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I have to disagree with your final comments, Dave. Hamstringing geophysical data collection will indeed impair our understanding of how to respond to climate change. Whether we understand how to respond, and whether we'll do it, and why we probably won't, are all different (but related) questions. I still want to know what we could do, physically, to respond, and so do scientists generally. I say 'physically' because I know your valid criticisms that science does not examine the human nature side of the question well enough.

And for your last paragraph, I think you know that a focus on "public safety and the economy" will not produce the same sort of physical data that climate scientists and other geophysicists find most useful. There is something to be lost here.

As always, thanks for writing. Please keep it up!

Dave Cohen


If there is no appropriate response, and there is not going to be an appropriate response, how does more satellite data affect the response?

I mean, c'mon...

-- Dave

J. F. Mamjja

I'm afraid it's not only scientists bearing the wrong
message that will need to fight against indimidation.
It's anyone in any field who brings forth a message that
"he who shall not be named" deems to be the 'wrong story'.

As Dave said in the previous post, handwringing is the
wrong answer.

Who will ask the right question?



Maybe we're just arguing about word choice, I don't know. I feel like we could split a lot of hairs on "appropriate response". But I understand what you mean.

Phil Stevens

Dave frequently makes the point that saving ourselves and our planet would require humans to make choices that are radically at odds with our past behavior as a species. Current science suggests that even if we were able to pull off such an unlikely feat, it's too late anyway. Whether or not NASA continues to collect information about the accelerating collapse of the Earth System is actually unimportant. The details are morbidly interesting, but we're long past the point where we can do anything about it.

Perhaps if we had turned away, many millennia ago, from using fire as a tool for land management and hunting, and had likewise refused to embrace agriculture, then maybe the planet would have had a future. But once we committed to those things (and we probably never really had a choice, did we?) the die was already cast. Everything since then has been just fluctuations in the rate at which we are approaching the wall.

It's important to remember that climate change is only one of the fatal stressors that we're dealing with here. Collapsing biodiversity and disruption of the global nitrogen cycle are both catastrophic threats whose points of no return we've also already apparently passed. We're rapidly approaching the likely boundary for freshwater use as well, and there's no silver bullet in sight that will enable us to avoid crossing it.

And of course all of the human activities that are taking us toward and beyond planetary boundaries have spillover effects in other categories which we are only now becoming aware of. For instance, a paper published in Scientific Reports today shows that the ongoing collapse of biodiversity in the northern hemisphere is at least in part attributable to critical thiamine deficiency in birds, fish, and bivalves. The cause of this deficiency is unknown, but is likely toxic pollution, heretofore believed to be still within a "safe" planetary boundary.

The short version is that we're fucked in ways we're not even aware of yet. Documenting the way it all plays out is interesting, but we're long past the point where we can do anything about it.

Phil Stevens

"The disconnect between what climate scientists are actually recommending and what policymakers are actually doing is almost total." I'm not aware of any climate scientists who seem to understand the implications of what they're actually recommending. No one has advanced a plausible "ramp-down" scenario in which we can reduce fossil fuel use quickly enough to substantially reduce the rate of climate change or the level of eventual impacts. So most climate scientists recommend instead an immediate and drastic reduction in fossil fuel use, seeming unaware of the fact that what they are proposing would necessarily bring with it a collapse of the global economy, with unimaginably enormous consequences.

My point is that policy-makers aren't necessarily stupid or obstructionist - they're just more aware of the consequences of drastic change, which could well global political chaos and entail billions of deaths. Of course, the engine of capitalism is an enormous impediment to action as well. But I don't think what we're seeing here is a failure of will on the part of policy-makers.

Mike Roberts

Trump is definitely up for shooting the messenger. But you're absolutely right to endorse ongoing research; knowing how the catastrophe is unfolding is goddam interesting. You're also right that that research won't do anything to help us address the predicament. Luckily, climate science is done around the world and also at places in the US that don't get government funding, at least not directly. So Trump won't be able to stem the flow of bad news, no matter how hard he tries.

Phil wrote that we're well past the point we could have done something but he understated the situation. There never was such a point, given human nature. Our species not evolving would have been the only way to avoid what's upon us.

Phil also couldn't think of climate scientists who understand the effects of doing what would be required. I can think of only one or two at this point. Kevin Anderson understands that economic growth is incompatible with what has to be done. Maybe Glen Peters also gets it.

Mike Cooper

@Phil Stevens: I do tend to disagree. I'd say the scientists are almost totally in agreement that CO2 emissions need to be reduced to zero literally ASAP. I think most of them would totally understand the implications of shutting down fossil fuel use if they spent ten minutes thinking about it (assuming they haven't already), as would most of the readers here I expect. The point is that almost everyone involved knows that it would mean an almost total shut down of 'the economy' and hence no policy maker will implement it - NOT because of valid reasoning and argument leading them to a conclusion not tp propose it, but, because inbuilt filtering, social conditioning, and biases mean that they cannot bring themselves to consider properly implementing the necessary policies. No one has proposed a 'ramp down' because no one is capable of making such a proposition. So what will happen will be potentially jerky and grinding economic collapse and probably billions of deaths, but in an uncontrolled and chaotic way rather than any planned way.

Phil Stevens

@Mike Cooper, I'm suggesting that even a "planned" ramp-down would necessarily involve mass mortality and no doubt quickly devolve into chaos (so farewell to the "plan"). Hard to imagine any human being consciously willing to set such a train of events in motion. Even knowing the alternative, I'd be hard-pressed to pull the trigger on a gun that would kill billions of people, particularly since there are so many unknowns about the condition of the planet that it's unclear whether even such a drastic move would actually help ensure the survival of multicellular life on earth.

Would you do it?

Mike Cooper

I'd propose degrowth and strict population control, but no one would listen.

Phil Stevens

Mike, demographic momentum is the problem: there are so many young people now that have not yet reached reproductive age. In an article titled "Human Population Reduction is Not A Quick Fix for Environmental Problems" in the November 18, 2014 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Corey Bradshaw and Barry Brook demonstrate that if a strict global one-child policy were implemented today (as if such a thing could happen), we'd still be looking at a population of 8.5 billion by the end of the century, with a peak of over 9 billion around 2070. Even a global catastrophe resulting in *6 billion* deaths (I'm not kidding: they actually modeled this scenario) around mid-century would still leave a global population greater than 5 billion by 2100.

Mike Cooper

@Phil, except those numbers could never be achieved because, with a global catastrophe bad enough to give a resulting 6 Bn deaths, the remaining population would never be able to feed itself enough to achieve a 5 Bn population again. Those reports are full of Flatland assumptions.

And, I meant STRICT population control. Something along the lines of Utopia.


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