• Log In
  • Sign Up
    • David Wallace-Wells' new book, The Uninhabitable Earth is an expansion of his 2017 article in New York magazine (annotated version here). As you might gather from the title, he paints a bleak picture of the coming climate catastrophe. He is a journalist, but he has done his homework--the facts he presents are extensively annotated. The short list of coming attractions includes hunger, drowning, wildfire, heat death, fresh water shortage, economic collapse, mass migrations, unbreathable air, war and more. It's difficult to comprehend the enormity of problem; it's worse than you think.

      While we are constantly hearing about new technological solutions, the bottom line is not promising. About half the greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere have occurred in the past 30 years, well after scientists sounded the alarm about the threat of global warming. Newer clean power sources are being used, but the world's appetite for power is also increasing, and old technologies are not being phased out nearly fast enough. The total, world-wide output of solar power is roughly being consumed by bitcoin mining. An MIT study showed that at our current adoption rate, it would take 400 years to replace old technology with clean energy. We don't have 400 years.

      A possible ray of hope is this: while there is some scientific uncertainty as to the behavior and interaction of certain feedback loops in the planet's climate, the greatest source of future uncertainty is what humans are going to do about it, if anything. The technology exists to slow and even stop the march toward oblivion, but to do so will require a world-wide political commitment on a scale which has never been seen before. It's not impossible, but it sure doesn't look likely to me.

    • I read Jonathan Franzen's story when it came out and thought, "Oh, no... That's where I am too." The irony is I was a fairly prominent geophysicist involved in water and air testing, but it's not the earth science that makes me believe this way, it's human behavior.

      I left environmental science because it was too depressing. The millions the Koch brothers expertly spent on disinformation overwhelmed us feeble-budgeted scientists. Heroes of the environmental movement — Al Gore and Elon Musk — have massive environmental footprints via their huge homes, private jets, and high-meat diets (Elon went for the Paleo diet).

      I was in Southern Utah last month celebrating a family member's birthday. Me, an earth scientist having spent 16 years in the field, in the land of big diesel pickup trucks and steakhouses. I've gradually learned not to mention my earth science background, unwillingness to buy drinks and food in single-use plastics, or my plant-based meals, because it riles up the friends and relatives. They turn into earth science experts and bombard me with the talking points of the Koch brothers and President Trump as if I have fallen for a conspiracy.

      I just think most of us love our big cars, homes, plastic, electronics, and bacon too much to cut back on them substantially. Plus the business model of most big companies and the world economy depends on us not wanting to give any of it up.

      So the most important thing to do is prepare for a changing world like we prepare for earthquakes and hurricanes. And slow things down as much as possible via advances in cleaner energy production and less destructive packaging. I wish I could say less meat, but those are fighting words.

    • I have often thought that we're told to drive less, eat sustainably and such to help with global warming. And yet, we air condition most of the United States south of 40°N all summer long.

      What would be the value or desireablity of Atlanta or Miami or Dallas real estate, without air conditioning? Indeed, heat related deaths would rise significantly without it.

      I seriously doubt you will ever convince the voters in the south to voluntarily turn off their air conditioners. I say this as I sit in my temperature controlled, dehumidified home in central Indiana, where the ambient summer humidities run in the 80-90 % range much of the time. Although we have had a cool dry summer here, for what that's worth globally.

      A fact from Wallace-Wells book I found interesting - we ( humanity ) are burning more electricity mining for Bitcoin, than that captured by all the wind mills in the world.... Not sure it that is really true, but if it is..... the desireability of real non-fiat money around the world is real!!

      I remember a few years ago, China was constructing enough coal burning electric generation capacity, annually, of a size to match all the electric generation capacity in the entire United Kingdom. Every year, annually!

      If true, these are not issues we can influence by modest reductions in energy usage. The figure that sticks in my head, is that we should individually use the same energy people used in the 10th century, when the average life span was maybe 30 years or so. I have never believed people would voluntarily do that, which is why I have been pessimistic for so long about climate change.

      I have always felt that Bjorn Lomborg made a lot of sense about how we should approach climate change. But he was never radical enough for many people.

      This is an older video - 2013 - by Alan Savory about how to reverse desertification around the world using domesticated animals. Interesting hypothesis, that is becoming more generally accepted I think and doesn't require great expenditures of energy or new unproven technology.

      Another approach of repairing desertification, but with a slightly different emphasis

    • I watched the Michael Moore film on the Flint Water Crisis recently. I know he gets some criticism for partisan reporting, but I was shocked by the whole affair. How people avoided custodial sentences amazes me.

    • I’ve been figuring we’re doomed for while. I’ve had many conversations with card-carrying members of the Conservative party who try to tell me that climate change is largely an invented problem created by scientists who wanted to get rich off government grant money. This tells me there just isn’t the will to even see the problem among about half of our population. Almost everyone else agrees there’s a problem but think someone else needs to fix it. Governments are rarely willing to take the necessary steps, and constantly have to defend themselves against the parties that say it’s too expensive and that taxpayer dollars are being wasted.

      About 15 years ago, I went to see the Burtynsky Manufactured Landscapes exhibit and saw his images of the Chinese coal depots, with massive piles of coal as far as they eye can see. That was another moment for me. It was pointed out to me when I was taking environmental classes in the late 80’s that we in the west are presumptuous to call for global change after we’ve already benefitted from the industrial machine for so long. Developing nations are not likely forego their turn at prosperity. Perhaps this is changing a little as they realize they will bear the brunt of the problem themselves, but I’m not sure.

      Another sign that we are doomed: Cake members have shown a sympathy toward the environmental movement, but look back over the threads started in the last three months, and I think you’ll find a surprising proportion are devoted to consumerism. As a society, we in the west, or at least in North America, remain fixated on buying things. Here in Toronto there’s a district lined with big box stores called the Golden Mile. It’s an ugly car-choked section of suburbia that’s only possible ‘golden’ quality the amount of money the retail owners make. Why everyone else is willing to enshrine this greed, unexaminedly, in a district name is beyond me. But there’s so much that passes in society, social media, and mainstream media that’s unexamined and just accepted. The amount of money spent on pro sports while people go hungry around us is another example.

      So, I’m afraid we just don’t have the wherewithal as a society to effect the necessary changes. There’s wealth all around us, and we all work hard enough to feel like we deserve our share of it. We define weath to means ‘things we own’ and these things need to be manufactured as cheaply as possible. Since environmental degradation is usually foisted on other people, it isn’t accounted for in the ‘cost’ of manufacturing, so pollution and global warming are natural byproducts of the drive to keep goods cheap. This hasn’t changed in the last 30 years since I first studied it, and I can’t see it changing in the next 30 either.

    • I was leafing through Peter Beard's "The End of the Game" originally written back in 1963, about the effects of the "taming" of Africa by western civilisation and found a quote attributed to Tertullian 337AD. I haven't been able to find this quote via google, so I'm not certain of its veracity, but it sounds like it might be.


      "Surely it is obvious enough, if one looks at the whole world that it is becoming daily better cultivated and more fully peopled, All places are now accessible, all are well known; most pleasant farms have obliterated all traces of what were once dreary and dangerous wastes; cultivated fields and subdued forests, flocks and herds have expelled wild beasts; sandy deserts are sown; rocks are planted; marshes are drained; and where once were solitary cottages, there are now large cities. No longer are islands dreaded, nor their rocky shores feared; everywhere are houses and inhabitants. Our teeming population is the strongest evidence: our numbers are burdensome to the world which can hardly supply us from its natural elements; our wants grow more and more keen, and our complaints more bitter in all mouths, whilst Nature fails in affording us her usual sustenance. In every deed, pestilence, and famine and wars, and earthquakes have to be regarded as a remedy for nations, as a means of the pruning of the luxuriance of the human race".

    • Another sign that we are doomed: Cake members have shown a sympathy toward the environmental movement, but look back over the threads started in the last three months, and I think you’ll find a surprising proportion are devoted to consumerism.

      Yes, and I am exhibit A. I'm very aware of the conflict and it tortures me. I buy electric skateboards and scooters, cameras, drones, exotic lights for my bikes... Fancy running shoes and microfiber clothes. I lust after cars. My charging stations are insane. 😢

    • I watched it too. 😢 He is a damn good filmmaker, even though I'm depressed for awhile after watching.

      Having been the VP of R&D for a global company that did water testing, once you understand the enormity of the problem, you feel like you have a pea shooter trying to stop a tsunami. Maybe 100,000 new chemicals appear on the scene each year that go down our drains and into sewage, bays, rivers, groundwater... What are they? How do we detect them? How do we know if they are harmful. How do we extract them? What do we do about people flushing their expired or unused pills down the toilet?

      What about all the e-waste headed for the landfill, leaching into the groundwater? A lot of things have e-waste in them now.