Dwindling of Arctic's oldest ice since 1990

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I think we’re done. It’s far too easy for moneyed interests to break up any support that might congeal around climate action. Moreover, when you get right down to it, the majority of people don’t want to accept personal changes to their own lives - indefinitely - that would reduce convenience in some instances but massively benefit their children and many generations into the future.

I mean, I’m sure we’ve all switched out our light bulbs, but how many have given up our cars, foregone that new piece of tech, or transitioned to a plant based diet. I know there are valid excuses why making these and other changes are difficult or infeasible for a lot of people, but that’s why it’s called sacrifice. I think it’s hard to ask industry or governments to change when - deep down - the populations supporting those institutions don’t really want it.

It’s sad. For all the wonderful things we’ve dreamed up as a species, we’re still just like a bunch of screaming horses in a flaming barn.

Roy Scranton’s Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization is an excellent book for those who are tired of the entire scrum.


It’s too late to be “alarmed,” everything says to me the damage is already done. We’re past the point of mitigating climate change and are now at the point where we need to figure out how we’re going to live with it.

(insert the Newsroom climate change interview here)


We are most certainly not “done”. Count me in as a serious alarmist (I’ve been working with climate models professionally for nearly a decade). But there’s a huge open space between “I don’t believe it’s happening” and “we’re doomed”, to be filled with human ingenuity, innovation, and the boundless energy of the human species to find ways to prosper. One of the most important recent findings in climate science is that once we stop emitting greenhouse gases, the warming stops almost immediately(*). The planet won’t cool again for thousands of years, so we’ll be stuck at whatever new global average temperature we got to. But it means that we have everything left to play for - our only enemy is our own intransigence.


In 1988 James Hansen told congress that the earth was warming and it was almost certainly the product of human action. What about the interceding 28 years has given you confidence that we - as a species - are capable of maturely dealing with this crisis?

Our MO up until this point has been to hit the snooze button. I’m simply saying that we will continue to do this until it is too difficult to sleep through Bangladesh sinking into the sea. But at that point the debuff of climate change will have too many dots on us.

To maintain the complex international policy arrangements necessary to meaningfully reduce emissions, the world needs to be in a fairly stable place, and global northerners (like ourselves) will have to make massive transfer payments to global southerners (because that is what is owed and that is what is fair). Massive migration due to climate disruption tends to destabilize. Sufficient policy doesn’t materialize without sufficient resources. And rich, mostly white, countries aren’t in the habit of paying reparations (climate or otherwise) for the harms that they are very clearly responsible for.

I seriously hope you’re right. I vote and try to conduct my life in a way that supports climate action, but I just don’t share your faith in humanity.


Well we already have all the technology we need to address the problem, and the rate of deployment is growing exponentially. Already more people work in the renewable energy sector than the coal, oil and gas sectors combined. Several countries have already hit 100% renewable electricity for short periods this year. This stuff fuels my optimism: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jun/01/renewable-energy-smashes-global-records-in-2015-report-shows

Yeah, there are plenty of ways we can fail, and there’s a hell of a lot of inertia in the system. But saying that we’re doomed is likely to be a self-fulfulling prophesy. I don’t want to downplay the scale and the urgency of the challenge - we have to get to net zero global emissions within 40-50 years. But remember that almost none of the technology we use today existed 40-50 years ago. It’s perfectly possible for us to choose a pathway that will take us there.


I agree. I would go further and say that we’ve had technology to meaningfully impact the amount of carbon in our atmosphere since we knew climate change existed in late the 80s. At that time it would have been possible to push nuclear instead of coal, force higher fuel standards, encourage densification and complete communities, and transition agricultural subsidies from intensive practices like meat production to veggies. All of those would have had tremendous effects on the situation we are in today, but that didn’t happen. Nuclear was spooky and fossil fuel barons are rich, North 'Muricans like their trucks, people are horrible NIMBY’s, and bacon is like a god to a discouraging number of people. To me this says global warming is far more a social issue than it is a technological one.

My concern is that collectively we are like a person who has never saved for retirement. We’re 55 and figure we should probably get on it. And while it is technically feasible to starve ourselves every month and go whole-hog in the stock market to try to get to a number where we won’t have to die at our desk, the chance of doing so is not in our favour. Having better technology in this analogy would be like your daughter downloading you a new budgeting app – helpful, sure, but not the point.

I don’t think technology will save us, because it hasn’t meaningfully mitigated this problem in the past when we’ve had the ability to do so.

And just to be completely clear, I view a species wide failure on this matter as exceeding the 2C degree change in average temperature that would lead to catastrophic and broadly experienced effects.


This is an excellent analogy, but not because it validates the doomer ethos, just the opposite. A 55 year old just starting to save for retirement would not necessarily need to “starve himself every month and go whole hog in the stock market” to have a good end-of-life. A 55 year old just starting to save for retirement is late and in danger, but he’s not 100% guaranteed to die before 70 on Skid Row. The level of doomer BS in the analogy is almost equal in type and extent to the level of doomer BS in your prognostication about mankind as a whole.

SME is correct. We have both the technical and institutional capacity to deal with AGW effectively. I suspect we will do so, albeit not without severe social dislocation, mass migration and regional warfare. Mankind has survived some rather dire incidents of mass stupidity in the past 100 years; it’s reasonable to assume we may do so again going forward. Not guaranteed, but nothing is.


I think you missed the point of my analogy (thank you for the accolades though). What I was trying to convey was that success in implementing a change of any sort (whether that be mitigating the most devastating effects of climate change or preparing for a comfortable retirement) is most successful when done in small iterative amounts and over time. Given the chance to bet on the retirement wellness of a person who had diligently saved and invested since they were 20 or the individual with no prior history of saving who wants to develop all those skills in one go and with a smaller time frame, I would bet on the former – every time.

I clearly stated in that analogy that it’s technically feasible that the 55 year old person could pull it off, just as we might with averting 2C of warming. But I firmly believe that the smart money is not on us doing so. I believe this is the case because of what we have proven ourselves likely to do in the last 28 years, which is nothing. C02 emissions are still accelerating after all.

I agree with you that we’ve survived a lot of things, but think about the character of those things: war, disease, natural disasters, and famine. They happen at a certain cadence and societies can survive them should they not happen too frequently. The promise of climate change is an acceleration of those events. How many of these can a state survive and under what time frame?

That is my doom scenario. Nations will wither under the strain and those least responsible for climate change will bare the worst of its effects.

How bloody does your success scenario get?

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I think you’re going to have to paint a little finer with that brush, because the Inuit and Saami haven’t contributed in any meaningful way to Palau slowly sinking into the South Pacific, and have themselves had to deal with climate change’s effects. If public transit worked where I live, I’d take it, but it’s slow and unreliable; I’m lucky that just now I have the chance at a job that will let me walk to work. Let’s go for sustainable and somewhat more, because you won’t get much support by outlawing someone’s monthly BLT.

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I love how pointing out that technology and economics aren’t magic gets one labeled as a “doomer” and shunned from discussions where it’s really relevant how those things actually work.

We produce more than enough food calories to prevent all human beings from starving to death. We have the capacity to produce the medicines necessary to prevent thousands of deaths per year from disease. And we consistently fail to do these things – people still die from starvation and preventable diseases.

Having the raw materials to solve a problem isn’t enough. You also have to solve your logistics problems. In this case, that involves either finding an implementation of capitalism that treats starving people as a problem instead of a price-gouging opportunity, or solving the problems with command/control economies that have prevented anyone from demonstrating a working one.

There are physical issues with deploying renewable technologies as well, but if I talk about any of those people will just dance in circles chanting “doooomer” and pointing because that’s how intelligent people discuss serious issues.


“Après moi, le déluge”

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I think the notion of “global northerners” is clear enough without nitpicking that there are some peoples who live at high northern latitudes that do not contribute significantly to global warming.

Well, actually the Inuit use motorboats and snowmobiles now instead of kayaks and dogsleds and they shop at supermarkets and use refrigeration, so they do actually contribute to global warming by participating in western industrial society, but whatever.


A distinction without a difference is one vote for the status quo.

Just so. A few years back they objected to outsider in turn objecting to their protecting their traditional way of life: Going out in a traditional metal boat with a traditional outboard motor and traditional GPS, dressed in traditional Gore-Tex outer-wear, and blasting a whale with a traditional anti-tank rifle.


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