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    • The math in this article is beyond me (math was never my forte) but apparently it has been checked carefully.

      As a quick and fairly easy action why not plant a tree. If we all did that, would it help?

      Trees are great, very popular, and useful besides helping the environment.

      This article goes through all of the math... don't want to be a spoiler here...please read it.

    • Very interesting article. I'm all for reforesting North Dakota and Nevada! I'm in!

      It does seem like if we can even do a fraction of planting one tree for every person, that could do wonders for our environment. Nature has a built in weapon to lower CO2 levels in trees. It seems like we need to take full advantage of their abilities. 

    • Both Wired articles are behind a paywall for me, but I assume that they boil down to this simple truth again: every single tree contains a certain amount of CO2. Burning a tree releases this much CO2, while planting a tree (and waiting for it to grow) captures approximately the same amount again.

      If the amount of adult trees world-wide goes down, it makes sense to plant more new ones than are being cut down. However, all of this will not change the fact that we're currently not only releasing CO2 that has been captured in the last generation of trees, but also CO2 that has been captured (and been safely stored away ever since) millions of years ago. That's what fossil fuels are.

      Assuming that most fossil fuels have been in the ground for some hundred million years, then it makes sense to come to the conclusion that burning all of them would lead to a climate similar to some hundred million years ago. By just eyeballing this figure, that seems to put us on the wrong side of the RCP6 scenario:

      That being said, while planting some trees alone won't save us, it can be a tool to raise even more awareness about our situation. Also, having some high but ultimately realistic goal to reach can turn out to be important psychologically in an otherwise pretty hostile environment.

      I was happy to learn about #teamtrees on Friday. This is a group of YouTubers that wants to raise enough money to plant 20 million trees by the end of this year. They already passed 6 million trees in just those last few days, so it seems realistic for them to reach or even surpass that goal. If you don't have the space to plant one (or a dozen) trees yourself, consider donating here, or on one of the many YouTube videos that can be found using the above hashtag:

    • For the last 30 minutes, I've been trying to find a YouTube video I watched that I so wanted to get @Factotum 's view on. Couldn't find it, damn. It was just published in the last week, I think. It's a guy giving a lecture at a conference, His points were (1) we can't get to carbon neutral by 2030. The maths are impossible given current trends. (2) getting to carbon neutral locks in the rate of global warming, it doesn't stop it. It just stops it accelerating.

      It was an amazing talk and I only got half way through it. Can't understand why I can't find it.

    • I searched everywhere, spending 30 minutes. Turns out I was using the Reddit app on my iPad, stumbled upon the link to it, which opened it in the Reddit browser pop-up, which played it not logged in. Pheh. Anyway, I linked it. 👍

    • First of all, the person doing the presentation comes across as a bit unsympathetic in my opinion - especially when begging for oil people to "take the olive branch", or while being overly dismissive towards the first person asking a question at the end of the talk. I'm trying to not let that cloud my judgment, but it is what it is.

      With that out of the way, trying to go through his points chronologically:

      At the beginning, he states how achieving net zero emissions would have basically no effect, because it would just stop the rate of "heat being added" to increase, but not stop the addition in itself. He compares this to a car that stops accelerating but still drives towards a cliff at constant speed.

      I'm not sure that this is totally correct. Apparently, there has been a strong correlation between the amount (in ppm) of CO2 in the atmosphere and average temperatures in the past. If what he postulated was true, wouldn't we see this correlation not between amount of CO2 and temperature, but between amount of CO2 and the relative change in temperature over some time frame?

      Instead, what is probably more correct than his car-vs-cliff analogy is the idea that our climate system is somewhat inert and in a way "lags behind" whatever changes we might be making today or tomorrow. It's more like a ship on the ocean: you might stop the engines, but the ship will continue to move in its current heading for a while. It will eventually stop due to drag - but if you expect it to hit an iceberg before it has stopped that way, you'd better reverse engines instead of just turning them off.

      So, his statement of achieving net zero emissions having no effect must be wrong. What it already does is changing the eventual equilibrium of the world's climate - perhaps not from bad to good, but at least from bad to less bad.

      What he is right about is the idea that achieving net zero emissions alone is not enough. If, in sum of everything that happens on the planet, down to the last tree that is being planted, we will be at net zero emissions of CO2 and their equivalents, that means that whatever amount of CO2 is in the atmosphere at that point will stay there forever - leading to global temperatures increasing up to some point. If we want to return to the average climate of today, or of 1900, or even of 1800, then we need to bring CO2 levels in the atmosphere down to those past levels. We need to take it out of the atmosphere and do something else with it, whatever that may be.

      His idea is to use some carbon-neutral form of energy to create synthetic fuels - although I'm not sure I get his strategy of then selling these fuels to be used instead of fossil fuels. If you perform that whole carbon-neutral process just to then burn the fuel again (and thus emit its CO2 equivalent back into the atmosphere), nothing is won. To actually achieve more than net zero emissions, a good portion of the synthethic fuel created that way would need to be safely stored away forever, not burned. I don't think there's any actual carbon-negative form of energy (not even nuclear), so him casually omitting that part is... weird.

      Last but not least... nuclear energy. There are several statements in that part of his talk that raise some eyebrows. I don't know enough to claim that they are wrong, but perhaps someone else can help out here. I will just list the most prominent ones:

      - Many nuclear hazards that we're trying to prevent are actually impossible in the first place.
      - Not a single person was hurt at Fukushima.
      - After Chernobyl, only one of the isotopes released (Iodine-131) led to any health problems at all.
      - It is safe to build 40.000 1960s-style light-water reactors across the globe while reducing nuclear safety to an absolute minimum (for example operating each reactor with 30 rather than 800 people).
      - Most nuclear waste doesn't need to be dealt with in ways we currently try to do, like permanent, safe storage.

      For what it's worth, building 40.000 reactors means that there would be one per ~200.000 people. To put that into perspective, that would be something on the order of 40 reactors in New York City, or over 400 in Germany. I'm not sure that this is either realistic or desirable.

    • Thank you, Factotum, for a truly awesome response. Last night after I rediscovered the video, I watched the beginning half again and all the rest. Interesting that it already has 150,000 views and the comments are turned off. Must be controversial.

      I generally agree with everything you wrote. He was so adamant about some pretty bold statements that I wanted him to justify. And he was so dismissive of things like the risk of nuclear.

      When I was in college, I told a few friends that I was going to change my major from geophysics to nuclear, because I thought oil & coal were dirty and dangerous. I made many of the arguments then that he is making now. But I blinked when I thought about how no matter how safe nuclear really is, the public will always think of nuclear bombs. I’ve wondered what a career in nuclear would have meant for me.

      Bill Gates seems to be making cogent arguments without the bombast, but I get the feeling that even he is losing faith after the administration decided he can’t build a pilot with the Chinese.

    • no matter how safe nuclear really is, the public will always think of nuclear bombs.

      This is true. I grew up in a time where a nuclear reactor exploding some countries away meant that I wasn't allowed to play outside for quite some time - that I wasn't allowed some foods I liked - that I saw my parents dig over the garden I helped plant. I grew up reading a children's book about a reactor accident in Germany, which gave me nightmares for weeks, although for reasons only semi-related to the nuclear hazards described in the book. I remember a cartoon that was shown on kids TV about an elderly couple surviving a nuclear attack but eventually succumbing to radiation effects.

      In hindsight, all of that was very crazy and likely shouldn't have been dumped on a whole generation of unsuspecting kids - but those were the times living close to the iron curtain, in a country that was basically the staging area for World War III.

      All of that is probably worth a separate conversation. Here, it's just meant as a reason why just mentioning the word "nuclear" is able to shut down a discussion with a whole generation of people. The Green party, at least here in Germany, has "anti-nuclear" in their DNA. Exactly those people who are most concerned about our climate are people who are opposed to nuclear technology.

      Maybe nuclear power is the "lesser evil". The areas affected by the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters are small compared to the area affected by global heating and the climate crisis in general, so maybe having about four of those accidents per century going forward might not be the end of the world, relatively speaking. Still, I think it is unrealistic to believe that any of that will happen. If nuclear power is our only way out, I guess we're doomed.

    • Thank you for that explanation. Here in the United States, we see articles about Germany and France closing nuclear power plants and not opening new ones and it makes me wonder why. I assumed the old plants were no longer economic and new ones were too expensive. I didn’t realize you had the same fears of nuclear we have.

      The HBO show Chernobyl was very popular here and I think it is because the idea of a nuclear meltdown is so frightening.

    • Yes. Here in Germany, nuclear power generation has stagnated since the 1980s, due to public pressure. There has been some back and forth on the eventual date for complete phase-out, but it is now expected to happen by 2022.

      Currently there are only seven reactors still operating, and there have been less than 40 in operation at all. Compare that to the 400-ish that would be Germany's "fair share" of the 40,000 suggested to be built for carbon capture.

    • I see quite a few pro-nuclear articles like this one and they spend some time talking about Germany. Honestly, I don’t know what to think. If these innovative new plants from Russia work, then they seem great, but work means no huge accidents and how can you reliably predict those?

    • It not about predicting huge accidents, it's about designing reactors so they don't have catastrophic failure modes. Like, for example. pebble bed reactors (there are other designs as well). The main insight is the need for the reactors to be passively safe, which means that if the operation is interrupted at any time the reactor just shuts down by itself and remains contained.

      But, for various (political and other) reasons, we have lost precious decades we could have used to perfect those types of reactors, and here we are, at the time when they would really help in decarbonising our economies.

    • You and @Factotum might really like part 3 of the Netflix series, Inside Bill’s Brain, because it’s all about TerraPower, the company Gates has been funding for a long time. It sounds like they have framed the nuclear problem exactly right and they were ready to build a pilot in China until the U.S. stopped it because trade disputes. Bill has done a lot to cultivate a relationship with President Xi and his wife, China in general, and they seem very motivated.

      I’m in the camp of we need to give TerraPower a shot.