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Why I am [not] an environmentalist

I've been troubled for a while now by a festering inconsistency in the memetic landscape through which I move; one of those odd conflicts between fact and ideology that cause one to think "now, hang on a moment" ... while contemplating a problem. The problem is the environment, and what to do about it, and environmentalism, and what it implies.

There is, at this point in time, no doubt that we, the human species, have a major effect on our environment. Item One in the evidence for the prosecution is the Dodo; Item Two is the Moa; and we have a long chain of documented extinctions to work through before we go remotely near any items which are still open to argument. As for global climate change, Michael Crichton's outspoken conspiracy theories aside, there's sufficient evidence that numerous bodies who'd prefer not to believe in it, such as the British government (who would prefer not to believe in it because if confirmed, it will prove extremely expensive to them), are convinced that it is a clear and present danger. I'm taking it as a given here that we are facing increasingly violent and unpredictable weather and an overall increase in temperature. Some places will get colder, sure. But overall it's on the up and up, and with the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets losing mass, we're expecting sea levels to rise. As 75% of the human population — myself included — live within 200Km of the coast (hell, everyone in the UK lives within 100Km of some bit of coastline or another) I take that pretty damn personally.

So, given all the above, why do I mutter bashfully and shuffle my feet when the subject of environmentalism comes up (much like those women who prefix any discussion of certain topics with "I'm not a feminist, but ...")?

The issue, I think, is that political environmentalism — the ideology, as distinct from environmental science — comes with a bunch of baggage attached. We should reduce our carbon emissions in order to reduce levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. We should reduce our consumption. Don't drive, don't fly, don't buy shit. Use a composting toilet. Wear natural fibres. Eat less. Taken to the extreme, the deep greens would have us refrain from breeding and reduce our numbers to a level that could be sustained by agricultural technologies that use only renewable energy. In practice, that means draught horses and oxen. We're talking mediaeval, here. To save civilization, we've got to destroy it.

Where did they get this idea from?

I suspect the answer lies in the religious background of the people who brought us environmentalism as a creed. There's a hair-shirt subtext to much green politics that suggests that pollution is sinful, and because we have sinned, we must atone by subjecting ourselves to physical discomfort. It seems to me that this attitude has its roots in Christianity, by derivation from the Manichean struggle of good against evil. If pollution is evil and is a consequence of luxurious living (itself a sin), then the answer is to do good by eschewing luxury. To many proponents of environmentalism, environmentalism has become a hair-shirt creed of puritanical self-denial that begs the first question: why are we trying to preserve the environment?

I'm all in favour of preserving the environment, but I want to preserve it because I want to live comfortably in it, not because "preserving the environment" is an end in and of itself. I'm a sinful lover of luxury who refuses to take his divinely-mandated penance, and so I have fallen from grace with the righteous greens. Or rather, I was never a communicant at their altar in the first place. (Clearly, I'm only saying I want to save the environment in order to destroy it. Or something.)

Once you reject the religious aspects of green politics, it becomes a lot easier to reason about climate remediation (and to spot when people are talking bollocks). And as it happens, I'm not the only person thinking along these lines. Here's Bruce Sterling on the subject of what to do:

Climate change is not gonna be combatted through voluntary acts of individual charity. It's gonna be combatted through some kind of colossal, global-scaled, multilateral, hectic, catch-as-catch-can effort to stop burning stuff, suck the burnt smoke out of the sky, and
put the smoke back into the ground. That's not gonna get done a little green teacup at a time, because we've been doing it for two centuries and we don't have two centuries to undo it.

"Reducing emissions" is a wrongheaded way to approach it. If "reducing emissions" is the goal, then the best technique available is to drop dead. The second-best technique is to go around killing a lot of people. Nobody's got a lighter eco-footprint than a dead and buried guy. He's not walking around leaving footprints: the Earth is piled on top of him.

We're past the point where reduction helps much; we will have to invent and deploy active means of remediation of the damage. But from another, deeper perspective: we shouldn't involve outselves in lines of development where the ultimate victory condition is emulating dead
people. There's no appeal in that. It's bad for us. That kind of inherent mournfulness is just not a good way to be human. We're not footprint-generating organisms whose presence on the planet is inherently toxic and hurtful. We need better handprints, not lighter footprints. We need better stuff, not less stuff. We need to think it through and take effective action, not curl up in a corner stricken with guilt and breathe shallowly.


Climate change is a technologically-induced problem — although elements of it go all the way back to the invention of the technology of agriculture, 12,000 years ago — and it's going to take a technological fix. We need to stop burning hydrocarbons because they're screwing up our environment, but without energy we're going to have short, unpleasant lives: and the whole reason for not screwing up the environment is to have long, pleasant lives. So we need a basket of new technologies for energy (anyone who promises you a solar- or wind-powered monoculture is a crank or a liar or an ideologue) and that's going to mean solar, and wind, and hydro, and nuclear, and a bunch of others. And we're going to need more energy, because you can't pump CO2 down into empty gas fields using a hand pump. We can't just go back to shipping ourselves around by sea, because sea-going passenger liners are actually less energetically efficient than airliners: we need better airliners, and, crucially, better transport to get people in and out of regional hubs without driving or taking small commuter flights (which are far less efficient than wide-body super-Jumbos flying trans- or inter-continental). We need trains, not like Amtrak but like the modern high speed rail system taking shape across Europe.

We can't give up eating, and farming, and agrobusiness, and cars, and planes. To do so suddenly at this juncture would be catastrophic: our transition to an urban technological society is a one-way gate, much like the development of settled agricultural communities in the neolithic. Once you go through the gate, the only way to go back involves somewhere between 80% and 98% of your population dying, and that's simply not acceptable. If we want to fix the environment, we need to go forwards, not backwards, and look at positive remediation technologies and energy cycles that don't rely on burning coal. And most importantly, we need to avoid the trap of looking at climate change through a distorting lens of quasi-religious puritanism.

135 Comments

1:

It feels really freaking weird to do this, cause usually the libertarian to social democrat dialogue goes in exactly the other way, but: have you actually talked with many environmentalists? Exactly none of the ones worth talking to will disagree with a word you said. Every single ideology ever has a collection of creepy loons in orbit around it. Ones worth paying attention to have a core of intelligent and rational people at the center, who are worth paying attention to, and environmentalism certainly fits the bill on that count.

You already are an environmentalist; you just need to be feel comfortable with that description and lose your inhibitions about saying, "Ignore the nitwit; here's a sensible and rational response actually worth engaging with."

2:

Exactly none of the ones worth talking to will disagree with a word you said.

Well yeah, but that's tautological.

I was tempted to push further on with the feminism analogy -- feminism is mainly represented in popular media by the victim feminists ("women need to be protected from those horrible nasty men: censor everything remotely sexual because it's intrinsically exploitative"), to the point where most folks are surprised to learn about groups like Feminists against Censorship -- a surprising proportion of women with jobs and careers and aspirations deny being feminists ,despite vehemently agreeing with the core belief that women are people too and deserve equal rights.

I think part of the problem is the tendency of the mass media to focus on the "creepy loons" because they're usually the ones with the most outrageous sound-bites to fling to the audience. (And outrage equals audience pull, doesn't it?) And this in turn feeds back into mainstream politics, so that politicians mistake the halo of nitwittery for an ideology with adherents and tailor their approach to issues impinging on it to fit with their idea of what the adherents want.

The media/politician feedback circuit is an amplifier for extremism in single-issue pressure politics.

(PS: the subject we're talking about is orthogonal to the usual libertarian/social democratic dialog, so it's no wonder your compass feels slightly adrift ...)

3:

How much of what seems 'comfortable' actualy is? Is McDonalds more comfortable than a balaced diet? Much of what seems comfortable is actualy just easier. When you start doing them you find that most of the things an indivdaul can do to reduce their climate impact are much better (and hence much more comfortable) for you as an individual.

4:

This green puritanism thing is, I reckon, just as dangerous as the US "head-in-sand" approach to enivronmental instability. It polarises people and stops them dealing with what is actually a very complex problem that demands an even more complex series of solutions in an adult fashion, instead allowing them to retreat to holier-than-thou moralising.
My old housemate, Chimpy, an unhappy zoologist, used to take such an unpleasant attitude to people leaving lights on, not recycling every last scrap of paper etc, that I developed an automatic response of "Your planet, not mine" to his wheedling - which usually left him confused enough to let me escape with my sinful, unsorted rubbish.

On the antihuman thing, this is the same bloke who was discussing submitting a 2000ad stip about people who forcibly steralise the world's population. When I asked him why they'd want to do such a thing, he just blankly looked at me and said "Because they think it's the best thing for the world".

Of course, intelligent thought on the subject is limited by the basic stupidity and panglossian illusions people have about pre-industrial (or pre-human) natural systems - fantasising about the days of 1/3 infant mortality and a life expectancy in your mid forties...

5:

In my youth, back in the nineties, I worked for an environmental lobby group called Citizen Action. The leadership of this group made no sense to me whatsoever until I realized that a) they were religious fanatics and b) the even higher level leadership was running what amounted to a scam involving interlocking for-profit and non-profit organizations to siphon off the cash.

But once I saw that they acted just like fundamentalists, albeit with a different creed, everything was clear. It didn't matter that nuclear power was cleaner and cheaper than the alternatives, and fit in with a rational low-footprint approach to civilization. Nuclear demons lived in those plants. And further, power, no matter its origin is bad, even if not as bad as nukes. There was a complete dogma, and disagreeing resulted first in confused looks, then a very uncomfortable work environment for me.

The word has been pilloried by some, though I think it makes sense - stewardship. It is more sensible for people to take care of the earth for our purposes - comfort, enjoyment, air to breath, whatever - than it is to attempt to remove ourselves from it, or pretend to. A garden isn't "natural" and neither is a beautiful rural landscape. Both are desirable, and full of life and clean air.

But I imagine some Siberians will be pretty happy with global warming.

6:

we need better airliners, and, crucially, better transport to get people in and out of regional hubs without driving or taking small commuter flights (which are far less efficient than wide-body super-Jumbos flying trans- or inter-continental). We need trains, not like Amtrak but like the modern high speed rail system taking shape across Europe.

This sounds surprisingly retro to me. We should be telecommuting, teleworking, teleconferencing, and virtually traveling, instead of flying, driving, and taking trains. The money we could invest in cleaner transportation would be better spent on making virtual work and travel more efficient, effective, and fun. There are some social and psychological obstacles to this that aren't well understood, but the technological obstacles are minor and the potential reduction of CO2 emmision is immense.

7:

I wish I had written something along these lines to Arthur magazine in response to their recent interview with Derrick Jensen (http://www.arthurmag.com/magpie/?p=1356), who seems to think that letting most of the human population die would constitute just and long-overdue punishment for our forebears' strip-mining and coal furnaces, as well as the guy at the next table talking on his cell phone.

8:

Pete, I don't know about you, but I live 220 miles away from my parents and relatives, and have friends all over the planet who I like to see from time to time in person, and I enjoy travel. "Stay at home and telecommute" is not an acceptable alternative to having a holiday.

Moreover, just because you're staying in one place, it does not follow that you're not generating transport costs. I've seen some suggestions that increased telecommuting actually increases pollution: more small buildings running aircon/heating during the day, more delivery vans dropping off internet-ordered goods (instead of folks doing a big shopping trip to an out-of-town mall once a week or once a month), and so on.

Nor is telecommuting necessarily good for you. Most home office environments are appallingly bad because we don't design our homes for people to work in them: most home offices are a desk in a closet or under the stairs or (if the telecommuter is well-off) in a spare bedroom, with poor seating and ergonomics and bad lighting. Health and safety regulations don't get enforced on telecommuters, with predictable results: social isolation, bad working environments, and so on.

I work entirely from home and deal with my business contacts by email and phone, so I'm on the sharp end of this: it's a couple of years since I wised up and began spending on good office furniture and equipment on the grounds that I needed it and no employer was going to give me an Aeron chair to sit in 60 hours a week, but most people don't think that way and most employers don't pay any attention to the work environment of their telecommuting staff.

I'll grant you that the cult of presenteeism -- the assumption on the part of some managers that if they can't physically see an employee, the employee is goofing off, so the employees must all be physically present -- is a bad thing, and there's a lot of work we can do at home or one the move. But telecommuting is only the answer to some problems: I can't telecommute to the bar at an SF convention, or to a beach. And so we need to improve our transport infrastructure (and reduce its environmental footprint).

9:

I have felt the way Charlie does for decades. It is going to take big engineering to teraform our own planet. Some things could be accomplished purely politically (example: emissions & minimum fuel efficiency regulations). However, mere conservation is not enough. Technological Civilization needs to advance, not retreat.

One of the big frustrations of not having a real presence in space is not being able to move big polluting activities off planet. Guys like Harry Stine pointed out for decades that we could radically expand our industrial capabilities and energy production by moving heavy industry "top side". Unfortunately access to space has proven too expensive so far (though it need not be).

I suspect that we may not need the space option though. We may naturally transition to cleaner technologies via advances in bleeding edge tech like bioengineering, molecular nanotechnology, and the like. Even today economics is pushing big companies to "go green" just to help their bottom line.

Example: Wal-Mart is heavily pushing people to replace 100 million incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent lights (CFL) this year. If they succeed, it will mean Wal-Mart makes a boatload of money on pricier CFLs and millions of kilowatt-hours a year of electricity need not be generated.

I don’t think that we will fail to act. The question is how much irreversible damage can we avoid.

10:

I was more of a traditional environmentalist as a kid, very big into recycling and all that. As a grew older I began to question the dogma of environmentalism (as well as other dogmas...), and I realized that modern environmentalism is pretty much exactly backwards.

The best hope for long term survival on Earth with any degree of comfort is to boost production, not limit it. Technological progress will reduce the damage to the environment, and eventually reverse it. Today we're at a point were the per-unit environmental impact of production is vastly lower than it was 50 years ago. And yet, the common wisdom is that we're even worse off than then.

I'm hoping for a "garden Earth" some day, not a return to some psuedo-medieval handcraft industry and small farm covered planet.

11:

The religious (other rather: moral) point of view comes back in when you realize two things.

(1) There are environmental problems that are problematic only from a specific point of view -- to bring the dodo to exctinction is only a problem if you why nature or biodiversity as a value in itself. So, here, being interested only in technical solutions kills the dodo, too (and the chinense yangtse dolphin, and ...). Purely technical (in a broad sense) solutions don't work, if you don't see a problem.

(2) Boomerang effects and lifestyle change. Looking only for efficieny oriented technical solutions has a blind spot when it comes to dynamics: if you make cars double "green", but there is a double number of cars, you win nothing. And if you come to the conclusion that a sustainable load for planet earth isn't possible with current lifestyle, you have the big problem that people don't change their lifestyle when it is irrational -- they do it only if they believe, if an alternative lifestyle is part of their identity. If you want lifestyle change, you need some kind of ideology, morality, ethics, maybe even a nature based religion at the core. What Bruce Sterling is doing, is not so different, only that he says: the identity should be that of postmodernist techno-artists, not that of hippie puritans. Even if you believe in terraforming and resilence as strategy, you can bring that forward only if you chain it onto something bigger -- not as a techno-scientific solution. At least not in democracies.

On a related note: the actual green parties in power (take the German example) are or were much less "lifestyle-green" than their media image. Most of the actual work are "technological" solutions (say, a tax on carbon dioxid, a kind of economical technology). Maybe environmentalism has changed a bit in the last 30 years.

((Disclaimer: I'm an activist for Germanys' green party and were socialized not at least in the 1990s youth environmental movement))

12:

All of what you said is fair enough - have you read George Monbiot on the subject? He spoke at the Radical Book Fair in September about it. Worldchannging.com is also interesting in an applied-futurism and design-like-you-give-a-damn way.

I work in an environmental consultancy, and the buzz-term we use is Sustainable Development. This involves, yes, economic development, which is a Good Thing. It also involves social development and environmental stewardship. The principle is to run your economy so that people can earn and support themselves, while at the same time doing it so that you don't blow the resources that your economy is based on. Don't fish the cod into extinction, for example, use passive ventilation in your buildings, recycle whatever is economically feasible and design your products so that more of them are economically recyclable. That kind of thing.

But also don't neglect the people who are the only thing that make an economy move - training, job creation, education, health care, social services, good working environments, all are part of SD, as is providing affordable housing that is energy efficient.

On the subject of nuclear energy, I can pass on an educated opinion - my boss used to work for British Nuclear as a nucleonic engineer. His view is that the green stance on nuclear power is wrong-headed, because they abhor high-level waste which, if you grind it up finely and mix with sufficient concrete, will be less active than the ore it came from in 150 years. He is personally against nuclear power for the reason that when it goes wrong it does so in style, and that there is no way to design out the human factor, which means that accidents are far more likely than otherwise.

But the CO2 impact of electricity use in France and Sweden is 50% of that in the UK or the USA because of their usage of nuclear power - hard to argue against that, and certainly not on the grounds of waste disposal.

13:

'Energy beyond oil' does not have to be a technological backward step.

14:

From Andrew G:
Today we're at a point were the per-unit environmental impact of production is vastly lower than it was 50 years ago. And yet, the common wisdom is that we're even worse off than then.

---

Yup. Vastly more units.

Always remember; the total footprint is the individual footprint multiplied by the number of individuals (and perhaps a scaling factor due to diseconomies of scale in some cases).

So part of the problem is that there are so many people.

Some people insist on getting that backwards. A couple of years ago, here in New Zealand which has a bit of a "clean and green" reputation, we had a couple of purportedly Green politicians telling us that we weren't really clean and green, it was just that our relatively low population density meant that our "dirty habits" had less impact. As far as I'm concerned, that means that our relatively low poulation density is:
1. A Good Thing.
2. Part of our being "clean and green".

And I definitely agree with our Genial Host that there is no point to punitive environmentalism; let's have a better world in which to be comfortable. How we achieve that better world is open to debate, but subsisting in poverty to compensate for breeding like cockroaches is not my proposal.

Anybody who thinks from this that I am in favour of a reduction in population (gradual, and achieved by breeding less rather than massacres), you are right.

JHomes.

15:

Mike: I believe if you look into Pebble Bed Modular Reactors you might find some interesting design decisions intended to prevent operator-induced failure. (As in, it's a reactor design that can't melt down because the laws of physics don't let it, not because of some rule book that the operators are free to ignore.)

Sustainable development: good, yes. Trouble is, it doesn't make headlines.

J. Holmes: one problem with reduction in population is that it's deflationary. We haven't had a deflationary economic cycle in decades, but they're Not Nice -- they're probably about as pleasant to live through as hyperinflation. Population reduction also kicks the shit out of the real estate market, and unfortunately we've invested so much value in property that it'd disrupt everything else along the way.

See Japan for a real-world example of this.

Population stasis is probably achievable, as long as the working:non-working ratio is stable too, and can be combined with [modest] economic growth, but it'll take considerable adjustment of expectations.

16:

I've been lurking here for a while and just wanted to say I very much like what you had to say in this post. I hadn't thought about this topic in quite this way before.

17:

Yup. Vastly more units.

Always remember; the total footprint is the individual footprint multiplied by the number of individuals (and perhaps a scaling factor due to diseconomies of scale in some cases).

That's true we do have more of some things, such as higher CO2 emmissions or higher energy usage. OTOH, we release much less of other pollutants. Air and water quality is probably one of the best examples of this. When was the last time London had a toxic fog?

The trend is increasing too, and may end up outpacing production. Consider digital music, for instance. Adoption is still slow, but consider the material and energy used to make 100 CDs and a CD player vs 1500 songs on an Ipod nano.

All in all, people don't *want* a bad environment. So if we work to develop ways of lowering the opportunity cost of a clean environment, people will naturally work to have one.

18:

one problem with reduction in population is that it's deflationary. We haven't had a deflationary economic cycle in decades, but they're Not Nice -- they're probably about as pleasant to live through as hyperinflation. Population reduction also kicks the shit out of the real estate market, and unfortunately we've invested so much value in property that it'd disrupt everything else along the way.

The unsaid implication of his is that reducing the population only helps if you reduce the "right" part of the population. That 1/3 of the human race at the bottom, in other words. The folks crowding the slums and squatter towns of the large cities, or misusing the land with inefficient subsistance agriculture.

Of course, since environmentalists don't want to be racist, the don't say this but rather encourage everyone to have fewer children. When infact, they should be encouraging the wealthy and middle classes to have as many kids as possible...

19:

I'm not impressed by your arguments and even less by those of Bruce Sterling that you quote. Then again, I don't respect people who say "I'm not a feminist but...". If you believe something, don't be put off by people who try to portray that position as cranky, stupid or extreme.

It is possible to reduce some emissions without unduly affecting life's choices. If minimum energy standards were enforced on cars, light bulbs, and other goods, the effect on our lifestyles would barely be noticed. So to argue that "reducing emissions is a wrongheaded way to approach it" is, at best, woolly thinking. And that straw man about "emulating a dead guy" is blatant nonsense.

All movements have their extremists and loonies. You can't not deal with the ideas just because you dislike some of the adherents.

BTW, I recommend www.realclimate.com for articles about climate science from people who know what they're talking about.

What I do find interesting about your post is the social issues that need to be faced in order to make change happen. If people assume like yourself react to the word "enviromentalist" instead of looking at the issues, that's something that has to be overcome, somehow. Which I guess is where all the PR agencies and opinion formers and so forth come into play. Personally I'm more interested in the science and the technology.

20:

I'm all in favour of preserving the environment, but I want to preserve it because I want to live comfortably in it, not because "preserving the environment" is an end in and of itself.

I think preserving the environment is an end in and of itself. Or, more accurately, I think preserving the environment will provide many more benefits than we might see at this point. You might not think that saving some obscure bird or plant will help you much, but think of the wealth of knowledge we've gained from studying the natural world! Think of the information we haven't yet gathered. That hypothetical organism might provide a cure for some disease you fall prey to, or maybe its DNA will be a template for a modification you'd love to have. Evolution may work slowly, but it's had a long time to figure out some very cool stuff.

In that sense (and because it's just plain beautiful), I think the natural world has intrinsic value. Other than that, I agree with pretty much all you said.

21:

Andrew G's comments about population reduction seem misplaced. Most environmentalist writers say that the rich people of the world do the most damage. So to claim that they want to eliminate the world's poor is rather missing the mark.

The Chinese government's strategy of population reduction seems to be working. Apparently they believe that when the population reaches its maximum point, the country will just about have enough water to go round, provided their massive projects to change the flow of rivers work as planned. (And, I presume, that climate change doesn't reduce the amount of water available).

22:

It sounds like we're pretty much in heated agreement here, so I won't carry on repeating what Charlie has already said.

There is one aspect of achieving environmental quality that nobody has mentioned yet: your accounting system must actually account for all the things that matter to you. In other words, you have to subtract all the costs of doing business from the income for that business. This is what happened to the economics of nuclear energy; the costs of mothballing and storing old reactors and cleaning up the waste was not accounted for when nuclear energy was being hyped as "too cheap to meter".

The best way to ensure that your economic activities don't reduce the quality or quantity of some good in life is to make that good explicit by counting its loss as a cost on the balance sheet. For instance, it costs money to clean up already dumped waste (ground, air, or water). The 20th Century economic model for that was that the waste producer could ignore the issue; let someone else clean up. This resulted in lots of waste, and billions (heading for trillions) of dollars in cleanup costs to be paid by, taadaa! the taxpayers.

The laws in the US for instance allow for a better way to handle that these days: the government is allowed to hunt down the waste producers and make them pay for the cleanup. The bad news is that, at least under the current administration, they don't usually bother. But the principle is there: make handling the waste a business cost, and business will make sure it can afford the waste before dumping it (modulo illegal dumping, of course; criminals we have with us always).

The best case is when you can explicitly account for the financial cost of removing the waste. If we can develop large-scale technology to put carbon from the air back in the ground, we'll automatically have a way to measure the financial cost of burying a kilogram of carbon. Then we can evaluate the emitted volume all carbon sources, and charge each emitter the amount it costs to get rid of the number of kilograms they emit. The emitters can't claim they're getting hit with an arbitrary tax; it's a fee for hauling off the garbage.

The thing I like best about making environmentalism a part of economics is that it removes the religious aspect entirely. People will still argue vehemently over how much it actually costs to do something, and in what coin, but it's really obvious when someone is just being pig-headed about the issue.

23:

Not to get too far off topic, but there's a meta-strategy that can be generalized from my previous post about looking at environmentalism as economics writ large. When the solution of serious societal problems is hampered by religious attitudes, and rational discussion is misdirected by irrational concerns, back up and take another look at the nature of the problem. Look for what the real costs are, and then look for ways of either ameliorating the costs or accounting for them so they get paid by the parties truly responsible. I know some of this will sound like straight-line libertarian thinking, but I've met a lot of libertarians who aren't willing to discuss the costs of some of the liberties they espouse.

Some other examples of this meta-strategy:

1) How are cities and large towns supposed to deal with problems like increases in numbers of homeless, numbers of prostitutes and drug addicts, sexually-oriented businesses, etc., that the average citizen is not happy with, without turning society into a fascist model community, complete with Kraft durch Freude camps running Aktion T4 to put all the undesirables in.

The problem here is not these activities are inherently bad, or even very detrimental to society as long as we don't criminalize them, the problem is that the "good" citizens don't want to see them on the streets they inhabit. So let's consider this a zoning problem. Instead of trying to push these things around until they fall off the table, find places where they can be put that are accessible to the those involved, but easily avoided by the "good" citizens.

2) The current "justice" system in the US (and elsewhere, I suspect) has not reduced the amount of crime. In fact, it has increased the recidivism rate for most classes of crime, resulting in a massive growth of the prison population.

The problem here is that, no matter where you look, you aren't going to find "justice" in the legal system. The best you can find is fairness, and that's all too rare. In any case, what people usually mean when they talk about justice is really retribution, or punishment, or personal revenge, or "closure" (as in "I got closure for the death of my family member by seeing the killer executed"). None of these things is particularly valuable to the society as a whole that's paying for them. So instead, let's worry about keeping criminals from repeating their crimes, and having them make resitution for the damage they've done.

And so on. It's often the case that if what you're doing isn't solving the problem, you don't really understand the problem yet. And it's also the case that if your answers are based on dogma of any sort, you haven't even heard the question.

24:

It sometimes seems that the choice is between too many people and a European Soap Mountain.

25:

That's a remarkably tasteless comment, Dave.

26:

"Most environmentalist writers say that the rich people of the world do the most damage."

They might say that, but they'd only be half right at best. Wealthy countries do emit a lot of CO2, but if you look at polluted water, deforestation, soil erosion, etc, then you'll see that the poor countries of the world are worse.

Wealthy populations also produce the new technologies that are the best hope for some level of sustainable civilization above the medieval cycle of famine and war.

27:

Just thought I should point out that I abhor the idea of involuntary population reduction before anyone gets the wrong idea...

What I'd like to find is a way to lift the rest of the world up to the level of the West in economics and education. The human race is only really using about 20% of it's population as fully as they could. Imagine if that remaining 80% could reach it's potential and the contributions they'd make...

28:
Unfortunately access to space has proven too expensive so far (though it need not be).
What pisses me off about this is we could be constructing pilot orbital solar power stations right now. If the US hadn't insisted on using the Shuttle to build the ISS, all the pieces could have been launched by Russian Proton boosters. And once we had an inhabited station (say, about 1995), we could have built prototype power stations to test out the engineering, and be constructing the real thing in GEO right now (Proton can put 3 tonnes in GEO per launch).

And we could start doing that today, if the US weren't trying to make it all about going to Mars. Sure it would cost a lot of money, probably a lot more than any private investors are willing to pay, but it's highly likely it would pay back (in money alone) manyfold. I guess national space programs are still all about national pride, not about solving real problems.

29:

Really off topic, but worth a chuckle, I hope.

Dave Hutchinson said we wingnuts ought to have teeshirts. I agree, and there's a picture of my first rough design at

this location in cyberspace

30:

The best hope for long term survival on Earth with any degree of comfort is to boost production, not limit it. Technological progress will reduce the damage to the environment, and eventually reverse it.

i, You're confusing production and progress.
ii, Proof?

Today we're at a point were the per-unit environmental impact of production is vastly lower than it was 50 years ago.

Irrelevant. We use more units per person, and the number of people is still going up in precisely those countries poised to quickly raise the number of units per capita. Your point only makes sense if you're assuming a static economy.

And yet, the common wisdom is that we're even worse off than then.

Well, that has something to do with the scale of the problems. Up to now, we hadn't faced man made problems on the scale of climate change or ozone depletion, or with the same level of consequences. The USSR fucking over the Aral Sea is about as close as I can bring to mind.

There's only one point I disagree with in Charlie's comments (after all, I'd have died before my second birthday if not for technology) - can it be shown that nuclear power is cost effective sans weapons related subsidies?

31:

I saw those freaks on theoildrum.com, a peak oil site. They talked about the humanure movement, as if water to flush toilets came from oil wells instead of coal mines feeding baseload generation for electric power for pumping water.
They also seemed to think that we needed fertiliser that could only come from shit or oil. Not true, the first (and many subsequent) nitrogen fertiliser plants and phosphate plants used hydrogen and sulfur from coal.
Well, if the US gets back into fixing nitrogen again, it will be from coal. We've already shut down a large proportion of our fixed nitrogen capacity due to the cost of natural gas rising in recent years.

32:

The "hair shirt subtext" in the Deep Green political platform shouldn't, as Charlie thinks, be blamed on the Christian upbringing of the Greens. For one thing I doubt that the typical Green had a Christian upbringing, in the sense of being taught any version of Christian doctrine. But mainly, the impulse to mortify the flesh and sacrifice to appease whatever powers rule the cosmos is universal in humanity -- it existed in every society recorded in history, long before Christianity did, and still exists today in places where Christianity has no influence. Environmentalism, in its creedal form, gives license to follow that impulse in a way that avowed materialists can swallow.

Regarding the causes of climate change: has anyone else here heard of the Medieval Warm Period? According to the data I've seen, the whole Earth was warmer circa 1000 AD (and colder, to the same degree, circa 1600 AD) than it is now. Moreover, the Earth's temperature is correlated with the Sun's activity, as measured by the number of sunspots or by levels of carbon-14. That suggests the main variable in the Earth's climate is the temperature of the Sun -- something that, according to our best science, we have no hope of influencing.

In other words, climate change seems to be a fact, but it isn't our fault, and we have nothing (on that head) to atone for. Destroying our industrial plant to cool the planet would be roughly as effective as Montezuma's tearing the hearts out of his subjects to stop Cortez' conquest of Mexico ...

33:

Charlie, if you haven't listened to David Deutsch's talk at TED, I think you'd find it very interesting and much in the same vein as your post. http://www.ted.com/tedtalks/tedtalksplayer.cfm?key=d_deutsch.

His talk and your post both made me feel more optimistic about the future than I have in a while. I hadn't quite put it together before, but your point that a subtext of a lot of environmentalist's philosophy involves going technologically backwards, fast and their underlying assumption that humans are nasty and toxic clarified things a lot.

34:

Is McDonalds more comfortable than a balaced diet?

In a word, yes.

That's why it's so popular. I don't eat at McDonalds because I dislike the corporation, and the food there would make me sick if I ate too much of it... but I like having food that tastes good, is available fast, and isn't full of bugs. It's much more comfortable than a "balanced" diet. I have lived the vegan/hippie/granola lifestyle; I do have basis for comparison. Some people think the vegan/hippie/granola lifestyle is morally right. Maybe it is. But it is *not* more comfortable than the consumer lifestyle, except to a small minority of insane religious fanatics. (Note: "religious" here does not just mean "Christian".) That's a major point of the original posting, I think: the claim "you should stop being consumers" is actually about mortification of the flesh; it is a religious claim.

35:

Pete, I don't know about you, but I live 220 miles away from my parents and relatives, and have friends all over the planet who I like to see from time to time in person, and I enjoy travel. "Stay at home and telecommute" is not an acceptable alternative to having a holiday.

I agree that this is currently true. But is it necessarily true? I think this is an interesting question from a science fiction point of view. What technical, psychological, or social change is needed to make telecommuting viable? A related question: With a good holodeck, why do we need a starship?

36:

i, You're confusing production and progress.
ii, Proof?

I'm referring to production and technological progress of production because that's the main source of environmental damage. Medical progress hasn't really done much damage, except maybe letting people live a bit longer...

I have no proof, it's just an extrapolation of a trend. And one that's been holding true over the past 50 years, while so many predictions of environmental catastrophe have not.

I guess what I'm saying is that things are going well and we don't have to make any special effort. :)

37:

Charlie, this one is going to run...

38:

What technical, psychological, or social change is needed to make telecommuting viable?

Teledildonics.

39:

Of course, since environmentalists don't want to be racist, the don't say this but rather encourage everyone to have fewer children. When infact, they should be encouraging the wealthy and middle classes to have as many kids as possible...

I don't think the wealthy and middle classes got where they are today by taking breeding advice from J. Random Hippy. The reasons why they're having fewer kids have been fairly well explored - Philip Longman has written some good pieces.

"Most environmentalist writers say that the rich people of the world do the most damage."

They might say that, but they'd only be half right at best. Wealthy countries do emit a lot of CO2, but if you look at polluted water, deforestation, soil erosion, etc, then you'll see that the poor countries of the world are worse.

So the poor countries are doing things that impact themselves, and the rich ones are doing something that impacts everybody? Great comparison.

40:

J. Holmes: one problem with reduction in population is that it's deflationary. We haven't had a deflationary economic cycle in decades, but they're Not Nice -- they're probably about as pleasant to live through as hyperinflation. Population reduction also kicks the shit out of the real estate market, and unfortunately we've invested so much value in property that it'd disrupt everything else along the way.

See Japan for a real-world example of this.

No way has it been *that* bad here. There's still a huge amount of residual wealth, and the real-estate bubble generally deflated slowly rather than crashing - the fact that the US economy was booming for a lot of the time didn't hurt. They were startlingly inept about improving the situation, but there are a *lot* of special interests having their needs overfelicitously taken into account.

41:

One little thing:

Since you live within 200 kilometers of the coast, you're worried?

Why?

The current prediction, in the worst case (in 2100 AD), means that people within 200 FEET of the coast are the ones who should worry.

42:

What technical, psychological, or social change is needed to make telecommuting viable?

Teledildonics.

Done.

Next?

43:

I'd recommend a read of George Monbiot's recent book Heat (I can't be bothered looking up amazon info, you all know how to use Google). He proposes a plan to reduce our CO2 emissions by 90% by 2030 without either becoming Ken MacLeod's "Barb" or relying on unproven technology (since we need to be making reductions now, any technology not ready for use at the moment is basically useless). Along the way, he lays into some beleifs held sacred by some greens, such as rooftop wind turbines (don't work in urban areas), biodiesel (biodiesel production is already causing massive deforestation in places like Indonesia), hydrogen-burning planes (Water vapour released at high altitude is a greenhouse gas) etc. It's well worth a read.

44:

Cirby: actually, I live within 1Km of the coastline of a tidal estuary. (But I'm on the fourth floor of a building on a hillside.) M'kay?

45:

Done.

Feh, that's no good. People won't want to stop going to the office if they have to give up at least the possibility of sex with the more pulchritudinous of their coworkers, and USB2.0 eButtplugs aren't going to cut it, you'll need some sort of high-bandwidth biomechanical system of sensors and effectors and probably loads of baby oil, surely Charlie's written about this.

46:

Charlie,

Maybe you should be a feminist, as they are the ones who will indirectly solve all our environmental problems while allowing high tech society to continue. You see, when the status of women improves something magical happens - they no longer have large numbers of babies. In socieites where women achieve a social status higher than that of "bare foot and pregnant" (i.e non-Islamic societies), they can actually have careers before or during marriage and they can mostly control when they get pregnant.


47:


With regard to overpopulation:

Peasant societies in the third world exhibit high birth rates because they are peasant societies. In the absence of, for example, old age pension systems, having children (and lots of them) is the only way a peasant household can enhance its short term and long term security.

It's when the problem of security is solved that the birth rate starts to diminish. Coercive strategies such as those used in the People's Republic of China, or in India during Indira Ghandi's emergency are of questionable necessity. Their real role may be to restore the right of states to control and coerce their populations in general.

People in general, and women in particular, don't want to be constantly reproducing. My mum had to deal with a patient in Cork in the late 60s who had had her 12th child - and as a result her uterus had failed to contract after the birth, resulting in severe haemorrhaging.

We don't have that sort of thing in Ireland, anymore.

48:

Running through all the comments so far, I don't notice one focussing on the unique Protestantism of American culture. Not simply the people who go to certain sorts of church, but the entire culture.
The fate of the cosmos depends on your personally having the right understanding and taking the right actions.
At the obvious level, this is why anyone who can get their hands on a Gideon Bible can rent a storefront and be a Minister explaining the One True Cosmically Indispensable Interpretation. More broadly, there seems to be more than most places have of If We Don't Save The World It Can't Be Saved Because Only We Know What It Really Needs So It's Our Duty.

I think this leads into several of the already-posted comments.

49:

Disjointed notes:

1. People are looking to the past because the future is pretty bleak. Heck, the present is getting pretty bleak. If we want people to look to the future, we have to offer them a future worth living in.

2. The next two centuries are going to be, by any projection I can imagine, times of some privation for our wealthiest people (that means us); getting back to living within our means as a species is going to be hard.

3. The global regulatory and police apparatus required to make safe widespread use of nuclear power would be profoundly oppressive; the entire fuel chain has to be secured.

4. And zeppelins. There should be zeppelins. Land transport as cheap as water transport is worth thinking about.

50:

Bruce Sterling has clearly forgotten (or never learned?) how to count; going around killing lots of people is a *far better* way to reduce emissions than just dropping dead yourself (if you kill people with similar emissions levels to yourself; since the people around you are mostly like that, that should be easy). He's got it backwards.

I think you've pegged something important about much of the existing environmental movement. Good job!

51:

This is a great topic. I definitely agree that a common sense, populist strain of environmentalism is needed.

An example of the negative version: Seven years ago, in the Hudson Valley of New York, an entrepreneur was trying to setup a recycling plant that would also generate a modest amount of electricity. He tried to set this up in three different townships, chased out each time by a group of environmentalists supported by the Sierra Club. Their reason? They didn't want smokestacks to ruin their view of the river.

For me, I would like to see home-owners and businesses generating their own power via renewables. Every roof can be reducing stress on the energy grid with both solar and micro-wind.

My wife and I don't have a car. We live in a middle-sized city and get around just fine by bus. It was tricky at first, to switch to public transport. Knowing the bus schedules I'm able to use my time efficiently and I don't have to worry about maintenance, or defrosting in the winter.

I have moderated my consumption, but not to a point of discomfort. For example, I went to the cinema last night, out to eat and dessert. I enjoy services. If I want to watch a movie that is already out, or read a book, I go to my local library.

52:

Like one or two other commentators, I keep coming across reference to these greens who want us living in caves. I cant say I've met any. Maybe a few were at a book talk given by George Monbiot last year in Edinburgh, but even then, we're talking people who nodded along when he demanded greater technological investment in a bunch of alternative energy supplies etc etc.

So, I'm afraid we seem to have people smearing everyone with a broad brush.

I take it comments on the "What goes around" thread are closed. Just when I've had a long lie in and a nice walk in the hills, and am therefore ready to show how cirby is typing bilge, I cant do so. How annoying.

53:

Also, we have someone called WKWillis called people on the oildrum.com freaks.
He should be aware that I am an eccentric, not a freak.
Besides, we already do put a fair bit of sewage on the fields, and with better plumbing in cities, we could be recycling urine and saving the ammonia etc and using that instead. Why bother using non renewable resources when you can use renewable ones?


As for Michael Brazier, what information have you seen that says the Medieval warm period was warmer than it is now? I can't think of any that i have seen.
Whilst you are correct that the earths temperature is related to the suns activity, there is little evidence that this is the reason for most of the warming in the past 30 years. Some, yes, but definitely not all.

Finally, Charlie, you live in Edinburgh. By definition, this means that you will be living several metres above anything that will be affected by rising sea levels for several centuries. However, those yuppies buying those new waterfront developments in Granton etc will get their feet wet this century.

54:

Fundamentally I agree that we need a sensible approach to reducing climate change and adapting to its effects. But majority scientific opinion is that man-made global warming is happening and will have effects that we need to counter. There are natural and localised variations such as the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age, but the large-scale effect now being seen cannot be explained simply as the result of these variations.

Of course, this is science and all science is primarily about exploring uncertainty and the unknown. It's possible that the majority view will turn out to be wrong, but the current trend seems to be that investigations are tending to resolve uncertainties in favour of the man-made global warming hypothesis.

Similarly, mainstream scientific opinion does not back many of the catastrophic viewpoints that hit the headlines (or rather, it suggests that they are rather unlikely). The media, of course, are always attracted by the most extreme possibilities. The mainstream is saying that we need to tackle the problem but that we shouldn't panic (at least, not yet).

A recent comparison might be with the hole in the ozone layer. We discovered it was there, realised that something had to be done, and did it. Just as in earlier eras we installed sewerage systems to reduce infection or reduced pollution to prevent smog.

So it looks to me that Charlie and many of the people on this thread are in tune with that mainstream scientific opinion. My belief is that much of the environmental movement is similarly in tune (although maybe I'm being optimistic and just seeing what I want to see?). So there's no need to act scared of the word "environmentalist" in case your neighbours might disapprove.

55:

Stewart Brand, who founded the Whole Earth Catalog in 1968, was saying stuff not entirely dissimilar to Charlie's post over twenty years ago. There certainly are self-described "environmentalists" who fit Charlie's description: anhedonic, technophobic, and moralistic. From what I can discern from my perspective as an foreigner, I suspect that modern British political life is infested with an unusually large number of that sort. I don't know what it's worth as a data point, but over here in America, I've spent most of my life (really--I marched in the original Earth Day events in 1970) hanging around with self-described environmentalists, and the vast majority of them would agree with almost everything Charlie has said here. Then again, most of the environmentalists I've known far preferred the Co-Evolution Quarterly / Whole Earth Review to the Mother Earth News. Both publications are now defunct, but in their day they mapped quite well onto the split between scientifically-minded, techno-positive environmentalism and the other sort.

Leaving aside this quibbling about labels, my only real disagreement with Charlie is well expressed above by fullerenedream. The preservationist impulse isn't just about aesthetics; it's rooted in scientific good sense. The planetary system is vastly more complex than we yet understand and we should be extremely loathe to lose any species--for reasons entailing our own self-preservation if nothing else. We don't know for sure what's crucial.

56:

I agree with Dave Berry.

However, with regards to British political life, I find it hard to understand how Mr Hayden can think that there are a large number of anhedonic antitechnical etc people in it. For starters, they are poltiicians, i.e. people who always like to moralise for the rest of us. The UK is particularly bad for that, has been for centuries.

So, all that has happened as far as I can see, is that since the politicians have started talking about evironmentalism, it looks like there are lots of technophobes around.
Remember we are dealing with a gvt that likes to talk about environmental issues such as climate change, but wilfully carries on with an airport expansion program and has little to say about transport in general except that it is a good thing.

57:

But this whole post and thread are still important, since we need a proper debate and discussion about this issue.
For starters, we need some kind of debate about what we value, and why. If we value ecosystems and their products, i.e. plants, animals and us, then we should be acting to prevent our actions destroying said ecosystems. We will never manage to return to a totally pristine environment, (short of wiping ourselves out with some kind ofplague) but there is plenty of room for dicussion about what it is we value and need. People dont realise how much we rely on ecosystems for our food, for pollination of our trees and crops etc.

I met an anti-environmentalist whose driving philosophy was something to do with not restricting mankinds potential and possibilities. Hence doing anything about climate change was wrong, because it would restrict our opportunities and possible activities in the future. Of course, this meant that they have to take up the position that climate change isnt happening and even if it is it wont lead to anything much goign wrong. NEedless to say they are still stuck in this state of denial.
Anyway, the point is that by not doing something about climate change, we run the risk of closing down future opportunities for our descendents (And even ourselves) as per fullerenedreams post.

The same anti-environmentalist (And this was all they would ever post on. Any thread pointing out some ultra greenies outlandish view was jumped on as evidence that all greenies were human hating nutters out to kill us all) made the point that even if all the plants on earth were wiped out, there would still be enough oxygen to keep us all alive for many thousands of years.
I did some rough calculations, and they were right. But can you imagine living in a world without plants?

58:

Change starts locally.

- Scrap your old gasoline-powered car (if you sell it, it will only pollute somewhere else) and buy a hybrid or electric car.

- Get better heat-isolation for your home (thicker windows is a great start).

- If you live in the U.S.: Turn down that air-conditioning system down a notch or two -- or, better still, only run it occasionally.

- Vote for politicians who are serious about CO2 emission quotas.

59:

Well, its a bit more complex than that. By all means get double glazing, but it is more important to insulate your attic and your walls. Cavity wall insulation is pretty popular and does a reasonable job, and pays for itself in a few years, whereas double glazing takes a lot longer.

60:
Medical progress hasn't really done much damage, except maybe letting people live a bit longer...
This statement is highly controversial among population scientists, see World population growth and theories. In any case, it is probably only true for America and Europe and possibly parts of Africa, since the increase in growth rate in Asia did not occur at the same time as the spread of agricultural and industrial practices that are theorized to be the cause of the change in, for instance, Britain and the US.

One large factor in the change in effective birth rate in the last 2 centuries (versus all previous history) has to be the dramatic drop in infant mortality (mostly as a result of the spread of aseptic medical practices: doctors and midwives started washing their hands), with a smaller effect caused by the lower mortality of women in childbirth resulting in longer active reproductive lifetimes and therefore more pregnancies.

The differences between Europe and Asia in the causes of the population rate changes may be part of the reason in the difference between the reactions to the population increase. One of the reasons for having a lot of children is to increase the family's ability to grow and gather food, and to take care of the parents in their old age and/or infirmity. If the major change in population demographics is more children surviving, then the family gets richer (Asia). If the major change is a better diet and life in general for adults, then the individual gets richer (Europe). Simplistic, I know, but suggestive.

61:

I tend to agree, at least in the long-term view, with those who say that overpopulation will not be a problem. The main driver of population increase in a technological society, once medicine has reduced mortality rates and good nutrition and care have increased life expentancies, is the birth rate, i.e, the number of children per fertile woman. As several people noted, this tends to fall because women get to choose the number of children they have, and they tend to choose a lower number so as to improve their own lives. There are also indicators of this from biology in general: high-R, low-K reproductive strategies ("have a lot of kids and dump them on the street") yield in success to high-K, low-R strategies ("have a few kids and give them every advantage you can") as population densities increase.

However ... Just because the rate goes down over time does not mean the population stops growing immediately. Even if the rate were reduced to 0 (replacement only, no additional children) the world populstion would continue to increase for 50 or 60 more years. And in the short term, the issues aren't about what we can do with our technology, they're about what we will do, or, in, other words, politics. Look at your leaders(?) and ask yourself what their response to the problems we're talking about is going to be.

62:
The planetary system is vastly more complex than we yet understand and we should be extremely loathe to lose any species--for reasons entailing our own self-preservation if nothing else. We don't know for sure what's crucial.
Especially true as we are now fairly sure there are "keystone" species, whose removal or even serious depletion, has way out-of-proportion effect on the rest of a biome. Unfortunately, we don't know how to spot them, and intuition about the subject seems to be a very poor tool.

And, as my wife is fond of saying, "Don't remove things arbitrarily; if you take away something that serves a purpose to the world as a whole, you may have to take its place for that purpose."

63:

Thats what I dont get. I've run into plenty of people (online of course) who say "oh well, its warming, but it'll be good for us, nothing to worry about."

On what evidence?
All they can produce is the CO2 fertilising thing and the idea that they would like the UK to be more like the Med.
Then there's some others, who say, "well, its all so complex, and we dont know what will happen in the future, so it doesnt really matter what we are polluting with now."
I dont need to say anything about that point of view now do I?

64:

"I'm not a feminist, but ..."

I wish you would consider this very carefully. Because, in fact, your sort of environmentalism is mainstream--the belief of a majority throughout the USA, and probably Europe as well. Why do you think environmentalism is something else?

65:

Some people need a hairshirt to remind them every day that the issues are not going away, and that all there is is politics or war.

This winter my gas central heating broke and I thought, sod it, I don't need it. I wear more clothes in the house and it is fine. The heat from the servers takes the edge off. No need for expensive window/roof/wall upgrading. Water heating and occasional spaceheating from http://www.good-energy.co.uk/ Smokeless coal stove for ritual use only e.g. guests.

Clothing was the original technology that made northwest europe habitable year round by humans, and it's still true today. The hair I'd recommend for your shirts is merino wool.

66:

Actually, there are evangelical Christian environmentalists. Check out Richard Cizik -- veep of gov't affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, pro-Bush, Bible-thumping, anti-abortion, the whole usual stereotype, but he's also into environmental stewardship, based on his reading of scripture.

67:

For starters, we need some kind of debate about what we value, and why. If we value ecosystems and their products, i.e. plants, animals and us, then we should be acting to prevent our actions destroying said ecosystems. We will never manage to return to a totally pristine environment, (short of wiping ourselves out with some kind ofplague) but there is plenty of room for dicussion about what it is we value and need. People dont realise how much we rely on ecosystems for our food, for pollination of our trees and crops etc.

There have been some interesting threads on environmental economics on Brad DeLong's blog lately, though I can by no means follow all of them:
http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2007/01/risk_uncertaint.html
http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2006/12/the_stern_revie.html
There's an interesting review of Jared Diamond's "Collapse" on similar lines here.

I think until some attempt is made to put numbers (or ranges of possible numbers, at least) to the things being used up there's not much point in trying to debate with the people who just say "Consume all we can, the boundless cornucopia of human ingenuity will solve all our problems!" (And actually, I'm not sure even numbers would work with all of those.)

68:

One issue to consider is the profitability of something like recycling and other pollution control methods.

Thirty years ago local steel mills resisted cutting emmissions from their stacks. Government regulations forced them to do something about it, so they did, and made a profit. Turns out that what was reclaimed from the soot more than paid for the equipment to do the cleaning.

This has held true for many other types of recycling.

Many changes are only looked at from a "you must do it for the common good" point of view. A "you will profit by this" attitude is much more effective, especially if accompanied by a stick wielding regulation. Once those making the changes profit from them its amazing how fast they jump on the band wagon.

We need a profitable use for the carbon emmissions that are such a problem. I wouldn't be surprised if someone has already thought of something, and is just trying to get someone to try it.

Issues concerning animal species are harder. Human beings usually only care about "their" property. The species being wiped out belong to no one and are expoited by everyone.

Governments can protect "their" fishing grounds but can do little about those who fish outside their territorial waters. Governments rarely worry about an economically worthless species until it is much too late, after all the developers are paying taxes.

69:

There's some evidence that laws designed to protect endangered species by harming property owners often end up harming the endangered species they seek to protect.

Many propert owners will secretly take steps to remove (kill) the protected species on their property rather than having it's use restricted and value destroyed by the laws. It would be better if the government either bought the land or paid the owner for stewardship of it -- people would then work to protect the species.

The tragedy of the commons is another problem that would be solved by private ownership. If, for instance, the government sold sections of the ocean to private parties there would be no overfishing. No one would destroy the value of their ocean willingly, but rather would work to keep fish stocks at the right level. They'd also act against anyone harming their property via pollution or other actions.

70:

The tragedy of the commons is another problem that would be solved by private ownership.

Also, ancient astronauts built the pyramids! Honest they did.

71:
And zeppelins. There should be zeppelins. Land transport as cheap as water transport is worth thinking about.
Yes, please. There should be a place for things that are beautiful and fun to watch.
72:
It would be better if the government either bought the land or paid the owner for stewardship of it -- people would then work to protect the species.
This has been tried with forests in the Pacific Northwest of the US. It doesn't work, either because the bureaucrats are willing to look the other way when the land the government owns is harvested illegally, or at least against the regulations, or because the stewards are quite willing to get paid twice, once from the government, and again for the timber they sell that they're not supposed to harvest.

On top of which, the government is quite willing to agree to help the workers in the area who are out of work because the timber harvest is regulated. Well, they're willing until they actually have to pay for it instead of something else they want.

73:

Adrian, thanks for the links. I havnt been over at Brad DeLongs this year, though I checked it out fairly regulalry last year.

74:

Andrew, the problem with that kind of approach is that fish move around. You may forego fishing some species to help them survive, but your neighbour might not be so choosy. After that, its a bit hard to check who lands what where, what with illegal landings etc.
We could of course turn the entire worlds oceans over to one corporation, and avoid that problem. But then it would be a bureacratised, centralised, un-over-seeable monopolistic power, just what none of us want.

75:

Alabama and Japan have private reef ownership, which seems to be working for them. In Alabama the catch of reef fish has jumped since they started building private reefs.

The system would be more difficult for larger more migratory fish, that's true. It may be that fish farming is a better solution there.

Typically, however, people are better about protecting and improving their own property than governments are about public property...

76:

Bruce Sterling has clearly forgotten (or never learned?) how to count; going around killing lots of people is a *far better* way to reduce emissions than just dropping dead yourself (if you kill people with similar emissions levels to yourself; since the people around you are mostly like that, that should be easy). He's got it backwards. I think you've pegged something important about much of the existing environmental movement. Good job!

It's more cost efficient for those with the highest emission levels to kill off high multiples of those with lesser emission levels. The difference in technology and capability the differing emission levels translates into has a disproportionate military effect. Weak-minded cries of "genocide" can be ignored.

Dick Chaney is an environmentalist.

All they can produce is the CO2 fertilising thing and the idea that they would like the UK to be more like the Med.

They do realise that it's now referred to as "climate change" because no-one knows the effect of global warming? It may kick the climate off orbiting one strange attractor and into orbiting another, much colder one - and one specific mechanism proposed for this is a weakening or shutting down of the Ocean Conveyer system.

New Zealand is at the same latitudes as Spain. The difference in climate is due the Gulf Stream - and without that, the UK's weather is going to resemble Siberia, not the Med.

77:

Alabama and Japan have private reef ownership, which seems to be working for them.

I didn't know that Japan did, but nothing could surprise me less, if it involves concrete at any rate. Plenty of strategically placed votes in concrete here.

It may be that fish farming is a better solution there.

Lot of horror stories about the effects of fish farming around if you look. ">http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/la-me-ocean30jul30,0,2100795.story?page=1&coll=la-headlines-world"> This isn't specifically, but it's still a trifle worrying.

78:

Tony, at the moment it doesnt look at all like the gulf stream will shut down. See here: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=159
and other places for details. There might be some slowdown, but with all the other warming going on, it wont make a huge difference.
See also here:
http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/research/hadleycentre/models/modeldata.html

For the met office climate change predictions. We are already getting warmer wetter winters. What the HAdley document also talks about, which I am more concerned about, is that at a certain point in the next century, the earths biospheres will become net carbon emitters rather than absorbers as they are just now. This could take CO2 over 800ppm, leading to more warming and lots of difficulties they havnt quite worked out yet.

Andrew, here we have very few reef fish- I am especially talking about things like Cod, herring, etc. They migrate. Reef fish are different insofar as they are more tied to one location.
Besides, you keep talking as if you havnt heard of the actual mechanisms used to avoid the tragedy of the commons problem in the first place. Many community problems were caused by people trying to overgraze, leading to a complex network of rights and obligations, involving the community. When people took more than their fair share, they could be punished. It worked well enough, except that other parts of society changed, not to mention rich landlords enclosing it illegally, or in the case of Scotland, the local councils stealing it for themselves.

79:

I'm more familiar with the tragedy of the commons in the Western US, with overgrazing, conflicts between ranchers and farmers, and now cities. Water's the primary issue out there, it's a commons with rights set over a century ago. The problem now is that there were no urban populations when the water rights were given, and the water was divided up during a wet period. Rights have been granted to more water that actually exists...

I understand that Europe has much more complex issues surrounding common lands and community rights, the US was largely virgin territory since we denied the rights of the natives to the land...

80:

Yes, the situation is somewhat different in the USA, I dont know a gigantic amount about it. It will be interesting to see how they solve the problem. Divvy it up per head, allowing those who restrict their water use to sell off excess? By community? By state fiat according to whomever gives the most money to the governor? Or by getting the interested parties round a table and divvying up the water supply so that nobody loses out very much?

I am not convinced the last option will be the one taken, but we shall see.

81:

A.R. Yngve: - Scrap your old gasoline-powered car (if you sell it, it will only pollute somewhere else) and buy a hybrid or electric car.

This is an inefficient use of resources. Right now, it's much cheaper to buy carbon abatements (from carbonfund.org or Terrapass) for your gas-powered car, and then you can use the money you save relative to the hybrid to fund some other environmental charity (I like the Nature Conservancy, myself). This way you get net zero emissions AND some additional benefit. The next car we get will likely be a hybrid, but that's really because they're cool rather than because it's the environmentally optimal option.

82:

Sigh, you got some of the humanure freaks on this site, too. I don't know what makes people do the whole mortification of the flesh thing. I just wish they wouldn't bug me about it. They are free to recycle their sewage in their own watershed, but not mine. I want my water to come from someplace where the chemicals in the sewage system have been processed by lots and lots of specialist bacteria like in a sewage treatment facility. There is enough pharmaceuticals in offwater anyway, let alone letting the untreated stuff into the water table. Composting toilets, anyone?
I always invited the ones on theoildrum.com to set up a website called 'poopinabucket.com' and go talk to each other there. Theoildrum.com is about supply deficiencies in crude oil production, not religious ceremonialism.

83:

It seems the last time the Gulf Stream shut down was the Younger Dryas event, 11,000 years ago, so it can happen. The thing is, the cause of the Younger Dryas event was the draining of a freshwater lake covering most of Manitoba, into the St. Lawrence River. There isn't any source of fresh water on the scale of Lake Agassiz left in North America, that if drained could flow into the North Atlantic. (The Greenland ice pack, if it melted, would go north into the Arctic.) So a repeat of the Younger Dryas event in our time is most unlikely. And it would take a repeat of Younger Dryas to shut the Gulf Stream down ...

84:

SpeakerToManagers - outstanding teeshirts! I needed a smile this morning. Of course, they'll have to be made from organic cotton from renewable sources, printed with environmentally-friendly dyes, and for every one made a tree would have to be planted somewhere to offset the carbon debt...

85:

WK Willis: I stopped reading TOD after they started talking about "killing all the engineers". I mean, when there are so many management consultants to eat first..

86:

And here we have networking pioneer Bob Metcalfe on new energy technologies
http://www.viridiandesign.org/2007/01/viridian-note-00485-metcalfe-on.html
Call him a green conservative. He's a US nationalist, likes industrial agriculture (I live next to it and have no sympathy), doesn't talk about any other environmental issue (without population restraint and habitat conservation, no amount of energy will be worth a damn), and wants to call his position white green. This speech is enough to make me want to throw my wooden shoes into some industrial machine, only we don't have very many of them in the USA, any more. I'm feeling about this position about the way I feel about the W. Bush administration. They fucked up bad, spent decades--arguably centuries--and huge amounts of money avoiding the problem, and now they want to lead. Well, maybe. But they can bloody well show some respect for the people who showed them where the problem was, some compassion for the people whose lives they're still messing up and who are going to be doing the hands-on work, and ante up, damnit.

And I really want him to explain more about nuclear power. He can start with Iran and Israel and go on to explain how China is going to run a clean and honest nuclear waste management system.

Caw! Caw! Caw!

87:

Umm, that's quite an awful misrepresentation of what the guy actually said. Out of three firms he's investing in (what was that about "ante up" again? in what way isn't he "anteing up" by investing in them?) one produces wireless SCADA systems for buildings, in order to CONSERVE ENERGY, another produces dramatically more efficient servers, in order to, ah, CONSERVE ENERGY, and the other converts CO2 back into useful stuff.

Anyway, how do you know China can't run a clean and honest nuclear waste management system? They've been running a civilisation for 2,000 years. Not, perhaps, a degree of western arrogance there?

Meanwhile, I'm glad I followed the link just for the offshore wind porn: check it out.

88:

HK Willis- you have established that you are an ambulatory faeces producer and carrier.

Your accusations are laughable anyway. Can you point to anyone on here that says "Sure, I want to wallow in my own filth to show me how bad and evil my flesh is!"
I would definitely be for separating as much sewage from factories and such in order to avoid contamination.

As for the Oildrum.com, so far your suggestions make you look like you havnt got a clue. Have you actually read the site? Can you point to any examples of religious obeisances?


89:

Alex, it's accurate, if unsympathetic. I'm being a bit unfair to him to be sure--he has, indeed, ante-ed up. But he's taken a bunch of swipes at me and mine and he can deal. As for China, they aren't even controlling chemical pollution right now and they had a corrupt civil service when London was a minor outpost of Rome; I think it's perfectly reasonable to doubt that they--or anyone--is honest enough to deal well with nuclear power; it's a great technology, if you can hire saints and angels to manage and operate the plants and the fuel chain.

90:
and for every one made a tree would have to be planted somewhere to offset the carbon debt...
Remember that as long as you don't burn the shirt, that carbon is locked up. All I have to do is get enough people to order them that we manufacture a few million, and that's tons of carbon out of the atmo :-)
91:

Charlie, you really should take a look at those terrible rises in the sea level. The last time I looked, even by the biased IPCC estimates, it's something like 7mm a year (little different from what it's been since the end of the Ice Age). If we can't handle that, then we don't deserve to survive.

92:

Anyway, how do you know China can't run a clean and honest nuclear waste management system? They've been running a civilisation for 2,000 years. Not, perhaps, a degree of western arrogance there?

Yes, and it's all been going so smoothly!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_kingdoms
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sixteen_Kingdoms
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_and_Northern_Dynasties
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kublai_Khan
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taiping_Rebellion
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_Civil_War
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Leap_Forward
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_revolution

George C Scott: "Well, Mr President, I don't think it's fair to condemn the entire program because of one slip-up..."

China has had a pretty similar history to Europe, in terms of bloodshed, imperial collapse and civil war. Saying "Chinese civilisation has lasted 2,000 years" (why not 5,000?) is about as useful as saying "European civilisation has lasted since 200 BC".

93:

In his latest Viridian Note Bruce Sterling comments about a speech by ethernet inventor Bob Metcalfe on climate change. This is interesting for this thread here because Metcalfe doesn't want to be called Green, and in response Sterling links to a nice "map of Green politics" with the idea to add a "tech-money-green sector" for Metcalfe etc.

The map is here: green map (pdf)

Why do I comment this: because I think it helps to clarify some issues in this discussion.

94:

There's fundamentalists on both sides of the equation, either wooly green or messianic technophiles. Please ignore them.

The real question reduces to this:
Emissions are wealth times carbon intensity (measured in something like tons GHG per $ GDP). Tech drives up wealth and can drive down carbon intensity. If we need an X% cut in emissions, then that is only achievable if wealth goes up by X% less than carbon intensity goes down. So how much of an improvement in technology do we need, per year?

Let's talk hard numbers.

Given that there's increasingly credible evidence that we need to cut global emissions by 50% in 25 years, that demands that technology will deliver a 2% cut in carbon intensity a year, and another 2.5% cut to cope with economic growth of 2.5% a year.

So whatever technology we use, we need a 4.5% improvement in efficiency, every year, from now on. That's hard, quite probably too hard. I hope that comes to pass, and in optimistic moments I think it might. Hey, I live in NZ, where we get 70% of our electricity from hydro, geothermal and wind.

But an improvement of this level has never happened before. Right now, despite plenty of technological improvement, carbon intensity is flat and has been for ten years (figures in the Stern Review, Table 7.2).

Over the long term, the UK managed to cut carbon intensity by 1% a year from 1920-2000, using gas, oil and nukes to move away from coal. The best improvement I can find is the US between 1973 and 1986. They managed to cut energy intensity by 2.6% a year (and carbon intensity is roughly similar). What happened in 1973? The first oil shock. So even with dramatic events to push progress along, (and the ability to ship dirty manufacturing off to other nations) they could just about manage to stand still, not to cut emissions.
(Figures here: http://www.aceee.org/store/proddetail.cfm?CFID=1313&CFTOKEN=76068687&ItemID=87&CategoryID=7 and this submission to the Stern Report is worth a read as well:
http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/media/E2B/58/climatechange_drjatooze_1.pdf, which says:
"To achieve that goal, will require actions that are quite literally without historical precedent.")

Maybe the technology can improve fast enough. Maybe.

95:

There's a important difference, Jez, between things for which we need the technology to improve further, and things for which we need to deploy existing technology. The first is nonlinear and probabilistic, the second is a question of money and political will.

Compare the development of lithium-ion batteries, a first-type problem which now looks solved or nearly so, and their roll-out into vehicles, a problem which is soluble as soon as it's profitable.

Stanford estimates that there are 72 terawatts of wind power out there in the top three site classifications, when total primary energy consumption is estimated around 14. The answer for a lot of this stuff is "build, baby, build!"

96:

Oops, no. It would appear that the sea might rise by as much as 30cm by the end of the century i.e. about 3mm/year, not 7mm. Gosh, I just don't know how we're going to keep all those Polar bear corpses from floating into our living rooms.

97:

I'm why I call myself an eco-realist.

There's a lot of cash to be made in recycling (home* and industrial), in alternate, safer and less poluting synthesis methods, in...

(*Garbage sorting and high temperate inceration power plants. They work, they're safe and the sorting plant means things actually GET recycled, home sorting schemes are a costly waste of time)

Fund them.

Power? Nuclear. Modern PWG reactors are a LOT cleaner than oil, coal or gas. Stuff the howls of the green loonies.

And so on.

I have no faith in soloutions which come a decade or more down the line, but there's a lot we could, and should, do today.

Take, for example, the fuel cells which can extract hydrogen from petrol, and burn it. Halves effective fuel usage. Let's PUSH that sort of technology!

Given the recent discovery that the Clathradate (sp) beds are far less stable than previously thought...well, if THEY go we'd be looking at over 10C.

Neal, those are based on the basic assumption that a linear temperature rise will cause a linear rise in sea level. Whoops.


Also Zeps would be both practical and cool. We don't need to build flying bombs these days, and we should get over old disasters. Plus long distance transport in the UK which dosn't depend on the crappy rail network would be nifty.

98:

If I look out of my window I can (just about) see the biggest offshore windfarm in Europe (now they've demolished the coal fired power station that used to block the view) The mills aren't turning. Why? Because the company decided not to bury the cable bringing the power to the shore. 5 years of the North Sea rolling and tumbling an unburied, unarmoured cable means... no cable. Why? Because they thought it was too expensive.

That's what an unregulated, privatised power sector does for you.

Laugh at rising sea levels if you will. I left Cambridge because I don't like wet feet. Last time I was there (about 8 months ago) it looked like I'd made the right decision.

99:

SpeakerToManagers - All I have to do is get enough people to order them that we manufacture a few million, and that's tons of carbon out of the atmo :-)
I love it.

100:
the British government (who would prefer not to believe in it because if confirmed, it will prove extremely expensive to them),

Don't you mean that it will prove extremely expensive to the British taxpayer? Last time I checked, the British government didn't have any cash of its own.

The worry for British politicians would, I imagine, be that tax increases to fix global warming would lead to riots that would make the Poll Tax rioting look small, and the fall of the government that put those taxes in place, with years of losses at the polls to follow.

The Blair government however, seems eager to implement a poll tax of sorts with the ID card (which is still live, right?), so maybe they aren't even thinking along those lines, or maybe they do think along those lines, but regard the new laws against terrorism and social control devices (like CCTV) as sufficient to put down riots on the scale of the Poll Tax ones, but not good enough to deal with the second coming of Wat Tyler.

101:

Alex, personally I have a technical term for electric cars with lithium-ion batteries: "bombs".

Batteries, lest we forget, are electrochemical energy stores. The more energy we stick in them, the greater the risk that they'll let it all out again in a hurry. Lithium is not the most stable of metals, and last year's fiasco involving Sony's battery division should be a wake-up call. I'm not sanguine about the idea of a car or delivery van emulating a laptop -- or about the fun'n'games that will ensue with the emergency services when they start having to apply the jaws of life to crumpled wrecks with hundred amp power cables running through them.

Petrol and diesel (and ethanol or methanol) are astonishingly safe for a liquid with such a high energy density.

102:

Thought experiment of the day:

If oil was radioactive, i.e. more unhealthy than it is now, does anyone have any doubt that all available deposits of it would be used up regardless. Maybe not by you or I, but by someone, somewhere.

103:

Charlie, and even moreso for hydrogen tanks. Which is why I'm so interested in the hydrogen-leeching fuel cell. You can use the same fuel, and get about twice the efficientcy.

It still falls short in efficientcy of a hydrogen tank, but it uses existing infrastructure, and...

104:

Hydrogen requires new infrastructure -- pipes need to be wider gauge to carry the same energy density of gas, and it tends to leak.

Far better to go with biosynthetic diesel and diesel-electric hybrids, according to the last time Scientific American did a survey of the field: the diesel/hybrid fuel cycle is ferociously efficient and doesn't entail the transmission losses and production of hydrogen. (Remember, H2 has to come from somewhere: typically electrolysis of water, which means electricity from some other source. Whereas you can make a fair semblance of diesel oil out of most any kind of organic crap, including low-grade coal.)

105:

'personally I have a technical term for electric cars with lithium-ion batteries: "bombs"' This differs from cars with tanks full of highly-explosive light hydrocarbons...how? Either way, it's an engineering problem. It's been solved for gasoline and I don't see any reason, yet, to assume it can't be solved for lithium-ion batteries.

As to the main subject, what's bothered me about this whole discussion is that the mystics and the scientists (and a few sharp foresters and farmers) were out there, warning us about the environmental risks, before any of us "rational" types were willing even to consider the possibility. So I think we owe these people attention and respect, however much it unsettles us.

106:

Charlie, you're missing the point.

The fuel cells I'm talking about uses the same petrol as crrent pumps give. It uses a membrane filter to leech hydrogen from it. Zero new fuel infrastructure.

Also, the production of diesel oil, specially if done with poor quality control, can be highly populting (especially to groundwater).

Hybrid? Ah right, the fuel gets burned at the power station, there's transmission loss, the battery charges, there's storage loss, THEN it drives the car.

107:

Andrew: I'm talking about hybrid diesel/electric power trains in the vehicles, not burning diesel in power stations. (I should note that diesel isn't a popular fuel for cars in the USA, but it's popular over here -- where the standard is lower in sulphur and less polluting, and petrol costs are taxed so high that getting an extra 10% mileage is well worth it for most drivers.)

108:

Charlie, the plug-in hybrids *do* use li-ion batteries.

Anyway, if oil was radioactive...what if oil was discovered today? It's toxic, it's non-renewable, it burns producing masses of CO2 and NOx, it requires huge investment to find it, extract it and turn it into something useful, the technology used to convert its energy content to work is insanely inefficient. And they're suggesting putting tanks of explosive, volatile liquid in motor vehicles!

Not to mention that so much of the stuff appears to be under Saudi Arabia, Russia and Nigeria. We wouldn't even think about it.

Andrew Crystall: even adding up the grid loss and the charging inefficiency, electric propulsion comes out way in front - electric motors can be 90 per cent efficient, without needing a geared drivetrain.

109:

Also, if you were going to put fuel cells in vehicles (which means an electric drivetrain), why go to all that expense just to burn oil? Far better have regenerative ones and charge up with electricity produced from $whatever.

110:

We certainly wouldnt even think about it - but all those choking under huge clouds of coal would stand by marvelling and how clean and easy to use the oil is, while also being a whole lot healthier. A miracle fuel source that, in addition to heating your home, can give you your recommended daily intake of sunshine units.

111:

Alex, the hybrid cars used don't come out in front. Pure electric cars, sure, but they're low-performance.

"put fuel cells in vehicles (which means an electric drivetrain)"

No, it does not. That is one, low-performance, design.

112:

test

113:

"Neal, those are based on the basic assumption that a linear temperature rise will cause a linear rise in sea level. Whoops."

No, that 30cm over all is based on the rate of increase continuing. It is supposed to be the worst case scenario. Anyway, the hair shirts put the worst possible spin on it all: recycle your waste or burn in Hell forever.

114:
recycle your waste or burn in Hell forever.
Which brings to mind another point about toxic effluent from industrial accidents. Anyone out there ever been downwind from a latrine fire? I have, and it's worse than being downwind from a burning tire dump (also experienced, thank you, gods of the olfactory).
115:

The point of hybrids is that petrochemicals are much denser energy storage than batteries, at least to date, and can produce higher burst power rates. So you get immediate acceleration from the gas, cruise from the batteries, and you keep the batteries up to useful charge by burning gas at the optimum part of the engines power/rpm curve, and by regenerative braking. On top of which, you don't really care what kind of fuel you burn in what kind of engine, since it can be optimized much better than the standard IC design, especially with all the anti-pollution devices hung off it. So you burn biomass ethanol in a diesel, and the worst pollutant is particulates. That ought to be easier to deal with than NOx. And the engine is probably cheaper than an inline 4 cylinder IC engine with the same power; it's the electric part that costs so much right now.

Oh, about hydrogen? The energy density sucks bigtime, and the stuff is hard to keep hold of as a gas (it tends to go through most tankage over time). Clathrates and metal hydrides work better, but they take energy to make, too. Fuel-air fuel cells make a lot more sense.

116:

I think it's customary to link to the Tesla Motors blog at this juncture.

117:

No, Neal, it's based on the faulty assumtion of a linear curve, completely ignoring decades of science.

Again, I'm not a green. Your sort of "it wil be okay regardless of what happens" head-in-the-sand attitude, ignoring climate science and the effects which we are allready begining to see of "just" a few centimeters and a few degrees, however...

That attitude was excuseable in the 70's, when we didn't understand the science. These days, however, especially in light of issues such as Global Dimming, which has buffered much of the changes (but is going to be reduced drasically) and which the data you refer to completely fails to take into account...

Oh, and the best thing to do is to burn much of the waste for power. Including paper - recyling most paper (not newspaper, though...) is actually less environmentally friendly.

118:

I have the downloaded info sheet (all 71 pages) from the HAdley centre, the MET office climate change unit. It has 30cm for a medium high emissions scenario. Personally I'm getting rather worried about ocean acidification.
It can be found here:
http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/research/hadleycentre/models/modeldata.html

My test post above was done after two posts failed to post, for no readily apparent reason.

119:

Guthrie, "based on IS92a". That's... somewhat obselete (80's). I'd be looking at SRES-based studies, and even the reports based off that have been heavily criticised for being far too optimistic.

Regardless, those models are wrong - they were created well before the effects of global dimming and shallow clathrates beds were understood.

The political bias of the upcomming IPCC study should lay to rest their value. It downgrades, against the data, a lot of impact factors, and dosn't take nearly enough account of the impacts of the ongoing reduction in the global dimming in European regions.


"However, Julian Morris, executive director of the International Policy Network, urged governments to be cautious. "There needs to be better data before billions of pounds are spent on policy measures that may have little impact," he said."

Nuts. Taking sensible, and indeed profitable and long-range sensible even without climate change measures now is a GOOD idea.

120:

Andrew, I don't have my head in the sand. I just take a look at the AGW 'watermelons' who preach gloom and disaster and reckon the cure is very likely to be worse than the disease.

121:

Thats interesting Andrew- I wonder why they havnt updated their information pack yet?

Do you have any links to shallow clathrate bed information? I was under the impression there weren't toooooo many around.

Neal, the problem is that we have a wide spread of people. You can find people on any topic from mimimum wages to retirement to faces on Mars, who will hold somewhat non-mainstream views. If the definition of an environmentalist is a desire to destroy much of modern civilisation and return to things like they were a thousand years ago, then I am not an environmentalist. If you define is as someone who is willing to face some restrictions on what they can do and consume, in order to ensure that the earth stays in good shape and ecosystems function well, then I am most definitely an environmentalist.

So, looking at Global warming- we know things are unlikely to be as bad as the "WE're all gonna die" folks say. But there are not that many of them, and meanwhile the science carries merrily onwards. I have yet to see, from those who think the cure for global warming will be worse than the reality of it, produce any scientific studies investigating the pros and cons of global warming (I am not counting op eds quoting some of the work done involving fertilisation by excess CO2).
The same goes for economic studies. Where are all these studies showing how the various schemes to restrict carbon emissions will cause everything to go pear shaped?

122:

"Remember, H2 has to come from somewhere: typically electrolysis of water, which means electricity from some other source"

Surely an application for solar power? Site your H2 generation plants on equatorial coasts and use solar electricity for desalination and H2O cracking?

Of course, you're going to end up with a metric shitload of salt, but people will still be eating chips, right?

Cheers!

Jim

123:

""Remember, H2 has to come from somewhere: typically electrolysis of water, which means electricity from some other source"

Surely an application for solar power? Site your H2 generation plants on equatorial coasts and use solar electricity for desalination and H2O cracking?"

You can also produce hydrogen from water via photocatalysis, using incipient photons to promote chemical dissociation at ambient temperature. It is quite interesting, which is why there's a fair amount of research on this area. No major thermal issues, no major industrial sites needed for hydrogen production (manufacture of photocatalytic material will of course be a major industrial endeavour), and possibly no centralised distribution network.

There's also some research into the production of H2 from anaerobic digestion of agricultural waste, which would be a nice secondary source of fuel.

Of course storage is still a major issue. Solid-state storage in nanostructures, metal hydrides or complex hydrides would be preferable to gas storage, but once again there is still a lot of research to be done.

124:

Neal, and has what I posted here been "worse than the disease"? It's a common sense approach which uses statistics rather than any kneejerk reaction - hence, for example, I call for nuclear power since it's one which is reasonably priced in todays market, AND is clean.

guthrie, on follow up I can't find those articles again, which is interesting. It might have been incorrect, and I have to view their existance as highly suspect until I CAN find something.

For fuel cells in cars, see: http://www.tyndall.ac.uk/publications/working_papers/wp19.pdf

$2-$4k is NOT a major cost when you're doubling your fuel efficientcy using a cell which leeches hydrogen from petrol! (Although in countries with less stringent standards on fuel composition, the filters for that will add more...)

And that's 2002. Where's the progress!?

125:

$2-$4k is NOT a major cost when you're doubling your fuel efficientcy using a cell which leeches hydrogen from petrol!

Even halving the cost of fuel would basically cause the car to break even over 5 year period for me. And since I'd likely have a loan and the cost of the more efficient vehicle is upfront, I'd want even higher efficiency before I'd consider it.

I suppose it would be good for people who drive more than me. My wife and I only do about 10,000 miles a year between us.

126:

The progress? Right here.

Good batteries mean wind power is a transport fuel.

127:

Just a note. Charles, you are new to me. Just picked up Accelerando and I gotta say, it's the book I wish I'd written. Brillinat d so far. On page 141. That said I have to argue a small point about about the subject in which these comments are pointed.

"Climate change is a technologically-induced problem."

There's mounting evidence that it's not entirely our doing. Earth's magnetic polarity is on the verge of flipping which, we're not entirely keen on climatic consequences (it's been 780000 years since it happened last,) may be a global warming culprit. The flipping is entirely natural and cyclical. The magnetic field which protects us from cosmic radiation is weakened during a flip which according to scientists has already begun. There are also claims being made that an increase in the sun's output may be at fault as well. I'm just waiting for someone to tie it all together. Maybe the sun and earth are sentient and communicate through magnetic field fluctuations. Global warming may just be a side effect of a "heated" argument. heh. Feel free to use that for your next book.

128:

Last I read we had a few thousand years before the poles might flip. Secondly, there is little to no evidence for an increase in solar activity. Claims are made, but so far little substantiated. Athropogenic CO2 is the clear culprit for much of the past few decades of warming.

129:

While I see where you're coming from here, be very very careful not to fall into the trap David Roberts outlines here, whereby people seeking to, as he puts it, "distance themselves from the dirty hippies" just end up giving rhetorical ammunition to denialists and industry astroturfers.

I tend to agree with him: while people on the Internet agitating for the dismantling of Western civilization bother me too, these people are not really the big problem right now; the big problem is industry groups trying to convince us there is no problem, and politicians who listen to them. The dirty hippies are only a problem indirectly in that they fuel this distancing phenomenon. And the people on the anti-environmentalist side are slippery enough to grab onto anything you say and twist it to their purposes. While I'm all for taking apart genuine hysterics and unrealistic proposals, it absolutely has to be done with this in mind, and with a willingness to jump on misuses of the debunkery.

130:

Population note: falling fertility is NOT a 1st-world or "Western" phenomenon, or at least it isn't any more. Examples of countries with subreplacement fertility now include:

Algeria
Tunisia
Turkey
Iran
(probably, or nearly) Indonesia
Brazil
Sri Lanka

etc. In fact, well over half the world now lives in countries with sub-replacement fertility, and India will join China in that category within 10 years.

There are now _no_ countries in the world with fertility levels as high as the highest a generation ago -- the two highest in the world today are around TFR's of 7 children per woman, and levels over 8 used to be common.

Morroco went from around 8 to around 2.3 since the 1970's. Iran went from over 6 to 1.8 in only 15 years.

Even sub-saharan Africa and the more benighted parts of the House of Islam have seen 50% drops in the last 20 years. For example, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia now have TFR's about the same as the US did in 1962.

131:

Population note deux: it's now inevitable that the world population will top out soon.

Between 2020 and 2050, and probably closer to the former than the latter. There will be fewer people in 2100 than there are now -- possibly many fewer.

The world TFR is now 2.59 and falling fast towards 2.1, nor will it stop there. After that, only demographic inertia will keep population growing for a while... probably a fairly short while. By mid-century, Pakistan will have the sort of demographics Japan and Germany have now -- except that it'll still be much, much poorer than they are now.

So there will never be 11 billion people, or 9 billion; probably not 8 billion and quite possibly never as many as 7 billion.

And falling populations have LOTS OF NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES.

They're also _aging_ populations. they don't have A-shaped popualtion pyramids, they have V-shaped population "deltas". Each generation is smaller than the one that follows, so the proportion of dependent and frail elderly continually increases as the total population falls. It's geometric progression in malignant reverse.

And unlike a population with a lot of underage dependents, the old don't mature into workers and taxpayers. They just gobble up more and more resources, particularly in their last 12 months.

This is going to be a real nightmare in countries like China, where the drop in TFR was so sudden -- they've got huge "bulges" of oldsters coming on.

Their populations will be graphically best represented by a mushroom -- a huge mass of the dependent old perched on a tiny, fragile stick of working-age people.

Then it will get, not better, but a little less bad, as they shift to V-form.

Sub-replacement fertility is as unsustainable in the long run as very high fertility.

132:

"Last I read we had a few thousand years before the poles might flip. Secondly, there is little to no evidence for an increase in solar activity. Claims are made, but so far little substantiated. Athropogenic CO2 is the clear culprit for much of the past few decades of warming."

Bologna. There is much evidence. Do your research. The clear culprit is alarmists and Chicken Little. Human industry is responsible for one dent in a natural head on collision. The Singularity nor the hippies can stop it.

133:

'On Mars, when its magnetic field failed permanently billions of years ago, it led to its atmosphere being boiled off. On Earth, it will heat up the upper atmosphere and send ripples round the world with enormous, unpredictable effects on the climate.'

from 2002:
http://observer.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,837058,00.html

134:

Charlie, you really are a little behind the times. Your impression of the traditional sins of environmentalism is quite correct, but that form of the movement is withering with the generation that spawned it. If you want a tech-friendly, non-cultish central clearing house for information on a carbon-neutral future, check out WorldChanging.com, which Bruce Sterling has called "the most important website on the planet." There are still a few evangelical types hanging around the site, but most of the people I've met (as a contributor) don't want to give up their flat-screen TVs and Carribbean vacations. This site is all about having our cake and eating it too, and it represents where 'environmentalism' as a movement is headed.

135:

Karl: yeah, I'm with Bruce on the right way forward. (It's my impression, though, that it's going to take a lot of work before the WorldChanging agenda makes a big impact on the public consciousness -- which tends to hang on to old misconceptions long after the cutting edge has cut.)

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on January 5, 2007 12:16 PM.

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