Radical steps needed to combat climate change

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43 Responses

  1. Avatar Tom Van Dyke
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    says:

    We need to get rid of the automobile in America, including diesel trucks, particularly for long-haul shipping…

    Next.Report

  2. Avatar DensityDuck
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    says:

    “China has now leapfrogged America by building the world’s first zero-emission office building…”

    Yeah, that sure does make up for all those coal-burning power plants.Report

  3. Avatar DensityDuck
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    says:

    “When the Himalayan snow pack melts (as it is now doing)”

    really?Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    It strikes me that those who are skeptical about global warming have done themselves the greatest disservice by disputing the premises and not paying any attention to the argument.

    The argument seems to go something like:

    P
    If P then Q.
    And not only Q, if P then R.
    And not only Q and R, if P then S. If P then T. If P then U.

    If P then (Q and R and S and T and U).

    The argument that says “HEY! NOT P!!!! WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO ABOUT THAT!!!” does pretty much explain why we don’t have to do Q or any of those others… but there seems to me to be a tacit agreement that P does, in fact, bring us to Q and all of those others.

    It seems to me that Global Warming, if it is real, requires us to get off of burning fossil fuels post-haste… like, fast tracking new nuclear power stations and closing down the coal mines and getting rid of drilling. Building twice as many plants as we think we need now to result in electricity being cheap. Amazingly cheap. Cheap to the point where people say “it’d be cheaper for me to ride the bus than to drive” and companies to say “it’d be cheaper for our employees to telecommute than to drive in”. Companies to say “it’d be cheaper for us to transport our goods via electric rail.” People to say “If I buy a used Prius, I’d pay for mileage what my grandparents did.”

    There are a number of things that P seems to demand as a response.

    Indeed. Billions of lives are on the line.

    The fact that we’re only talking about Q through U doesn’t particularly surprise me, of course… but I wish that more focus was done on other letters.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      And if God exists, then–logically–we should…no, we must behave in a virtuous, charitable, and pious manner. And, of course, if everyone behaved in a virtuous, charitable, and pious manner, wouldn’t society be so much nicer? So, therefore, we should act as though God exists because if we do, then life is better whether He exists or not. (And if it turns out that he DOES exist, then we’ve got it MADE, says Pascal.)Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      Especially when the people talking about Q through U also tend to be supportive of Q through U for other reasons, or are or would prefer to be members of tribes where Q through U is unnecessary or frowned down upon.

      My name is Joe. I live in a big city and I use public transportation. I like walkability. I find suburbs culturally dull. Our reliance on the automobile has made us sedentary and fat.

      Oh yeah, and there’s this huge problem with Global Warming. The solution for which is that everybody use public transportation, walk, move out of the suburbs, and get rid of their cars.Report

  5. Avatar Will Truman
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    says:

    Quite simply put, if the above is required, and there is no totalitarian regime in charge, we’re doomed. Period.Report

  6. Avatar Andy Smith
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    says:

    This thread has been a real eye-opener. I had no idea that so many people were ready to take the debate this far. Frankly, as I read through the post I thought it was a joke, written by a skeptic to parody the AGW implications. Methane release? Abolition of the automobile? Moped lanes? No NASCAR or fast-food restaurants? 700 nuclear power plants?

    I’m in agreement/favor with much of this. I just think selling this to the American people is beyond unrealistic. Some of it, I’m sure, will happen in time, like zero-emission buildings and a lot more tele-commuting. In the much longer run, replacing the internal combustion engine. The other stuff, more than a century, I’d guess.

    But as my contribution to an even further-out future: the technology exists now to make super-efficient vehicles by design that minimizes wind-resistance. A shell of this kind over what is now called a recumbent bicycle–which any fit person can probably pedal at 40-50 mph–would allow fast human powered transportation throughout the relatively short and flat stretches of most cities.Report

  7. Avatar trizzlor
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    says:

    How much of this is accomplished by voting and how much by doing? Please answer in a form that allows me to continue not doing.Report

  8. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    I think this is an interesting contrast to my more incremental solutions idea. I think this radical of an approach is entirely unfeasible, however, especially given my much more moderate ideas have no political will behind them.Report

    • Avatar James K in reply to E.D. Kain
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      says:

      This is precisely my problem with the current debate, most people’s commitment to the environment is shallow – they’ll pitch in, so long as it doesn’t really cost them anything.

      And even if it were possible to get the US people to accept this, good luck convincing the Chinese government to give up on economic growth. Because if you don’t, they’ll just start burning all the fuel the US stops burning.

      As Will Wilkinson put it “Effective global coordination is the cold fusion of institutional technology.“, we can no more build a functioning agreement to halt global warming than we can build a mass of fusion reactors to make carbon-intensive fuels obsolete.

      The solution will be found outside the political sphere, assuming there even is a solution.Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to James K
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        says:

        Nuclear fusion reactors, JamesK? I been dreaming of that since Idunnowhen. Still a dream.

        I monitor the thorium discussions. Cleanish, low radiation, etc.

        If there is a God, our creator, I imagine he didn’t put humanity here just to die, and laugh at us that we didn’t come up with the proper asceticism or technology.

        And if there isn’t, I don’t give a shit then. Life’s a bitch and then you die, and the sun and then all the stars will burn out someday anyway and then where shall “we” be?

        But back here on earth, I’ll die or mebbe even kill for you, my fellow man, James the New Zealander [if memory serves], but don’t ask me to go back to living in the city, cheek to jowl, riding the bus or subway every day, and coming home to listen to my neighbor fart.

        I’d rather die, or even kill to avoid such a gray and smelly life. As a New Zealander, where open spaces, sheep, cricket pitches and hobbits are the rule and not the exception, I hope you can feel me on this one.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to Tom Van Dyke
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          says:

          TVD,
          Can we ask you to telecommute, and perhaps use a bike to get to the supermarket? (or shop once every 3 months at Costco, like the chaps from WV who drive over 100 miles each way to do so?) Or take up farming?
          I have relatively little objection to some part of our country being rural-oriented, so long as they too are more carbon neutral than now.Report

        • Avatar James K in reply to Tom Van Dyke
          Ignored
          says:

          My point was more of a positive point than a normative one Tom. All I’m saying is that Americans aren’t going to accept sacrifices of that magnitude, and therefore it’s a waste of time trying to bring them about. If something won’t happen, why bother debating whether it’s good or bad?

          As an aside, I strongly disagree with this:

          And if there isn’t, I don’t give a shit then. Life’s a bitch and then you die, and the sun and then all the stars will burn out someday anyway and then where shall “we” be?

          If this is the only life we have (and I believe it is), then makes this life worth more, not less. And it makes it more important that we pursue pleasure in this life as we won’t have nay other opportunity to do so.Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to James K
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            says:

            All the more reason to not abide a dull gray urbanized eco-life, then, JamesK.

            Kim, take a bike to the supermarket? In LA? That’s a death sentence.Report

            • Avatar Kim in reply to Tom Van Dyke
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              says:

              … dull? Right down the street, we have fiddlers fair, and down in the park we have Bach and Beethoven. There’s gaming and fishing (don’t eat the fish!), even a casino. Not to mention museums, fantastic gardens in every yard, urban farms — even deer and foxes in the park!

              And when two guys start shouting at each other in the supermarket parking lot — they’re just saying Hi.

              That last bit I’ve never seen in a dull, gray suburb.

              I ain’t livin’ in LA, and LA was designed for cars — The City of The Future. Using LA is strawmaning — perhaps unintentionally? If you lived in Victoria, Vancouver, Seattle, Pittsburgh, Boston?Report

  9. Avatar Aaron W
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    says:

    I don’t know if I would argue for such a radical approach, but the release of methane calthrates is something very seriously worrisome, especially when you consider things like this: http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/2011/090611.html Gases are less soluble (i.e. don’t dissolve as well) in warm water compared to cold water. Climate heats up -> greenhouse gases dissolved in water are released into the atmosphere -> climate heats up more…Report

  10. Avatar Kolohe
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    says:

    One could argue if one is not willing to also discuss agriculture and the rest of the world (and agriculture in the rest of the world), one is really not ‘serious’

    And I don’t think the uber elites (whether they be rich fishes or elected fishes) are actually going to give up their personal on-demand transportation options.

    (btw even Copenhagen, in a country know for its cost prohibitive auto owning policies – i.e. effective car tax of 100% – has freeways with people driving solo in multi-passenger (though petite) cars. (on a cell phone, natch)

    “We in the developed world will suffer only slight inconvenience as a result of the rapid global warming that’s racing toward us”
    This is true, and that’s why the best way is to make people first world as fast as possible, so stuff like monsoons, hurricanes, drought, crop failures etc kill dozens (or none at all), not thousands (or millions).Report

  11. Avatar Jason Kuznicki
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    says:

    All this “we need to…” stuff is utopian nonsense. The proposals here bear a striking resemblance to the Great Leap Forward in their scope, their cultural aspirations, and their unbelievable hubris.

    And I say that as someone who does believe AGW is a real and serious threat.

    What would I do about it? Tax carbon. Tax methane too, of course. Remove taxes elsewhere to compensate; that way the economic impact is a short-term adjustment, not a long-term handicap. As previous case studies in developmental economics suggest, environmentalism is a luxury good. Societies pay for it… last. If we want to protect an environmental resource (keeping the climate under control) over several decades or centuries, we’re going to have to grow the economy enough to make it affordable. Shrink the economy, and people will care a lot less about the environment, as things like finding a job or decent housing come first.

    After we tax carbon, either technology advances, or it doesn’t. I know it sounds frightening, but we should all consider for a moment that this might not be a problem we can get out of without technologies that don’t currently exist. And again, the way to foster technological advance isn’t to shrink the economy, but to grow it.Report

  12. Avatar mclaren
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    says:

    It’s interesting to observe the reactions to these suggestions because no one seems to have observed that social and economic change is a lot like impulse.

    In physics, impulse gets defined as delta p over delta t — the change in momentum per unit time. What kills you in a car crash isn’t your change of velocity, it’s the speed with which your velocity changes. Slowing down from 60 mph to zero mph over the course of ten minutes isn’t dangerous. Slowing down from 60 mph to zero mph over the course of 1/100 second proves fatal.

    Likewise, the social and economic changes envisioned in my article pose little problem if they occur gradually. Here’s a quick question for you: is America unable to change between high-oil-usage freeway-based giant cities with high wasteful electricity usage and more than 1 passenger car per person, and low-oil-usage civilization without extensive freeways and few passenger cars?

    If you answered “we can’t make that change,” you are provably wrong, since America has already made that change between 1880 and 1980. Our ancestors didn’t seem to feel horribly deprived by living in low-density population centers without ultra-fast transportation and large amounts of electricity usage…they regarded their lives as pretty decent. And mind you, they didn’t have anywhere near the amount of technology we have available to us to make life a lot more comfy than 19th century America living, with comparable levels of efficiency and renewability and low energy usage and low carbon emissions. If our ancestors could make such drastic changes over 100 years, why can’t we make equally drastic changes over the course of the next 100 years?

    The other point folks here seem to overlook is the hard cold fact that most of these changes are going to come about whether we want them to or not. When oil reaches $200 a barrel, you will see some drastic transformations in the American economy and in American society. Now, maybe you think oil will never reach $200 a barrel. If so, what evidence do you have for that conclusion?

    Denying the reality of peak oil (we might not be in the midst of peak oil but one thing we can say with certainty is that peak oil will occur, and not in the indefinitely distant future — just look at a graph of global economic growth and China’s oil usage over time) and denying the documented effects of global warming might have some amusement value. But in the end, denying reality isn’t much of a policy position. You can’t write a white paper consisting of IS NOT! IS NOT! IS NOT! over and over again.

    So the real question to my mind involves not whether these kinds of social and economic changes will occur, but whether we’ll transition to them as a result of conscious choices and careful planning, or as the result of chaotic social and economic disruptions.

    Comments like “the way to foster technological advance isn’t to shrink the economy, but to grow it” entirely disregard the hard cold fact that we are now bumping up against the limits of global growth. Scientists now predict that all ocean life will be fished out of the world’s seas by 2050. We cannot continue growing economically at the current rate, in the way we’re currently growing. Something must change.

    The only real question is: will those changes be massive upheavals that result in starvation and continual economic depressions and armies of marginally employed or unemployed Americans? Or will we surf that wave of change adroitly in such a way that we try to minimize the economic and social disruptions of a world of Peak Oil and global warming?Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to mclaren
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      says:

      “Comments like “the way to foster technological advance isn’t to shrink the economy, but to grow it” entirely disregard the hard cold fact that we are now bumping up against the limits of global growth.”

      Yep, just like how society collapsed when we hit Peak Whale back in the 1800s.Report

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