creators with the NHS and the Graham Norton Show. We don’t want the proof to be a mushroom cloud or a plate of fish & chips.

      • Ahuitzotl

        with mashed peas?

        you have yet to encounter the dread Mushy peas with black pudding, or you’d realise the hopelessness of trying to overthrow them

  • Steve LaBonne

    I just deal with it by denial. I simply try not to think what the world will look like when my 22 year old daughter reaches my current age (59), if indeed she gets there. It’s the ultimate collective action problem from hell, solving it is utterly incompatible with actually existing capitalism (as a matter of political economy- of course it’s economically doable given the will, which moneyed interests will never allow to be politically expressed until it’s far too late, which it almost certainly already is), and basically our idiotic species has irrevocably passed its sell-by date. A (radically altered) biosphere will survive us. I know that’s not exactly helpful, and I fervently hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am.

    • Nobdy

      Humanity as a species will survive. Your daughter, who is presumably decently affluent and from a rich society will likely survive. The USA has a lot of land per person and much of it will remain arable (Alaska will likely be quite nice).

      It’s just going to suck for awhile and millions or even billions in poor hot places will likely either perish or be miserable. Miami being washed away will be bad, but it won’t compare to the suffering of people in hot places without much water who cannot pack up and move to Connecticut even as a refugee.

      • Snarki, child of Loki

        I, for one, look forward to a distant future, in which stories of “Florida Man” are considered to be akin to tales from Atlantis.

        • Woodrowfan

          and their strange temple where they worshiped a giant rat…

        • postmodulator

          Family Guy did a decent bit about “the lost city of New Orleans.”

          “Was there ever a real New Orleans, Dad?”

          “No one knows, Chris. No one knows.”

      • ChrisS

        I’m an environmental scientist specializing in remediation of hazardous waste sites NOT climate, but whenever someone finds out my job title, they invariably ask me “is climate change is real?” I say absolutely. Usually, at least here in the northeast, the response, “Well I hate the winter, I welcome global warming. What’s so bad about it?” And I respond, that it’s going to suck for billions of people living in marginal areas when they can’t get sufficient water and food. Then they start crossing borders and then shit will get very violent, very quickly.

        • Nobdy

          So what you are saying is that we need a wall, Trump 2016?

          • Snarki, child of Loki

            Mason-Dixon line would be a good place to put it, I think.

        • Linnaeus

          Usually, at least here in the northeast, the response, “Well I hate the winter, I welcome global warming. What’s so bad about it?”

          There seem to be three stages of climate change denial and/or rationalization:

          1. It’s not happening.
          2. Okay, it’s happening, but humans have nothing to do with it.
          3. Okay, it’s happening and humans do have something to do with it, but it’s a good thing.

          Most deniers are at #1 or #2. A few have gone on to #3 – I wish I could find the link, but I recall an economist’s comment on climate change in an article I read that was along the lines of, “nature is something we’re going to have to do without”. I’m not kidding here.

          And I respond, that it’s going to suck for billions of people living in marginal areas when they can’t get sufficient water and food. Then they start crossing borders and then shit will get very violent, very quickly.

          A noble and correct answer, but I think the kind of person who hasn’t thought through why global warming really isn’t a great “solution” for cold winters will not find that too convincing, especially if they’re in the US, since they’ll reason that those things will happen far away and not have much effect on them. There’s plenty of deleterious effects that will happen right here in North America.

          And really, if you don’t like northeastern winters, you can 1) find a way to like them, 2) adapt, since it’s one season out of four, or 3) go somewhere where winters aren’t cold. Warming up the entire planet is good because you don’t like having to wear a coat and gloves in January is one of the most solipsistic notions I can think of.

          • weirdnoise

            Problem is, as Northern latitudes warm, it’s likely that Winters will get stormier, as the warmer air will hold more moisture. The average temperature may get warmer while the average windchill gets colder…

        • D. C. Sessions

          “Well I hate the winter, I welcome global warming. What’s so bad about it?”

          Summers like Iraq, only hotter and wetter?

          You can dress warmly for cold weather. For hot and dry, you can sweat buckets [1]. For hot and wet, you can die.

          [1] Time was I’d go through a 5-gallon bottle in a day. Don’t try this at home.

      • urdsama

        Will it? Most of the US will NOT be arable. And big chunks of arable land may also be underwater (i.e. Alaska).

        Want to see where the Earth is headed? Look at Venus. While that fate is many centuries out, at least, once we get even close to that most life will be gone.

        The only hope is once humans are nearly extinct the Earth might be able to rid itself of the garbage we have pumped into it and start fresh.

        But humans are doomed. And rightfully so.

      • Brett

        In the US, it will probably just be slightly more uncomfortable and expensive. The costs of cooling your home will go up and up over time, with increased use of air conditioners. We’ll pay very large sums of money to turn the coasts into gigantic versions of the Netherlands, with dikes, land-fill-ins, barriers, and so forth. I wouldn’t be surprised if living in multi-unit buildings with climate control (like mini-arcologies) became much more common, with strip malls themselves moving into completely indoors facilities like malls over decades.

        With poor countries . . . some of them have rocket capabilities, like India. All it takes is one of those countries to say, “Fuck this” and start dumping a ton of silicate aerosols into the upper atmosphere to arrest the temperature increase, whether or not it fucks up rain fall patterns elsewhere. The cost isn’t even that high for it.

        That scares me. Desperation will make desperate countries try things, and that might very well be one of them.

        • efuller1

          tell that to the people in California facing a drought that could last for 100 years and that only have a years worth of water left.

    • xq

      It’s the ultimate collective action problem from hell, solving it is utterly incompatible with actually existing capitalism

      It stops becoming a collective action problem when it is rational for each individual actor to reduce carbon emissions unilaterally. And that will happen as alternatives become more economically competitive. China wants to reduce coal use, not just because of climate change, but because of the other health and environmental costs.

      • Derelict

        Also, too, the Chinese government is not shortsighted like America’s government. The Chinese leadership sees that the very long term survival of China as a global power depends on China getting away from fossil fuels. At the same time, the country that develops new low-cost, high-efficiency renewable energy is going to quickly develop a deathgrip on the world economy. So China is pumping lots of resources into this.

        • Redwood Rhiadra

          China will still fail. Unless they genocide the rest of the planet.

          Renewables are not sufficient. Essentially all the studies show that a sustainable population without fossil fuels is one billion people or fewer.

          That’s with maximum development of *all* renewable energy sources – *and* fission!

          (We might have a chance if there’s a breakthrough on some other form of energy – cold fusion or zero-point-energy or some other such science fiction made real. But chances are there are no such breakthroughs to be had – it’s not something we can count on to save the us.)

          There is GOING to be massive amounts of violence by the latter half of the century.

          (Yes, I know fertility rates are dropping thanks to contraception. But if we had Japan’s population decline applied globally, it would still take a hair over a thousand years to reach a sustainable level.)

          • xq

            Renewables are not sufficient. Essentially all the studies show that a sustainable population without fossil fuels is one billion people or fewer.

            Are you talking about something other than climate change here? Because there are plenty of studies that say we can stay below 450 ppm using renewables.

          • D. C. Sessions

            Renewables are not sufficient. Essentially all the studies show that a sustainable population without fossil fuels is one billion people or fewer.

            That’s with maximum development of *all* renewable energy sources – *and* fission!

            US electrical usage per capita (at about 1.4 KW) is the tops in the world. That’s about 20 square meters of moderate-efficiency solar panels. Times 320 million people that’s on the order of 6.4E9 square meters, or 6400 square kilometers. The Plains of San Agustin alone is quite a bit larger than that. It would be lost in Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, or Texas. Much less California.

            And then there’s North Africa.

            Yes, mumble, base load, mumble. It’s not a technical obstacle. It’s a social obstacle.

    • Katya

      That’s pretty much my reaction. If I think about it too much, I get all anxious and weepy. I mean, I do what I can (rely on public transportation, reduce our consumption of meat, minimize our use of heat and AC, support politicians who are good on these issues, etc.) but I know that it’s not enough. I’m so angry at people who don’t care what kind of planet we’re leaving our children.

  • Woodrowfan

    on the bright side, think of all the dead horses we’ll get photos of!!!

  • Jed

    Thanks for posting, Erik; I really like that article.

    Another angle on it that I think is important: I like Jason Box, and I think he’s not dumb or misguided to say, “were f*cked if that methane escapes.” It strikes me that his colleagues piling on and saying that he’s stupid to say that — like Michael Mann, saying it’s not helpful to say we’re screwed — are really arrogant and misguided to try to silence Dr. Box and others who are able to look at the problem without rose-colored glasses. It’s not like Dr. Mann et al., have had huge success on the public discourse around the issue. It strikes me as a form of academic censorship, not unlike the other cases covered on this site, to say to a climate scientist, “you must always present a public case that it’s feasible to stay below 2 decrees C.” Especially when that becomes more and more of a lie. These scientists aren’t trained in politics, and they think that the only tactic is to stay as centrist as possible, all the time, and that everyone else in their field must do the same.

    Not to take away from Dr. Mann’s courage in facing the right-wing attacks, just to say that a lifetime of fending off those attacks probably doesn’t make you a dispassionate observer of political tactics.

    • xq

      Do you mean Gavin Schmidt? Michael Mann doesn’t really criticize Jason Box in the article.

      Anyways, I’d be a little cautious here–I think the author is quoting selectively in order to advance a narrative.

      • Jed

        Yeah, I guess I should have used Schmidt for the comment because he directly addresses Box in the article, but from generally watching the field and being on twitter, etc., I think my comment stands outside this article as well. I watch this space pretty closely, for no real reason at all.

        Mann got in a tiff with David Roberts, for example, over Roberts’ first post for Vox (still pissed that he left Grist for Vox). Dr. Mann a pretty good encapsulation of the dominant attitude in the field: that climate scientists have an urgent responsibility to wake people up to climate change, but to unfailingly provide hope that we’ll be able to fix it if only we act *now*, but *now* is a moving target. Joe Romm and Gavin Schmidt are both also good examples of this discourse. Joe Romm wrote a book (self-published) on how to communicate about the climate, and yet his communications strategy is kind of limp. Good on the science, centrist on the politics.

        • Linnaeus

          Good on the science, centrist on the politics.

          This is where I think an “interdisciplinary” approach (for lack of a better term) to communication about climate change might help. It’s such a multifaceted problem that the expertise of people in any number of fields can be brought to bear on it, including those who can and will speak to the social dimensions of the issue. Some of that is happening already, but it could be done even more.

          • Jed

            Right, exactly – and THIS is where the climate deniers and the oil companies have succeeded, not in convincing us that climate change isn’t real, but by keeping the debate about science, in the realm of science, rather than moving the conversations out into the political, economic, and social disciplines where solutions can start to be formulated. I agree with you that there’s already good work going on, but it’s silenced by the dominant debate (made dominant by the Koches et al.) of “Is climate change real?” That’s a scientific question, putting scientists too much in the public spotlight, forcing them to figure out political discourse, rather than deferring to the others. Just my two cents.

            We’ve (almost) won the debate of “is global warming real” but in the process we’ve lost the ability to see it as a multidisciplinary problem, as you say.

            • Linnaeus

              That’s a scientific question, putting scientists too much in the public spotlight, forcing them to figure out political discourse, rather than deferring to the others. Just my two cents.

              That’s my two cents as well. We sometimes hear for calls for scientists to become “better communicators”, and while that’s not a bad thing, I do think that misses the mark. Becoming an effective communicator about complex topics (scientific or otherwise) to a nonspecialist audience is really hard work and takes lots of practice to do well. So you’ll have the best scientific communicators doing that (or learning to do that) so much that it takes them away from what they’ve been trained to do and what they’d probably rather be doing anyway.

              ETA: A book like Merchants of Doubt is a good example of how a multipronged approach could work.

  • Blindtrust9

    Yes, powerful institutions are absolutely opposed to addressing this crisis because they are way too busy sucking out every penny of profit from the future.

    Perhaps people need to stop thinking about what they can do to “persuade” the powerful, who are busy essentially building their own luxury bunkers against the coming deluge (they think they can ride it out like in “2012”), and start thinking about how they can organize and take power for themselves, with force if necessary. We need to at least start imaging historic change that doesn’t require the motherfucking US Senate.

    • Nobdy

      Better get your violent revolution in before the autonomous robot soldiers are fully up and running. The rich always used to be limited by needing the poor to do their fighting for them, so you always needed some restraint to avoid the army turning on you. When the army is a bunch of Terminators you don’t have to worry about that inconvenience.

      • Blindtrust9

        The perception of the military’s lethality and omnipotence has been pretty well banged up in the last couple decades I would think.

        • BigHank53

          And for those worried about Terminators I invite you to examine the maintenance schedule of the F-22.

      • BigHank53

        There are a few technological products that are perched right on the tippy-top of our (metaphorical) tech pyramid. Pharmaceuticals, turbine engine blades, and integrated circuits make the list, and probably a few other things. It is not possible to manufacture those things without a large and robust civilization backing them up. What’s the oldest machine you’ve seen that still functions, and how many parts did it have? The amount of work that goes into the simplest thing–a Viton o-ring, for example–is staggering, and you can buy them for twelve cents.

        The MOTU can retreat to their bunkers with a lifetime supply of frozen lobster tails and doxycycline. Are they gonna pack a dentist and a heart surgeon too?

        • D. C. Sessions

          The MOTU can retreat to their bunkers with a lifetime supply of frozen lobster tails and doxycycline. Are they gonna pack a dentist and a heart surgeon too?

          Maybe. But will they have a medical school, dental college, … ?

    • UserGoogol

      I feel like that’s a false dichotomy. In a sense, “Taking power” is a contradiction, since if you have the ability to seize control over society, that is power. All you’re doing is taking advantage of the power which previously laid dormant. So you’re doing the same thing either way: finding the people who have power and getting them to implement policies which effect change. The rest is just tactics.

  • glasnost

    D.C. Sessions gets it. Nobody else does. I don’t know if Erik gets it; a lot of climate journalists don’t. The loss of 100 million Bangladeshis will be the worst disaster of the 21st century, but it won’t even move the needle in the 22n’d.

    Without significantly more radical action, globally enforced, there won’t be a living human being on the African continent, or between Mexico and the Southern tip of South America, or the southern half of Asia, in 2150.

    And I’m not sure that will be the stopping point, either, only the level of badness at which we’ve arrived at that point. Once 90% of the human race either dies or reverts to primitive life in post-civilization, carbon add may slow to a trickle. Will the other 10% survive the disorder and political chaos? Because that’s the good case scenario.

    The worst part is that it never stops getting worse until we get to zero carbon or industrialize carbon removal on a massive scale. And we don’t know how to do either of these.

    It’s going to much worse than global thermonuclear war, and the worst part is how numb we are. We should be setting ourselves on fire in the street, but we can’t/won’t/don’t because the real bad stuff is 50-75 years away.

    But an AI-based US government, acting optimally to preserve as much of the human race as possible, would be bombing Chinese coal plants, not taxing them. If we gave this the seriousness it deserved, there would be no coal plants – anywhere.

    See here: http://earlywarn.blogspot.com/2010/05/odds-of-cooking-grandkids.html

    And note that by artificially terminating the time horizon, and the future itself, in 2100, the authors massively understate the net risk of the scenario occurring. We keep adding carbon after 2100, as far as I know.

    • D. C. Sessions

      Without significantly more radical action, globally enforced, there won’t be a living human being on the African continent, or between Mexico and the Southern tip of South America, or the southern half of Asia, in 2150.

      Slightly overstated. The Andes, for instance, will have large habitable areas due to altitude and the increased rainfall that warming will provide. Central Mexico, at over 1500 meters, will remain quite livable. Kenya might have sizable places where people can survive if only due to low humidity.

      The Carolinas? Georgia? Death traps without air conditioning, and if the power fails for 24 hours the stink will last for years.

      My most comforting thought is that Houston will be one of the first to go.

      • glasnost

        Weirdly, the reminder that parts of the US will also be dead zones makes me feel a little better.

        Also, mountains. Good point. People of India, you still have the Himalayas. I hope you fit up there. This is black humor, but I do feel a little better.

        Talking about it helps make it real, which isn’t fun, but maybe neccessary.

      • Gregor Sansa

        We live in Boston, and my Guatemalan/Mexican wife finds the summer heat here intolerable. So yeah, mountains.

        Also: even if it gets too hot for mammalian life outside for hours or days, it can stay livable inside. Ever been in a cave? Humans are pretty adaptable. I’m not saying it wouldn’t suck harder than anything else has ever sucked, but just pushing back against the idea that most places people live are within 5 degrees of zero population. Arizona is more screwed than Panama, which is more screwed than anywhere else in central America.

        • Lee Rudolph

          Ever been in a cave?

          The nearly constant temperature in a cave is (nearly) equal to the mean temperature at ground level over a 1-year period (thanks to the heat equation). I have a Russian friend who has spelunked in hot regions of the -stans (when they were still in the Soviet Union); the caves there are accordingly hot.

          • Gregor Sansa

            Hot, but not deadly. What I’m arguing against is the idea that a peak outdoor wet-bulb temperature over 38 equals death. If the peak is short enough, that’s not true.

            • D. C. Sessions

              No, it has to last an hour or so where you are. Quite right that shelter (not just a shell; something with thermal mass) will slow the process down. Since vapor pressure equalizes pretty quickly, you’ll know you’re in a place that will last a while by the condensation on the walls etc.

              Adobe, if the walls are thick enough, might do it. My home has walls between 25 and 40 cm thick, having been built sometime before 1885. No electricity for cooling, but the summer temps rarely get past 40 degrees and it cools off quickly at night down to 25 or sometimes 15 by morning this time of year.

              Working outside, of course, is suicidal in the projected conditions. And high humidity blocks nighttime cooling, too. Spend July in New Orleans and then imagine it even 5 degrees hotter, with no air conditioning. Because if the walls have been heat-soaked for days, they’re not going to provide all that much shelter.

              Going back to living in caves and tunnels might work, but only at the margins — and that’s not going to support much in the way of civilization. Or population either, for that matter.

        • xq

          The claim is that most places are within 12 degrees (Celcius) of zero population, not 5. I’m not 100% convinced, but that’s much more plausible.

        • D. C. Sessions

          Arizona is more screwed than Panama, which is more screwed than anywhere else in central America.

          Less screwed than you think (as an Arizona native.) The “it’s a dry heat” is supposed to be a punchline, but it’s also true: AZ has to get the dew point up by a long stretch to hit the point of “you’re dead, Jim.” Days when wet-bulb exceeds 15C are rare, 20C are almost vanishingly rare, and most climate models have this area getting dryer rather than wetter. Plus a good bit of the desert Southwest is quite a bit higher than Yuma.

          I agree that lowland Arizona is screwed, but it’s for a host of reasons other than wet-bulb temperature.

  • glasnost

    I read my own comment and have to restrain myself from crying or throwing up.

  • tsam

    One important way to start rallying support for climate change action is to keep dispelling the fallacy that scientific facts are a matter of opinion.

    It’s popular among deniers, especially the pseudo intellectual (read: glibertarian) types, to deny that climate change is anthropomorphic in nature. While there are natural climate shifts, this warming trend is faster than all the others and walks right up the graph line with the increase in fossil fuel use.

    I usually tell them that arguing about the existence of climate change is the same as arguing about where the sun goes at night. I say that because it is.

  • JR in WV

    It is depressing. This thread has like 30 comments, and Cosby thread has 300. Go figure, right?

    I try not to think about it, I get suicidal. But why hurry things, right? I’m 64, think of how exciting the news will be in my old age! Wow!

    • You can imagine how thrilling I find it when my posts on labor exploitation get like 3 comments.

      • Steve LaBonne

        There’s just not a whole lot to say, especially nothing amusing- you present a situation that really sucks and that nearly all non-trolls here agree really sucks. Please don’t take it as an indication that your informative posts aren’t a very valuable service and aren’t greatly appreciated. I have learned a lot from them.

        • Ahuitzotl

          +1

      • njorl

        We’re all equal experts on Cosby.
        We’re not all equal experts on labor history.

      • BigHank53

        I read the labor posts. I rarely comment because there really isn’t much I can add: this is your field of expertise. But they’re not unappreciated.

      • AstroBio

        Placing this here because M. Bouffant really had the last word at 1:35 pm.

        Thanks for posting this Erik. It reminds me to more fully embrace hedonism.

        • AstroBio

          Whoops, sorry urdsama. Forgot to refresh first.

          Anyway, I only advocate low carbon footprint hedonism.

    • ArchTeryx

      The Cosby thread was infested with all manner of trolls. Once they started getting fed, the number exploded.

      This thread they didn’t even bother with, so it stayed small, though it has to be the single most depressing thread I’ve ever read on LGM, and that’s saying quite a bit.

    • JR in WV

      Now I’ve read teh Cosby thread, and it’s terrible. what a morass of stupid! About nothing. Excuse me for caring.

    • D. C. Sessions

      It is depressing. This thread has like 30 comments, and Cosby thread has 300. Go figure, right?

      Proximity counts, too. Cosby is here and now (FSVO “now.”) Broiling grandchildren, although almost inconceivably worse, is also at a distance that makes it less emotionally powerful.

      Which, of course, is a good part of the problem.

      • Ahuitzotl

        although … does bspencer have a good recipe for broiled grandchildren?

    • Ahuitzotl

      This thread hasnt been trolled by JenBob or GoDeep. I dont think it’s a matter of being treated more lightly, but some ppl here really enjoy teeing off on trolls, it seems.

  • Ha ha ha. Couldn’t happen to a nicer (or more deserving) species.

    Après moi le déluge, suckahs!

    • urdsama

      Agreed.

  • Gregor Sansa

    The “good” thing about our position with climate change now is that no matter how the politics come out and no matter whether the unknown scientific sensitivities and multipliers are relatively mild or extreme, we can be pretty sure that there will be both over a billion dead and over a billion survivors.¹ That means that we’re going to end up somewhere in the high-slope middle of the Z-curve, so every little action you take today has maximum impact in terms of lives saved by 2200. Have an extra kid who uses an average US kid’s amount of resources? You probably just killed somebody. (I have one, and I love her, so I try not to think this sickening thought much.) Rack up a million frequent flyer miles? Ditto. (My wife and daughter will be on 10 airplanes this summer. Again, la la la I can’t hear me.) Live carless and close to work? That may save somebody’s life. Be one of a million voters who get a US carbon tax passed 3 years before it would have otherwise? That’s probably several lives you personally saved. Sure, it’s depressing, but if you look at it the right way, it’s also a good reason to get off your ass.

    And it’s also a good reason to take high-risk, high-payoff paths, because business as usual is intolerable. For example: Sanders may have an uphill fight, but I know that (unlike Nader or Stein or Kucinich) he could win in the general, and I am pretty sure that Clinton just means 8 more years of halfassery on climate, so I’m with Sanders. Similarly, I think it’s worth thinking and talking about voting reform, because plurality voting and gerrymandering systematically entrench status quo interests even more than they would be otherwise.

    ¹More conservatively, I could have said a hundred million instead of a billion, but the point is the same.

    • Brett

      Airlines are a small enough part of overall emissions that you could probably get them to carbon-neutral just by forcing them to use net-zero emission biofuels. Any biofuels that get burned in a plane, get replaced by plants sucking up that much CO2 in fueling their growth.

      It’s stuff like cars and electricity that are the biggest problem. They’ll need to go electric, and the electricity will have to come from non-fossil-fuel sources barring major break-throughs in carbon sequestration.

      • Gregor Sansa

        Agrofuels at large scale are basically palm oil, and a lot of that comes from cutting down a rainforest somewhere (Indonesia? Brazil?) and couldn’t last 3 years without petroleum-based fertilizer or 30 years even with it. Yes, in a hypothetical carbon-neutral future, we could have some agrofuel airplanes, but they’d be less than 10% of what we have now. Basically, intercontinental flights to major high-altitude railway hubs only. (Nagano-Denver can use less fuel than Tokyo-San Francisco, even though it’s further).

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  • SNF

    As someone who is young enough that I’ll probably be alive when shit starts hitting the fan…it’s hard not to be filled with despair when I think about it.

    I guess I get by by hoping we’ll find some sort of complete technological breakthrough that would make the issue moot.

    • D. C. Sessions

      I guess I get by by hoping we’ll find some sort of complete technological breakthrough that would make the issue moot.

      There’s a momentum to this that makes a purely technological solution pretty much impossible. Not least because even if magical tech appeared, it would take a long time for it to be deployed widely.

      Not to mention the ability of established players to block deployment. Like all of the anti-wind power signs scattered across West Virginia, there’s a long list of ways that incumbent players can block even the best of newcomers.

      So get off your ass and do something, ‘caus’n the Tech Fairy ain’t sprinklin’ you with pixie dust.

      • SNF

        Do what, exactly? What would you have me do?

        If there isn’t a technological revolution, I don’t see any way for humanity to survive. Maybe you think it’s unrealistic to expect a technological miracle, but I see any other route to humanity’s survival as much less likely than that (our political systems will not sacrifice to deal with this problem unless it is incredibly cheap to do so).

        • Brett

          We have a technological solution – it’s just risky and dangerous as well. We could completely arrest the temperature increase with a relatively modest amount of silicate aerosol emissions, but with unknown effects on rainfall patterns and other weather.

          That might start seeming a lot more attractive over the decades, though. And it’s cheap enough that a country with rocket capabilities could do it unilaterally as a “fuck you” to other countries.

          • SNF

            Yeah, geoengineering has a solid chance of happening. At a minimum I could see us trying it in order to buy some time, after the problem gets bad enough that we start to freak out.

            Whether we accidentally destroy the planet is an open question, but it could look like the best chance we have if things get bad enough.

            • D. C. Sessions

              Actually, geoengineering is pretty much guaranteed by now.

              If might work, it might not, but it’s certainly not going to work well enough soon enough to prevent sealevel rise from taking out most of Florida and low-lying islands.

              The big question to me is whether geoengineering will be adopted in addition to halting carbon emissions or as a substitute. After all, Exxon is making tankerloads of money from burning carbon and investing a few percent of the profits into token geoengineering programs has excellent potential for keeping the main money flow going for quite a bit longer. Especially if they can get the coal burners, frackers, etc. on board with the plan.

              Watch carefully for what Big Carbon does soon, when they have to fall back to the next step after denying that warming is caused by burning fossil carbon. Switching subsidies away from renewable energy sources to geoengineering would be a very, very good move for them.

        • D. C. Sessions

          If there isn’t a technological revolution, I don’t see any way for humanity to survive.

          We have the tecnology, actually. Will to put it to work? Whole different question.

          Look up the projected net worlwide cost in 2000 for replacing our carbon-based energy infrastructure. Compare to the cost of the Iraq War.

          If you want a real conspiracy theory, it’s that Osama bin Laden was sponsored by the House of Saud to distract the USA and keep Saudi oil profits coming in.

          • SNF

            We aren’t going to spend anywhere near as much on fighting climate change as we did on the Iraq War. Not until people start dying en masse.

            Spending on climate change and spending on fighting people in foreign countries aren’t really comparable, our culture and political system make the second exponentially easier, even if the dollar costs are the same.

            Like I said, our choices are for technology to emerge that makes cutting carbon emissions much cheaper, or for humanity to die.

            Hopefully, the modest cuts our governments are capable of will be enough to spur research that happens upon a cheap and easy solution.

            • D. C. Sessions

              With the major non-US oil companies getting behind a carbon tax and China heading towards aggressive carbon policies, the USA might find itself with another export barrier if we don’t join the club. Which will be fun to watch, because we actually have a strong export sector even if it’s hobbled by a strong dollar. Watching the export sector and the fossil fuels giants slug it out, lobbyist a lobbyist, will be a bit of “comes around” for the fossil fuels types.

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