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I want to tell you a very unpleasant truth about climate change. It's a lot more serious than we've been discussing in public.

(Warning the first: This is not going to be a cheerful sort of post. It will, very likely, leave you feeling deeply unsettled. If you do not want this, you should stop reading now.)

(Warning the second: This is not a post on which to say "I don't believe climate change is happening!" or "this is a left-wing plot!" or "I don't believe there's adequate proof that humans are causing it!" There are times that I have the patience and interest to discuss what are essentially political arguments about science, and this is not one of them. If you believe this stuff, it's because you have a deep personal need to do so, and best of luck to you with that. But I'll just delete such comments on this post.)

The paper referenced here is one that +Larry Smarr shared. We have a new paper running several parallel models of Arctic ice collapse, and the one thing that even the most conservative models agree on is that the Arctic will be ice-free in summer within the next 20 years. This is pretty much right; anyone who's been watching the development of climate indicia and thinking about the positive feedback loops in ice melting has known it for a while.

But we don't really talk about positive feedback loops, much, and when we do, we stop soon afterwards because it's a bit too horrifying to think about. But climate systems are full of them; ice melting is a simple example. If you have a big sheet of ice, it reflects sunlight and stays cool. But if it melts, the top of it melts first, and then you have a puddle of water, which is great at storing heat and doesn't reflect as much sunlight, sitting on top of your ice. That puddle gets warmer, and melts the ice under it much faster than pure light would; lather, rinse, repeat, and ice melts fast. (You can test this out in your own backyard; take two pieces of ice and put them in the sun. If you keep draining the water from the top of one as it melts, it will melt much more slowly than the other one)

The best way to know that climate systems are a big hornking bag of positive feedback loops is to look at the Earth's climate record. (We can get this quite nicely from things like deep ice cores, tree cores, etc.) You can see a good summary graph here: What's distinctive are those sudden vertical spikes; these represent times when the climate suddenly and rapidly became a lot hotter, on time scales much shorter than any other variation. That sort of thing can only happen when you get a massive external driving force (think "giant comet") or a positive feedback loop.

What's important to understand about this is that, when you hit a loop like this, the consequences aren't measured in the ways that IPCC climate models talk, about so many degrees rise in mean temperatures, changes in the biomes of infectious diseases, crop failures, sea level rises making cities into ruins, giant storms wiping cities off the map. They change the entire ecosystem of the Earth -- the basic kinds of plants and animals which can live on it.

The last big spike like this was the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, about 55 million years ago. Average temperatures rose by 6C over a period of 20,000 years -- which is enough to look like a giant, sharp spike on the history-of-the-entire-planet graph. During the PETM, the Earth looked like the inside of a giant greenhouse; hot, wet, tropical. Swamp cypress grew as far north as Ellesmere Island, the northernmost part of Canada. The large mammals of the Paleocene vanished, to be replaced by a huge variety of new species, mostly dwarf-sized. Many of our modern kinds of creature -- birds, ungulates, etc -- emerged in this period. Life before the PETM favored much bigger critters, like a snake the size of a school bus. (See below for a link)

As far as climate swings on the Earth, this one wasn't close to the biggest, although it was one of the fastest: the temperature rose by 0.0003C per year, enough to completely reset the biota of the planet. 

By comparison, since 1920, the mean temperature has been rising an average of 0.01C per year. Yes, that's about 30 times faster than the run-up to the PETM.

Some things you need to understand about these shifts.

* They've happened quite a few times. Look at that first graph I linked, and read about any of the times the climate changed sharply. Each of these was associated with a complete rewriting of the planet's biota -- which is a nice way of saying "almost all the life died out and was replaced by something completely different."

* Because of positive feedback loops, when a climate shift starts, it can speed itself up. There are a lot of different loops, ranging from ice melting to methane clathrates to ocean circulation pattern changes. Unfortunately, we don't understand these loops very well -- because if any of them had gone off full-force while we were around to study them, we wouldn't be around to study them. Because of loops like that, once something gets started it's not always possible to shut it off by reversing what you're doing, no matter how much you do so.

* When the biota of a planet get rewritten, the creatures that require the most delicate maintenance die first. This tends to mean really big creatures, that rely on large supplies of their foods; apex predators, which rely on the entire food chain beneath them; and "canary" species like many frogs, which are very sensitive and tend to be the first to die when something is going wrong. Historically, the cutoff for "large creatures" (that tend to not survive extinction events) seems to be in the ballpark of 20 pounds; things bigger than that just require the ecosystem to be too healthy.

So, yes, that includes you, it includes your dog, it includes most of the animals you eat. It probably also includes lots of the grains you eat, since large-scale agriculture is quite fragile as well. (As evidenced by the tremendous amount of work put in every year to keep crop yields high enough to feed humanity) 

* Technological methods of helping are actually more limited than you think, because so much of our technology stack is built on top of society being basically functional. Manufacturing microchips requires pretty much the full scope of human industry, from mining to power generation to transport logistics to chemical engineering. Growing the quantities of plants required to support humanity is, if anything, even more delicate. We're fairly robust against small perturbations because we can put in technological solutions -- but when problems start to knock out the basic infrastructure on which we can depend, the descent and collapse is fairly rapid.

Now, you may think that I'm writing this to make a political point, or to urge you to do something or other. Sometimes I would be, but this time I'm not: I'm just writing to show you a bit about the science, and give you an idea of just what the situation we're talking about could potentially entail. It's not clear where we are on the positive-feedback loop right now; it's very likely, for example, that the Arctic ice will collapse at this point, no matter what we do in the next 20 years. Whether we've gone far enough to trigger other catastrophes is still up in the air. 

But if it is, what we're looking at isn't a world where we all live like Bangladeshis, or a world where we're living in technological bubbles. It's a world where there are tropical rainforests going up to the poles, where there are millions of new and unfamiliar species... and we're simply dead.

If you want to know more about the history, here are some places to start:
Life in the Eocene:
Temperature change in the 20th century:
Titanoboa, and other giant creatures of the Paleocene:
One of the kinds of positive feedback loop that could be a problem for us:
James Salsman's profile photoRodney Mulraney's profile photoDaniel Scully's profile photoBill Carter's profile photo
The wake up call has turned into a 'lights out' I am afraid.
Yes, I knew this - it is very serious in the underwater world - was told in public 50 yrs but in discussion private 25 yrs. This was in 2005
It is unpleasant, but I think this kind of analysis needs to be heard.
+mary mcpherson Yeah -- the community has been pretty quiet about the actual data publicly, I've noticed. Given how bad a reaction they get to saying the incredibly softened numbers that they do announce, I'm assuming that if anyone actually told the full truth, they would be derided as a lunatic.
Well, I can't say I wasn't warned! Thanks, though - thought provoking.
Yep.  The positive feedback resulting in its speeding itself up is the -- pardon the term -- the killer.
Pam Adger
The heating of the Arctic and Antarctic have catastrophic implications for the planet as the climates in these regions are integral to the Ocean Conveyor (the global ocean current engine that drives weather worldwide).
Here is a web page describing it and it's impact on the planet's climate.
+Yonatan Zunger That made me laugh - but I am a researcher that always has hope! And they once chopped off heads for saying the world was round!
+mary mcpherson +Yonatan Zunger there has to be a way to build a people structure around scientific facts. While I appreciate scientists with opinions about their fact, whether I agree or not. It just does not seem to be a way to progress, climate change is a case study [swan song?] of science in our internet age. There should never be a question about transparency due to fear of being derided. 
On the "upside" - with a little bit of luck we personally will all be dead by the time things get really bad. Yeah, i'm feeling cheery today
First, thank you for the post!

I'm interested in hearing what can be done to stop the feedback loop.  Forgive me, I'm not an environmental scientist, and I'm new to the understanding of climate change.

If it's a positive feedback loop of the scale that you are suggesting, then all efforts to stop the loop would be effectively in vain.  Even reducing man-made carbon output by half, would that have a large enough effect?  What are our options, aside from learning how to survive in harsh conditions?
Excellent write up, as per usual. Thank you.
Something happened at the end of PETM that pulled a lot of carbon out of the air and lowered temperatures really quickly; some biological feedback loop that developed in response to the feedback loops generating the massive atmospheric carbon and temperature increase. 

So, Nature, whenever you're ready to reveal how you're planning on doing it this time, we're all ears. 
+Matt Barr even if we halt the output it's too late. It is reabsorption of carbon we need to add to the long list of have to's.
enki wa
Don't worry +Rachel Blum, I'm sure a Friendly AI will be developed in time to save us all!
enki wa
Also, notably, there isn't really a strong price signal (or anyone to shoot) associated with global climate change, so humanity's normal ways of dealing with events of this scale (economics or war) isn't really going to work.
Mind you, I think we'll wind up fighting over what gets opened up along the first.
+David Proffer The decision to not explain all the scienctific information and to have more top secret work done - is to Not scare the public. But I say start planting alot of TREES!! Just for a little help of it!!
+Matt Barr I really don't know. This is something that I'm thinking about, and that a lot of other people are thinking about, but it's not obvious and it depends a lot on where we are along the positive feedback loop. If we're relatively early along it, then the things we're talking about to cut emissions, etc., could make a big difference -- if we do them quickly and aggressively. If we're somewhat further along, then the problem starts to look more like "how do we terraform the Earth into an ecosystem that humans can survive in?," which is currently at a science-fictional level of technology, but is at least thinkable. And if we're actually further along than that, then pretty much all we can do is practice yoga.*

I think that, given that we don't know where we are right now, the best thing is to assume that we can do something and start on it promptly. That way, if we're right, then we've just saved ourselves from a nasty death. It's a much better failure mode than what happens if we assume we can't do anything and turn out to be wrong about that.

* So that, when the time comes, we're in excellent shape to bend over and kiss our asses goodbye.
Don't bother planting trees on the coasts. 
+Daniel Estrada Plant trees on the coasts, just make sure they're the sort that don't mind being a bit closer to saltwater than they originally anticipated. :)

And I would definitely +1 +mary mcpherson's suggestion. Lots and lots of trees and algae and so on to reprocess as much of the CO2 as possible would be a really good idea about now.
+Daniel Estrada Oh no, that is where to plant all the birds - part of our food web - rely on the coastal vegetation! I have planted hundreds of trees - I say let's plant a hundred each a day! And go solar;)
Hard truths. I wonder, however, if some humans might have a chance by living off various vegetation. Though it's pretty likely that humans will end up killing a majority of each other off rapidly in their panic. And then there's all the nuclear plants that will melt down. 

I know you said you're not looking for action, but this post triggers a "want" to do something to protect oneself. To be honest, there's probably a good reason the government doesn't share this information readily (even the article glosses over the potential threats of such massive change), because if everyone in the world suddenly believed that, "crap, we have 10, maybe 20 years to live", the infrastructure would break down a hell of a lot faster. 
PS years ago did a persuassion speech on planting particular shrubs, bushes and trees as landscaping in Resort and non resort places for the needed food for the birds. Some die because of lack of food. They fly across a waterway and drop if there is nothing there.
Is there a way to subscribe to notifications for comments of a specific post? Because I wanna watch these comments but have nothing to contribute. (Mission accomplished)
I believe it was George Carlin who, when commenting on the "Save the Planet" hype said the planet doesn't need saving, the planet will be fine, it isn't going anywhere. It is the people who are going away and need saving. 
Thanks for a thoughtful post with good links.
My personal opinion is even these numbers are on the low side, meaning more than 6 C rise.  And as a engineer that reads  I think we are also starting to have an energy crisis.  
We have wasted so much easy cheap energy and now we are left with expensive dirty energy.  
All of this from fossil fuels.  
+James Trejo It was -- the PETM was the last time this happened, and that's exactly what this post is about. But we're moving away from an ice age, not towards one.
The picture of the years ahead are frightening.  I look at the data, look at the paleoclimate data, think about my grandchild, and weep. 
How much do you think has been caused by us? Is it a process that was gonna happen eventually and we only made it worse? or is it entirely our fault?
The good news: we've mastered terraforming. The bad news: we're doing it backwards and terraforming Earth into Venus. 
I wish more work were being done on feedback loops in the arctic. Between the methane and albedo issues it seems like a perfect storm of feedback loops.

+Joren Van Severen The best science right now is that everything is almost purely our fault on this front.
+Susan Stone Exactly.  It's not for myself -- I think I'll probably be gone before the worst of it comes -- but I look at my nephews...
#1. We should put everything you said in an info graphic too. #2 There's no harm in planting more trees. We should definitely go with that. #3 Just wondering what kinds of life/species turn up on a human-free earth.
One of the things we're going to need to answer the question of "how do we terraform the Earth into an ecosystem that humans can survive in?" is a more resilient agricultural system and wresting de-facto control of crop biotechnology out of the hands of the likes of Monsanto. Here is how I am tackling that problem:
I guess its time for us to go...we have done enough selfish damage to our dear 'mother' and she is preparing for a new batch of 'rulers' ...mermaids n mermans!
+James Trejo I don't want to get into a huge argument. But no. They're doing well and have some ambitious plans to expand.

I agree that 'green' energy solutions haven't been viable options in the past, but they are getting there now.
If we're relatively early along it, then the things we're talking about to cut emissions, etc., could make a big difference -- if we do them quickly and aggressively.

Yes.  At this stage, tipping points work in either direction.  Of course, there's a lot of slog -- corporations, entrenched interests, etc -- that need to be just sliced thru in order to do so. 
There is some good news. I work in energy and what we will see next 50 years is a conversion to low carbon gas in our electrical turbines. That combined with Obamas gas efficiency in vehicles will make a huge dent. The problem is in the next 20 years 75% of all oil and diesel consumption will be in China then beyond that in India. If we want to make a difference it will helping those countries with low emission  vehicles and getting off the coal dependency.
Personal transportation is dead.  It's not a question of the fuel.  Look at what it takes to make a single car: the plastics, metal, glass, all of it.  
+James Trejo There's still an advantage to electric -- it's a lot easier to make one big plant efficient and clean than a lot of small ones. Generally from an infrastructure perspective, the more centralized something is, the easier it is to make it work really well. (Of course, you have to balance that against not putting all your eggs in one basket)
+James Trejo Tesla is doing some cool stuff that actually makes it cheaper to maintain as well as gets away from fossil fuels. The charging stations they're putting around the country also generate more solar power than the cars consume, so they end up pumping solar energy into the local power grid.

Look into Tesla! Its awesome. (Right now they're a bit expensive, but there will be cheaper models in the next few years)
1) We need to transition all our businesses into sustainable models ASAP.

We are responsible for developing our own processes such that forests can grow on their own again. All forms of life are supposed to be responsible for their own success (together with others as an ecosystem). In principle, we just need to let the ecosystem flourish instead of trying to control it. In practice, we have already failed that, so now we are going to face some serious times trying to learn the lesson of sustainability the hard way. If we don't, it's game over for mankind.

2) We will need to host unprecedentedly large ecosystems under controlled environments. This is not a good permanent solution, because life is supposed to thrive on its own, but in the current situation it will be necessary for us to manage our own survival. Many of these efforts are likely to face huge problems, because such thing hasn't been tried before on this scale and it will get increasingly more challenging as the natural ecosystem collapses and reorganizes around us.
Realistically with real effort at development electric cars are likely to have lower maintenance costs. Fewer moving parts means less wear.
Setting aside the cost of manufacture (of personal transportation units), all electric cars make more sense anyway.  I dn't think that means centralizing it, by any means. It means that as we find cleaner sources of electricity, we can instantly shift the cars to using that.  Right now, fossil fuel based cars can not shift at all, they're directly dependent on that.
+James Trejo That's another thing I'm very excited about: the price of solar is dropping fast, because China is investing in it heavily. If we get to the point where it can pay off for anyone who owns a house in a short enough time, then financing options will suddenly get a lot cheaper, too. And (per the other thing I posted today about solar) that alone might be enough to cause a much bigger switchover in costs that would make it cheap enough for everyone.
+Cindy Brown Good point; central systems can be upgraded easily, distributed systems, not so much. :)
+James Trejo If we don't work on the tech people won't be able to do either. We've gotten prices down to the point of a large upfront cost with a long term payoff. Twenty years ago that wasn't even true.  That means we've crossed the barrier where things like solar are actually a sound investment even for low income people.
I still prefer the concept of generating PV power from window-film on highrise office buildings. Generate the power where it is needed.

I capture carbon by planting spekboom, Portulacaria afra
+David Steinmuller Slight correction: Solar is now a sound investment if you own a house, intend to live in it for at least X years, and can either front the upfront cost or pay for the cost of interest over Y years. Which is still a huge improvement, but not yet as far as we need to get.
It is the big theme of this century.

A race towards Malthusian catastrophe and Kurzweilian singularity at the same time.
The dangerous transition from type 0 to type 1 on the Kardashev scale.

The intertwined subjects climate, energy, agriculture,  population-size, etc... result in such complexity that i am skeptical about all projections. And pessimistic.
+Yonatan Zunger  Technically central systems can be upgraded easily, but politically they tend to gather resistance. There's usually some elite controlling the central production and they have significant interest invested in it and will have trouble letting go. If you have billions invested in drilling infrastructure, you can't just switch over to something else in a snap of fingers.
+TheBlack Box Seriously. I'm figuring that a big part of the point of my work has been to try to change the way humans communicate and think and so on and try to help push the singularity horse a little faster in this race... because the other horse, the pale one, seems to be winning.
+Sakari Maaranen Sadly, you're very right. Although it's still easier than doing the same with a large number of people; "you'll pry my <particularly bad idea> from my cold, dead hands!" is far too common a response.

One thing I saw recently in Alaska that gave me a lot of hope was that there's nontrivial research going on there about geothermal energy. They know their economy depends entirely on oil, and that there's a very limited supply of it; but they also know that they know more about drilling and operating pipelines and so on in such conditions than anyone. So what else requires drilling? Geothermal! 

The pilot plant they're running at Chena Springs, outside of Fairbanks, is particularly interesting -- they're focusing on building small (~MW), cheap, reliable, clean, and easily deployed systems which can run in a wide range of climates and with wide ranges of available energy. Basically, if you drill deep enough, things get hotter, and so long as you have the right kind of working fluid, you can use that to run a steam engine...
+Dan Payne Thanks for self-identifying as a crazy person. It makes it so much easier to ignore you.
Yup, out with a whimper not a bang.
+Yonatan Zunger  Indeed.

Whenever this issue comes up two thoughts run through my head. The dark one is how many times we've had situation that would have lead to a very different outcome. I live near a former major site of electric car development. That was over a hundred years ago. During the OPEC crises we pretended to be serious about changing our ways. And on and on. The other thought is how many huge gains there are to be made in efficiency, without any new tech. It was pretty big news locally when Arcelor Mittal started to use their blast furnace exhaust for energy generation. Those kinds of efficiencies are everywhere and we can still reach them.
+Yonatan Zunger: Good point; central systems can be upgraded easily, distributed systems, not so much. :)

I'm not even sure how this is "more centralized"?  If all cars are switched to electric, and some people charge off the traditional electrical grid, and other people charge off their rooftop solar panels, and others use their geothermal powered generators... how is this "centralized"?

In contrast with fossil fuels we depend on a small consortium of (very badly behaved monopolistic) companies to extract, refine, and sell the fuel on the global market.  They hiccup, we wash snot off our tables for weeks.
+Yonatan Zunger Good post, thanks! The major problem preventing action on climate change is the common belief that we humans are somehow separate from nature. I guess a lot of people are in for a rude awakening.
+Cindy Brown Hmm. Good point, too... especially since the earlier post from today was all about decentralizing power generation infrastructure.

That's one of the problems with infra: you always have the urge to both centralize and decentralize everything, at once.

Also one of the problems with economics: it has positive feedback loops, too, so that whenever you centralize anything (or whenever you have to centralize it), then whoever controls that resource has the power to make the underlying hypotheses of free markets break.
I think the singularity could bring us together and can perhaps even open our eyes... but that won't help us, if too many refuse to look at what the singularity shows us, or after looking... refuse to follow.

Someone Big needs to use their power to seriously push the change, globally. It needs to be bigger than the opposing lobbies combined.
... we have another volunteer ...
+richard kirk Yes, bulls are likely to suffer a lot under these changes. They are huge and require a lot of somewhat delicate food.
King Yonatan of House Zunger belongs on the Iron Throne.
I'd bend my knee under that ToS.
I could be a benevolent minion under that setup ;-)
Seems like nature is telling us that we are her analogon to the Peter Principle. At least we built our house with geothermal heating (running on green electricity) to show her we can do better than just burning coal or oil.
You've seen The Jetsons.

We'll survive. I don't see any point in predicting otherwise, just as moon-bound astronauts never actually planned what to do if stranded. But, damn, it really frustrates me to see so many entities fighting the obvious path forward of higher efficiency energy consumption and lower emission energy production. I mean, come on, even if you somehow are too incredibly ignorant to see the extremely vast and indisputable evidence of global warming, surely you can at least come on board for the breathable air and cheaper electricity.
The Nature of humanity makes denial more than a river in Egypt. James Hanson's book, Storms Of My Grandchildren, Had a small chapter on Geo-Engineering that has broad implications.
 I think that influential people with broad networks should start the conversation on this subject. I often find that denial has a way of evaporating once you start acting on a solution to a problem. (Even if one doesn't agree that "its" a problem.) It would be better if a discussion on "controlling the climate" started sooner rather than LATER. The benefits are 2- fold. a.) It makes the subject of climate change seem more "real" to deniers. b.) there is still time to inspire the next generation of scientists.
On the plus side, we will have been an instructive experiment into the Fermi Paradox.
So we turned from global warming to global overlords... :-)
If we do undergo a complete rewriting of the biosphere, why would humans be dead?  We're not apex predators, we're environment shaping omnivores who can transition to eating sloths or worms or whatever else is required.  Sure, we might have a much smaller population, but even if we lose 90% of humans due to food shortages,  I see no reason other than self destruction via war that civilization has to end.

The only real way to kill us, other than via nuclear or bioweapon suicide, is to end up with no plant life at all, for example if chlorophyll stopped working for some reason.
+Andres Soolo perhaps you remember our chat 2013-03-15 where a similar Fermian inference was made, here:

I'm quoting my own conclusions: "Species that live long and prosper must have learned the lesson of conserving nature. This should also contribute to the statistical likelihood of possible extraterrestrial intelligence being benevolent, if they and we both survive long enough to ever find each other in the first place."
+David Soderberg While I do also get tired of the knee-jerk reactions, I also think "just deleting" things is a bit wrong.  It smells of "you don't agree with me, therefore you are wrong, and I don't want to hear it"  You may think you have all the answers, but I really don't think you do.
+Matt Barr: well, this particular "too late" is not actually a black and white scenario.  The faster we work, and the better work we do, the better our chances are.  The relation is not linear, though, which is kind of Yonatan's point.
The Lord's plan will bring renewal to the Earth at last. Until then we should all be the best stewards we can. Consuming resources wisely is something all will report on to the Lord, whose Earth this is. Perpetuating the false message that humanity is in this alone, and that we're all doomed to boot, is not very motivational towards any positive change.
+J. Alan Atherton: it's a useful heuristic that usually, it's a bad idea to delete opposing arguments.  But the heuristic should not be lifted into an absolute rule.  In this context, I'd submit, it's one appropriate approach.
Plus which, not every post is grounds for a battlefield.  Really.
+Kenneth Stone: "felines have been running around our nice pyramids for all eternity and never hurt anybody but mice so we should not worry about this nice big hundred-kilo mountain lion" is equivocation the fallacy.
+Sakari Maaranen: I recall there's an early Asimov's story — when he was still writing about aliens — about an unusual space-faring race who was non-militant because it was descended from herbivores, and therefore assumed the position of the shepherd to the carnivorous sentients.  Unfortunately, I have forgotten most of the details.
+Doug Simpkinson: Well, one way I can see is that once environmental pressure drastically reduces Earth's habitability, the remaining humans will be strongly motivated to war with each other in order to stay personally alive.  As usual, eye for an eye can leave the whole world blind. 
The relaxation, or more the reversal of environmental regulations have gotten us to where we are today. Particulate pollution greatly increases global warming, not only the burning of coal, but residential wood burning (for ambiance and not for heat) and the burning of yard debris, instead of composting it.

We can't stop the train, but we can at least give the emergency brake a tug to try to slow it down. Search for "particulate pollution" and "global warming" and see:
I don't really want to continue this side discussion on deleting comments, it's fine.  Perhaps saying "I'll allow one dissenting comment, and anyone who agrees can +1 that comment.  All others will be removed."  But I do like this comment stream, devoid of all the vitriol.
Anyway, to comment on the actual post, I think the bottom line is that we just plain use too much energy, and shifting to another source of energy is simply not going to be enough.  Why must we dry our clothes by heating them up?  How about hanging them on a line?  There are so many more examples.  And I think they are all related to urbanization.  Basically, big cities require too much energy to function.
Thanks for putting this front and center +Yonatan Zunger .  This is an unprecedented crisis.
+Steven Flaeck: There's William Stanley Jevons from the nineteenth century who would disagree with your ideas about cheap nuclear power.
Good luck telling the rest of the world they need to stay in the stone ages to help ol' mother earth. I think the inevitable will be inevitable. We'll just have to learn to deal with our new reality. 
+Leibo Raibstein our world needs sustainable progress that respects economical, social and environmental responsibility. Only that can take us to future, whereas other paths lead either back to stone age or worse.
Unusual for NOAA to be so alarmist, though I've often thought they needed to be more so. "It's only one degree," is a phrase I've heard too often from folks who think of that one degree in terms of a particular day being one degree warmer... and from that view, the heating makes no difference. Glad NOAA is taking a more assertive approach. 
+Mike Preece Like food production, yeah that's at stake. Maybe like homelessness, oh maybe swarms of climate refugees touches that. Maybe just budgets, yeah good old fashioned budgets are important, oh wait huge storms have shown the ability to impact the economy.  Maybe just matters of national defense, I mean it isn't like the Pentagon has expressed concerns about global warming.

Or maybe we are talking about things that matter.
Simple observations, narrow window of analysis, lack of historical data, misrepresentation of existing markers, leads to a twisted agenda!!!!!
+J. Alan Atherton I normally tend to encourage a fairly robust discussion and try to draw people out, but I've found it's nearly impossible to discuss certain issues without it devolving into a bunch of people arguing over the most basic principles. That’s fine if we're having a discussion about that, but it makes it impossible to discuss anything beyond that. So for this conversation, I'm not spending the cycles on people who don't want to believe in climate change for one reason or another and want to argue about it; I'm simply pruning those discussions before they start. There will be plenty of time for political and theological arguments on my other threads. :-) 
Exactly.  Hard to discuss issues past Subject 101 when everyone wants to wrangle over details of Subject 101 itself :-P
for every 1 regular comment left here there are at least three government comment attempts at a coverup.
+Tau-Mu Yi Well sure.  The question is whether those do us any good -- and the suspicion is that they won't kick in till later.  Plenty of time for life on the planet, not so much for us.
That's. Not good. We. Need. To change. Our. Ways
I think that what civilization needs to do is learn to accept this new climate. I think it's too late to fix our climate.
Even if everyone learns now and does everything they can to stop this, there is nothing that can be done to stop 99% of the human race dying.
Not that its pointlless, but its pointless.
I'm in the belief that this global recession is nothing more than the governments of the world prepairing to save the 1% and that would be a technological feat in itself.
+Russell white the question of how it was caused isn't important. The fact is that the climate is changing. How will we survive this?
+Yonatan Zunger Perhaps we should consider legislation to mandate, perhaps even subsidize solar arrays on all commercial buildings with flat roofs in excess of 10,000 square feet. A supermarket typically is 25,000 to 190,000 sq. ft of flat roof. Solar arrays would shade the building, reducing solar load and mitigate HVAC requirements by generating power. A 190,000 sq. ft structure is  about 18,000 sq. meters, and with 800 - 1100 W/m^2 of solar energy, multiplied by 14% efficiency, that's 2 to 3 megawatts of energy PER STORE. Amortize per square foot, and you generate 33 KwH per square foot per year of electricity. Per , power consumption of a typical retail outlet is about 50 KwH/ sq. ft / year. Thus, those big stores may be able to generate close to 65% or more of their own energy needs. Add the reduction of HVAC load onto the grid and perhaps the efficiencies are even higher. Best of all, no additional acreage necessary.  This is all back of the envelope math here, but it seems to me that it should be doable if tackled on a national level. 
+Russell white excellently put, Sir. I've been trying to bash this point into everyone's head that says "oh my, the world is overheating!". The earth, as far back as our scientists can record, has gone thru at least 10 ice ages since it's existence, it's a natural cycle the earth undergoes. Nothing will change that. 
+Daniel Estrada I looked at the graph and it looks like all my tree planting in 1980 to 1982 might have actually helped! Maybe a thousand trees planted by me in those days - how many grew I do not know! TY for the link!
While I wish I could say that any part of +Yonatan Zunger's excellent synopsis comes as news to me, it does not.  This information has been mooted about the ocean sciences for a couple of decades.  I long ago made peace with the concept that (as best we can read from earth's history) all life passes into new and different forms, all environments and climates as well.  What I have not made truce with is the my belief that we human primates can sway this outcome... and too often utterly fail to heed what is in front of us when and while we can.

On a slightly less gloomy note, I am not completely convinced a (geologically) sudden shift in epoch will eradicate human beings from Terra. (Current human culture and technology are a completely different matter.)  We are the single most omnivorous creature ever to have lived on earth.  Our range of diet has absolutely enormous breadth to the point we can sustain ourselves on pretty anything that won't poison us outright.

Perhaps more importantly, we are social animals with the ability to  chose to abstractly change out social behavior.  This is unprecedented in the animal kingdom, and I can not but wonder what (if any) role this peculiar ability of ours will play in the face of a true global crisis.  
Oh my God!  This is probably the first time this has happened in the last 4.5 billion years!  Whatever shall we do.
Liberate the arctic of its ice
LOL! OK some of us want to save the species;)
+Yonatan Zunger search for "Investigator found" to see the ship my great grandfather was on. It sits in shallow water where it was stuck for two years in ice and finally abandoned.
+Neil Beaven : do you remember what happened when the early creatures polluted Earth's skies with never-before-seen amounts of raw oxygen?

Hint: almost all of them died, and those who didn't now live exiled in undersea volcanoes.
I guess property prices going up up there soon then... 
For climatology information, interested people should read the section tagged for getting up to speed on
Yess now ill have a beach in front of my house. 
I calculated a number of plants based on an internet piece about plants in an airlock - we need to plant about 70,000 billion per what I am not sure - year? Month? anyway hope you got my point;)
All jokes aside, on the industrial scale, it appears roof-mount solar panel arrays may be within a five-year payback in terms of electricity savings for commercial retail applications, especially in areas between -30 and +30 degrees lattitude. We do that, and develop a CONVENIENT public transportation system, and I bet we could kick the carbon habit. If we can, as a nation, develop technology to fly to the moon, and we can, as a nation, create our complex highway system, as well as our massive world-wide ethernet communications system, I don't see why we can't collectively create our solar energy collection system. Save our petrochemical reserves for use as raw materials for the next couple thousand years worth of people. 
There was a big thing in the gov that was giving aid to solar companies - if you remember - and the one in particular lost gobs of money. Sad to say the oil is still big! But I do see the future looking dim as the fracking has cost them huge lawsuits - but many investors have alot into the oil!
I personally am for solar as Tycho Aussie has stated. I will buy my personal unit and be self sufficient in the near future;)
Let's hope the loss in the gov on solar does not truly hurt that perspective!
+Arnold K It doesn't really matter whether or not it's real. What is real is that it took millions of years to create those hydrocarbons in a time when there were massive shallow seas of carbonate-producing microorganisms. It's only taken us 150 years to measurably deplete those reserves, and most of it has been within the last fifty years. So, the math says we can't go another thousand or two thousand years at this pace of consumption. When we run out, there's going to be a lot of pain, death, starvation, and chaos unless there's infrastructure already developed and in place to transition away from petroleum. So, should we wait or should we be proactive and plan for the future? Climate change aside, I'd rather my grandchildren don't end up in some sort of civil war because their neighbors are starving & dying due to a breakdown of infrastructure. 
But it's all up to us so this will not ever happen!
...I am now wondering, not at all facetiously, how much of the ice caps we would have to wrap in silver mylar to disrupt the melt feedback loop, and if that value would exceed to amount required to cause a local environmental collapse...
Yonatan is an optimist in my world-view. If you want to see a continuation of democratically elected government work on climate change mitigation. At some point the populace will panic and the temptation to put a Mad-Scientist-Dictator in charge of everything will be huge. (Think Evil Neil De-Grasse Tyson) 

Solutions you can use _today:

Check out Electric Cargo Bikes. (links to search)
Unlike electric cars we actually can build one of these for every household in the world. 

Biochar: It takes about 8 pounds of charcoal buried in the soil to offset one gallon of gasoline. Think about that; the charcoal to offset your gas costs more than the gas. Luckily, burying charcoal in your garden is incredibly beneficial to plants if you do it the right way.

Geothermal heat pumps: Off the shelf hardware make your house warmer in winter and cooler in summer for less bucks. There's more than enough heat under your house to heat it.

These three solutions mitigate some of our biggest energy and carbon pollution problems; personal transportation, carbon sequestration an structural climate control. Solutions for lighting, freight transport and energy collection are already being implemented. 

p.s.- Where do I apply for minion status?  
Cool, we can build a holiday park there
+mary mcpherson It's got to be a NATIONAL vision - and like the Apollo missions that cost $32B USD in the 1960's, there WILL be waste, and mistakes, but progress too. We must get back to a time when we accept the fact that mistakes, failed ventures, and such are the facts of life when it comes to doing something that has never been done before. Some people will get hurt. Some will go broke. Some will become wildly successful and rich. Some dishonest people may get caught while others get away. However in the end, all will eventually benefit as energy becomes less expensive and more plentiful, and the rate of oil consumption dwindles, leaving the remaining oil, gas, and coal in the ground. Those resources will get used no doubt sometime in the future: Perhaps as raw materials for plastics and polymers. However burning them in our atmosphere seems like a rather bad idea when we start thinking not in terms of just ourselves, but in terms of our ancestors. It'll be them who ask this question: 

"WHAT ? They sent this valuable resource up in FLAMES to do what?? Were they evil, crazy, or just malevolent? "   

Look at the deforested land of North Korea. Look at the bare slopes of Haiti. We may think of those people as being short-sighted to chop down their own forests and ruin their farmland for the sake of some simple fire wood... and here we are, burning up our own natural treasure in the very same way.  It's time to improve our national energy reserves and it's going to take money, technology, and YOU AND ME to do it. The first thing we can do is to stop complaining about the process and get after the politicians and journalists who crab about it not being possible. Regulation is a double-edged sword which limits fraud&waste, feeds a bunch of bureaucrats BUT ALSO stifles fast innovation.  Risk is risky. We got to admit that as a nation FIRST, live with the consequences, then get on with the job. 
Perhaps if I wait a little while longer, this will become the ocean front property I wanted to live on after all.
If we all just start taking the long route to and from work a little more often and if we drive around town for no reason we can push this up a few years and start having warmer winters. 
+Arnold K Quit sending them money. Buy as little oil as possible. Try not to use credit except to purchase stuff like solar panels and bicycles that will pay back. Buy as much of your groceries as you can at farmer's markets. 

Also keep up political pressure but most importantly quit giving them money to fight against you. Right now you might be stuck in a job with a 50-mile commute and no money for a Prius but that doesn't mean you can't look for small ways to make a difference.

Something will come up. 
It's still winter in Michigan. 
It doesn't matter, because in the end according to scientists we're all just space dust anyway.
This guy is all serious about it yet they can't even predict the week's weather correctly. Worry about each other not the ice melting.
I think one of the big problems in the debate over climate change is that the idea of perturbation theory is not really getting articulated fully. In that a mean increase in temp will make the climate more complex, not literally warmer at first. 

With regard to the ice melting, this feedback cycle is going to accelerate even more once heavy industry starts exploiting the resources, also the northern shipping routes that open will contribute to this quite a bit. The next big land rush.
+Gary Ray R And the decline in cheap oil will make the manufacturing of solar panels that much more expensive by the time we get really serious about renewable energy.
And we are the most effected, we've been able to adapt to our environment but we find out we can not adapt to alcohol, other addictive products, and most of all we are unable to fight the genetic diseases introduce to us, through other races coming into our mist, and marrying our race, the Eskimos have been always been giving and willing to share what is ours and along with that ready to smile and be happy amongst other races, accept them as equal to us through they are or unwilling to take as equal to them, forgetting this is our land. This is our Land'. No Nation has ever fight us for it, neither have we ever thought of a conflict with anyone. Simply, the passage lanes are kept open all winter  for oil companies, and other countries see Arctic as away to transport goods much easier, and drill for oil, and oil is ship bypassing us, and make petroleum products very expensive up here. The writer knew there is such thing as consultation' with the Alaskan Tribes.  
The animals aren't worried...they know we are soon extinct and are just waiting us out.
+Matthew Kelly Doesn't matter if it's a scam or not. We use fossil fuels that took many millions of years to create in a time & climate that cannot be duplicated. We've used a significant percentage of what's accessible. There's more down there, yes. But it's not an infinite supply. It's never going to be created ever again. What do you suggest we do, and when do you suggest we do it, to come up with an alternative when we eventually run out? 

We've been sitting at 280 parts per million of carbon in our atmosphere for tens of thousands of years, and in just a hundred years, raised the atmospheric content to 380 parts per million. From 280 to 380. Whether or not it harms our climate, that rate isn't sustainable. Maybe fifty, maybe another hundred years. Two hundred years?? I kinda sorta doubt it.  Eventually the energy must come from somewhere else.  Where ? When? Will we attempt it when fuels are scarce? Will we attempt it when we as a world are so overloaded in debt that it's difficult to pay for the massive infrastructure development? How about when the farmers can't afford to run their tractors, and when crop yields drop and food becomes scarce? Should we wait until then? 

Climate change is irrelevant.  Fossil fuel is not inexhaustible. There will be a messy end unless we work together to create other ways of harnessing energy.

Lastly, Those here who have contributed trite, sarcastic, cynical, and fatalistic comments are collectively attempting to ensure nothing improves. They condemn future generations to a grim fate. I personally consider that sort of action to be... dishonorable.  One should consider carefully one's words before posting to what has the potential for positive and fruitful exchange of debate. If all debate is squashed, then no consensus will ever be reached and no action will result.  

Let's all figure this energy problem out together for real, shall we? Imagine! Dream! Dare to accomplish great things together! 
When are all these intelligent people going to stop telling everyone about global warming or trying to figure out some new tax to rob everybody and come up with a solution to fix the problem. A new tax or a carbon tax will do nothing to fix the problem. Come on smart people and fix the problem. I don't think you can. To much dumbing down has taken place.
+Tycho Aussie I am all on board with you as I explained it is the inevitable with the oil - they are already hurting and they have hurt themselves worse with the fracking. We nearly killed our water supply inland with fracking and we nearly killed the water supply in the gulf with the solvents! I wrote down a prediction when I saw all this happening but cannot remember the time frame I saw the oil companies going down.
Now this business with geothermal research in Alaska -- that is a lovely thing! Lateral thinking always makes me happy. Thank you, +Yonatan Zunger, for noting that here.

Tangentially, I have found that the "you'll pry my <particularly bad idea> from my cold, dead hands!" thinking can often be derailed by a figuring out what resources and principles <particularly bad idea> exploits or relies upon.  Then present that list to the intransigent party thus:  "Wow -- you have all this cool stuff at your disposal, and I see you've made some use of it... but what else can you do with it?"  Work forward from their response, emphasizing ownership and advantages to be gained.  (For proof of concept I offer several children of previously anti-vax parents who are now fully immunized.)
At the same time Arctic ice is decreasing Antarctic ice is increasing.
+Samuel Adams Nothing. If it is truly too late, there is by definition nothing you can do. It doesn't matter what the cause or scenario is, if you can do something to prevent a thing from occurring it is not too late.
::looks at the flood of idiotic comments at the tail of this thread::

Damn, +Yonatan Zunger, you've got a big clean-up job waiting for you when you get back to your computer. ;^)
+Marian Petee It cannot be fixed for free. It will mean the creation of a new industry. New power system engineers, new solar plant manufacturing jobs. New solar panel production facilities. Those jobs will pull people away from other industries. Money that goes into creating those jobs and businesses will have to come from somewhere else where it's no longer being spent. Those affected industries will have to shrink and shed jobs - perhaps they'll simply move into the new market... There's no perfect, painless, cost-free solution.

Since you don't think the smart people can fix the problem, then it's up to you and me and the rest of us to do it. Because there is a problem in need of fixing. One with the potential to become very, very life threatening some day.

I like to think I'm living a life worthy of the respect of my grandparents and great-grandparents. They sacrificed years of their life to fight tyranny during world wars I and II.  In the name of saving the world from the grip of a couple of facist rulers bent on creating a new world empire, they knowingly and courageously faced certain death in many battles, and eventually triumphed. What I have to wonder is, are we collectively as a nation, as strong and brave and courageous as our grandparents? We should not readily roll over and say "oh well, no hope. We're too weak and pitiful. Might as well wait for the end." That sort of attitude is not respectful, it's shameful.  

There IS no intentional conspiracy in this world. There is, however, individuals who selfishly think about themselves and it's at all levels of society, not just at the top. All we can personally do about it is make sure we're not one of them.
Natural cycle of the Earth, just look back several million years. It happens, acknowledge and move on because you can't stop nature. Somewhere a tree needs a hug brother!
Thanks for this message,however,how can we stop this happening,first those countries who produce something that will affect our ozone to think about and much as possible stop or minimize, planting of trees it will help a lots but the problem now adays the farm and mountain was turn into infrainstructure.

Good thing he couldn't take away any education I've gotten a degree in geometrics and math. He need to educate himself now I've said enough, the poor man
Derek Z
Currently, governvents are choosing economy over environment.
Man! a lot of people are in denial about this. Sure, in a couple of million years it will all go back ok as long as we're not around. Do they know that coral reefs are proven to become extinct very soon. At least think of our children's children.
+Dixie Ammo When, in the history of the Earth, has such a change happened within a 150 year span?  You can't possibly believe that such rapid changes are happening naturally, and coincidentally occur in perfect sync with the industrialization of man?
Western economies will have collapsed by then. It will be up to china, south america and India to finish off the ecosystem.
I get an unsettling feeling every time a ccold front crosses the North American continent these days. As a seaman apprentice learning meteorology in '75 I foresaw the fact of just such weather. It infuriates me. I feel so helpless about it...still!
It's the HAARP. It heats up the outer core of our hemisphere, which that energy doesnt break the hemisphere but is redirected back to the earths atmosphere and is causing global warming. Shut down the HAARP. 
i totally agree - climate change is happening. its just that all of humanity only accounts for about 3% of it
Interesting article, +Yonatan Zunger ...and you're not alone (though many of us think we're past the "tipping point" in the feedback loop...)I wish I could print up everything...but...well (I hate buying printer ink....)
I want to know what the world is doing to prevent this from happening. I believe there is an answer to every problem.
It must be obvious that the human race has developed way beyond its allocated allowance.
The fact is anyone in the "educated" world who has become a parent since 1980 should be deprived of the vote and the "right to work"
All of what is happening now is predicted in the bible and the role of humans described in minute detail. The correct response is also delineated in microscopic detail - but why bother : as St Paul puts it "eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die" for those few who haven't read the bible thus isn't what he was recommending its how he describes the response of people to warnings of imminent catastrophe! 
+Mike Barton Ice is increasing in East Antarctica but decreasing in West Antarctica, and the latter is faster than the former. (Quite a bit faster, unfortunately) I wouldn't bank on that to save us.
Last I'd heard (yesterday) it was 27 years (2040). Shortly before that (a few weeks ago) I'd heard 2050-2070.
Sigh. I went off to run some errands, and the comments... well. There's a reason I said that I was just going to clean the lousy stuff up without further ado in this thread, and I can see how right I was. Sigh.
Mr. Zunger, interesting post. I am always interested in data even if not always in agreement with the assertions. I have a couple of honest questions for you and assume all of the assertions are true. Currently I am reading a book called "Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans". In it there is a lot of discussion on how climate change impacted the migrations of the earliest humans. Some of what you mention here is also discussed in this book, which of course discusses the impact global warming and cooling has had on humans over the ages. 

Now, I think everyone would agree that it would be best for everyone involved if the Earth stayed just like it was. The temperate planet we've all come to know and love during this current interglacial would be sweet if it stayed forever, and everyone's coastline would stay right where it's at. But even ignoring whether or not humans have impacted the environment, we know it's going to change whether we do anything to it or not. At some point we'll need to adjust to a cooling or warming planet. 

The last two mini-ice ages wreaked havoc on human populations, helping lead to mass exterminations of human populations - The first during the Dark Ages caused by unexpected cooling that led to droughts and famine (exacerbated by the plague), and then again peaking around 1600, which again led to droughts and famine (hello plague again), which many also blame for the Irish Potato Famine later and other drastic changes to agriculture around the world. 

With this in mind, people were frightened that we were entering another mini-Ice Age in the 1970's when global temperatures had shown a brief cooling trend and scientists at the time thought the current interglacial could be ending. 

So my question for you is- Why do we always speak of global warming as if it's a worst case scenario? When the planet gets colder, humans die. When the planet gets warmer, humans prosper. This has been the case throughout all recorded history, and every time a flourish of humanity has occurred has been during warming cycles, not the other way around.

I know what the obvious answers are: Rising sea levels, shrinking coast lines, disrupted ocean patterns. But archaeology is finding underwater civilizations close to existing coastlines on a frequent basis. At some point those people had to pick up and move to higher ground, so this has already been happening throughout the entire interglacial we are currently experiencing.

The overall point being - It has been getting warmer for a long time. Every time coastline was taken back by the sea, there was some area newly uncovered by ice that become habitable. 

Let's take it a step further (2nd question). Knowing what happens to humans when the Earth gets colder (bad things), what if humans were able to actually prevent the next mini-Ice Age, or full blown Ice Age, by the current actions assuming that is the case? Science doesn't yet know for sure what causes the Ice Ages to come and (Some strong theories - Yes. Solid proof- not yet.) If humans could control the environment and avoid global cooling in the future, wouldn't that be something beneficial for humanity, and not the end of days that is currently being proposed?
b eep
+Irac Chaney Hum. I have to try to answer this idea that there is an answer to every problem. I don't think that is quite true. By this I mean that there are some truly fundamental questions  that you can ask in mathematics and not be able to get a good answer for. Let's look at axiomatic mathematical systems. It seemed reasonable for David Hilbert to ask in one of his famous Questions:  What is the minimum number of axioms that it would take to generate the rest of mathematics? This is something philosophers have been arguing since Plato. For instance, is the Parallel Postulate actually needed in Euclidean math? And, well, turns out, no. The system works just fine whether or NOT it is included. Still, people like Russell, Wittgenstien and that shadowy group called Bourbaki thought that it was possible to put all of math on a strictly finite axiomatic basis.

Enter Kurt Gödel. A very strange fellow who didn't publish a lot. But what he DID publish was every bit as mind bending as what Einstein was doing in physics. Both of his major theses are a bit hard to grasp, but not really out of the realm of ordinary people, assuming they will try and concentrate :) The first is just called Gödels Theorem these days and it goes something like this. Given any axiomatic system that is robust enough to admit simple arithematic, you can always generate a statement that is neither provable, nor NOT provable WITHIN THAT SYSTEM. That latter part is key. Go back to the Parallel Postulate. That is a concrete example. You can either accept that postulate or not. Either way, it doesn't matter. The axiomatic systems still work in both cases.

Here's the thing that makes the brain hurt. And I just have to repeat it. Given ANY axiomatic system that admits simple arithematic, you can ALWAYS generate a non-provable statement within and using that system. Sorta seems to mean that mathematicians will always have work....
The human race is, by and large, the most unpleasant thing that has ever happened to planet earth. One wonders what the earth has done to deserve being host to such a horrible parasite. However the galaxy itself, and indeed the solar system is the same as any other livIng organism : it has it's own immune system, and when the parasitic disease gets to the point of threatening the survival of the system, it will eject and eliminate it - as has happened countless times before. 
Is any global warming/climate change conditions cyclical? A kinda of renewal of sorts, out with the old and in with the new.

Would not that be the ultimate belief in mother earths ability to clean her self?
b eep
Eh, sure. We've got our problems. But I think we're not so bad. We could
use some fixing, but we understand beauty to an extent. It is possible that
we will kill ourselves. But, so far....not. The fact that we sometimes ask
questions is a good start.
+Marc Nations That's a completely reasonable question, and it isn't at all obvious -- after all, isn't warmer generally better?

The problem is that there's warmer and then there's warmer. Here are a few of the things that can go really wrong when temperatures rise:

* Farming: The temperature distributions in farmland tend to be pretty regular, which is what makes it good farmland. I did a calculation a few years ago as an example -- I took the daily weather data for Lincoln, NE for the past 100 years (you can get it from the local university's web site) and separated out the summer months, and plotted the distribution of daily highs. It turns out to be a nearly perfect bell curve, centered at 68F. In the average year, there are about 6 days above 95F. That temperature is important because above 95, a corn crop is guaranteed to be "stressed" (and lose a lot of its yield every day) no matter how much water it gets. 

When we talk about a temperature change of, say, 1C, we aren't talking about a particular day being 1C hotter -- we're talking about moving the center of the bell curve 1C to the right. And that means that those very narrow tails which are above 95 suddenly become a lot thicker. It turns out that, for changes up to about 5C, each degree Celsius of average rise corresponds to an extra week per summer of 95F weather. Given that there are only 90 days of summer, that means more heat waves, and lots of crop failures.

Now, this can be remedied to some extent by changing crops and moving, but it turns out that the surface area of the world's good cropland would go down by a lot if the temperature rose significantly. There isn't quite as much of Siberia as there is of the rest of the world. And a lot of the world's most populous areas would get hit the hardest.

* Weather: There are a lot of feedback effects here, but roughly, more heat energy means more violent weather. Rates of things like major hurricanes go up.

* Watersheds: Right now, the Himalayas get a lot of snow each winter; as this melts over the spring and summer, the rain fills up rivers from the Yang-Tze to the Ganges, and this watershed is the main water source for about 1.7 billion people. If the temperature goes up too much, that snow starts to turn into rain. The problem is that rain melts what snow is on the ground, and it doesn't stick around in the mountaintops all year the way snow does -- instead, it runs downhill now, (causing flash flooding) and then leaves the mountaintops empty. (Causing droughts) The same sort of thing can happen to all of our major water sources.

* Diseases: A lot of our more infamous tropical diseases, which have so hindered the development of agriculture etc. in so many parts of the world, are kept at bay by the limited range of temperatures they can survive. But it wouldn't take much change to suddenly make the entire planet a fertile breeding ground for malaria, trypanosomiasis, and any number of other parasites which find us especially delicious.

This is the "standard" stuff, and could be very important in the short term -- i.e., our lifetimes. But if we hit some of the big positive feedback loops that I'm talking about, things like the PETM, then we have a completely different category of problem: basically, most of the food species we rely upon (both plant and animal) would simply go extinct. Other species would, no doubt, fill in their ecological niches -- hot, wet climates are great for all sorts of life -- but those species are unlikely to be as efficient at producing food as species that we've spent the past 6,000 years domesticating. 

And once you start to knock out the fundamental tentpoles of our society, our ability to cope technologically goes downhill fast. Major failures of the food system tend to lead rapidly to political unrest, both domestically and internationally. That knocks out the transport logistics system, and occupies huge fractions of everyone's resources with fighting off that unrest, on top of actually eating. That means that infrastructure can't be maintained, much less grown, and the ability to do very top-of-the-stack sorts of things like develop new biotechnologies and field deploy them at large scale suffer, fast, and so our response time goes down. That, in turn, leads to things getting worse faster, which knocks the infrastructure down more, and so on... there are, alas, positive feedback cycles possible in civilization as well. Technical knowledge is of surprisingly limited value when you don't have a tremendous stack of existing infrastructure to build upon.

So there are real risks of having a massive ecosystem shift towards one where our major food sources are absent, and in a situation where we don't have the technical capability to adapt quickly enough. That means a sudden, and massive, drop in species population, together with an essentially irreversible destruction of infrastructure. At the best, this could mean a several-thousand-year dark age for the survivors; at the worse, it means that we drop back to the Neolithic; at the worst, it means that we just stop.

So warming is definitely a risk. Cooling would also obviously be a risk, although it's not one we're really worried about at the moment. (There was some concern about that in the 70's, in the early days of climate science, but we quickly realized that it was not the problem) 

Generally, massive changes in the ecosystem are tremendous risks to anyone who has a big investment in the way it is -- like humanity.
Carl~ Milankovich cycles (cycles of Earth orbital conditions produced by gravitational interaction between the Earth, sun, Jupiter and Saturn, primarily) are primary drivers of solar forcing, meaning the amount of solar radiation striking the planet. Major cycles are a tad more than 400,000 years, with smaller sub-cycles integrated into them. These are not only cyclical but (so far) completely unaffected by human behavior. Off the top of my head, I can't think of any other processes affecting climate that aren't able to be influenced by human beings( tho' I might be totally wrong about that). A major question might be at what point human activities are able to counteract the effects of these drivers. 
+Carl Muonio Good news: It is cyclical. As far as the ecosystem as a whole is concerned, a species creating runaway waste products that poison the entire biosphere is just one of those things that happen every so often, and the planet knows how to recover; the same thing happened at the Great Oxygenation Event. The planet is pretty much guaranteed to survive.

Bad news: We aren't.
b eep
I do think you should drop the 'warming' part out. Simply because too many
just take that far too literally. What's gonna screw us is the energy put
into the system, causing not only hot spots, but cold, and drought and too
much rain and and and :-.....Idiots still go "See!! It got COLD in the
Unfortunately humans are reactive, not proactive. I think we should just not worry about it and prepare for the eventual extinction of the human race.
b eep
Er, how DID I get into this conversation? I think we should all just listen
to more Yoko Ono. That ought to confuse most everyone outside of me and
Yoko :)
God is an inadequate term to describe the indescribable - ie that which is beyond the understanding of intelligence systems within creation. The human race is really beneath the need to be described
I noticed that at least one person made a very ignorant statement; that we have nothing to do with this... Really? If you just looked at a couple pieces of any credible article than you'd realize that the earth's global temperature has been rising VERY rapidly over the past hundred years. We are playing a larger role in this than any historical natural event by several times.
b eep
Whoa, dude! Be careful with that reply button, eh? :-D
b eep
And, (to John Jeise) of course you are right. BUT!! Have you ever really
tried to take on people who believe far more deeply in their politics than
in some silly concept like science?

On Sat, Apr 13, 2013 at 10:44 PM, beep <****@**> wrote:

> Whoa, dude! Be careful with that reply button, eh? :-D
Yonatan : if that was it we'd maybe have a chance because then humans could indulge their favourite activities - arse-licking and bribery!
b eep
I know of 2 people that I can think of off hand that will simply go overly
emotional on you when you try to disuss real science. And one I fear might
be an ex er, govt official that I can't say no more about.

On Sat, Apr 13, 2013 at 10:46 PM, beep <****@**> wrote:

> And, (to John Jeise) of course you are right. BUT!! Have you ever really
> tried to take on people who believe far more deeply in their politics than
> in some silly concept like science?
> On Sat, Apr 13, 2013 at 10:44 PM, beep <****@**> wrote:
>> Whoa, dude! Be careful with that reply button, eh? :-D
b eep
Er, but damn! What is the problem there? We've been perfecting that since
we even had words for it. We're human. It is one thing we are good at.
Denial is an ugly, irrational thing. You can put your head in the sand, only but so long, and then you find there is something in the sand with you. 
I've spent the better part of my adult life reading numerous science fiction novels (number in the dozens easily) that relate post apocalyptic tales of Earth and the few human survivors.

Reading this post of something I was really already aware just sort of made my bowels turn to water. Concise, well written and so, so, hopeless.

I wonder what Ray Kurzweil thinks. 
Cogent and pithy contribution there, Brendan Blake!
Kevin s.."Unfortunately humans are reactive, not proactive."

my boss always tell me to be more proactive?
I should tell him humans are reactive...we cannot be proactive.
+Gibran Washington I actually suspect that the answer might lie in the opposite direction: more urbanization might help reduce loads. The reason is that it's a lot easier to optimize a single, concentrated system than a large, distributed one. Rural areas are only cleaner because they have less population; load per individual is lower in cities, not higher. 

Part of this is simple distances: less distance over which to transport electricity, sewage, etc. Part of it is the ability to build really good, scalable infrastructure for key things like those.

What we would need to solve, to make this really work, is the problem of food production. If we could reduce the cost of resource transport into and out of cities, we could do something really amazing. 
Kinda like an ice age was imminent back in the 70s.
No, Harry, it's getting HOTTER not colder, that's why it's called global warming - back to the footy mate.
I think that anyone who's been paying attention knows how serious it is. When Gwynne Dyer interviewed climate scientists and military planners in 2007 and 2008 for Climate Wars, he found that the people who understood the science the most were in a state of "barely suppressed panic." That's a very unusual thing to read about scientific researchers. He also said that they were already convinced that we were already past being able to fix things by reducing emissions. At the very least, some form of geoengineering would be required, but that nobody wanted to say so publicly because it would be interpreted as "no worries, we can keep polluting."
Don't mind me +John Lawrence I'm just pointing out that the alarmists have been wrong before. Or maybe I'm overlooking your sarcasm. No bother, I read they seem to be deleting those who disagree. 
so what are the big powers of the world doing about this? What is the government, the richest of the rich,  and the big NGOs doing? without the 99% the 1% are nothing. Also what would happen if we go 100% to nuclear power and stop the methane from leaking out?
Hi Harry! Gotta keep a sense of humour going as the drowning man said to the turtle!
It is like entertaining an idea you know is false. You think about that idea and it's consequences. +Jason Edwards and everyone else who shares his opinion , the people who take up space in the comments by not furthering the discussion about what might be happening are annoying as hell. So whether you believe this or not, you are stopping us from reaching a conclusion to our thought process and that will not be tolerated ON THIS POST.

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
- Aristotle
Intolerance - one of the human race's more attractive characteristics
+John Lawrence There is no such thing as intolerance on the internet because there is always an output and a bored soul with time to listen to opposing beliefs.
+Yonatan Zunger Thank you for the answer. It can be difficult to get just the facts sometimes, and these are things I've wondered about for a while. It's an interesting topic.

One other question is the comparison of this interglacial period we are in versus other periods in the past. Based on what I have read, if you go back 400,000 years we are currently right at the average seen by 2 out the last 5 interglacials. The other two were about 2 degrees C higher, which also always reflect higher CO2 levels as well. There definitely seems to be a direct relation there. 

One way to read that is that we have a little bit of buffer left before we are outside the norm of what the Earth does naturally during these periods. That doesn't remove the potential disastrous effect you mentioned for humanity, just that statistically speaking it would not be outside the norm from a macro perspective.

So that leads to what I always wonder next...What caused the CO2 emissions during these previous phases? How can we know that whatever caused that to happen in the past isn't being repeated now?

Btw, I don't claim to be any kind of climate expert (which is why I appreciate hearing these facts from someone who is). However trained in another engineering discipline I try to apply those principles to this issue in an attempt to remove all variables in isolating the problem.

In the past, the Earth seemed to belch out CO2 on its own somehow, and this time along humanity is apparently giving it a hand. The challenge as I see it is trying to figure out how much of an extra push that is and whether the toothpaste can be put back in the tube. 
So coinciding with this post is Stephan Hawking saying we should live in space if we want to survive because the planet is too fragile.
John A.
+Jennifer Williams pointed out that if the government shared all this information with the public and the public's reaction would be "damn. We only have X amount of time to live", that the infrastructure would break down faster. That is the thing. The current infrastructure needs to break down. We need to wean ourselves off the baby bottles full of oil and uranium and start sucking on 8 second old sunshine for our energy needs. Keep trying to plant that seed yet it hasn't found enough fertile soil. 
Human enginuity is so Prehistoric....we are Pathetically chasing Rainbows...our Inventors are more interested in making a Fast Buck instead of Helping the Recovery of our Blue Planet...Wasted Education on Wasted Science and Pathetic Major Industryalisation of Huge Expensive Boys Toys.
How about controlling the public as it was done in WWII. We got the public to ration and use less gas. We can do similar things now to achieve the goals we must achieve to survive. 
Lets go back at least 3 Centuries and Start Again
I agree I been looking in to this since I first heard about it and I look at a lot of history,discovery,nature, channel ect. Its no joke. Shit is getting real. 
+Marc Nations The short answer to that question is that the current temperature increases track precisely with the increased CO2 in the atmosphere. And we know that the increased CO2 is coming from burning fossil fuels (i.e. by us) as opposed to natural sources by measuring the carbon isotopes: This documentary is also a good introduction to the science:
+Ian Schumacher Since you refuse to read or investigate i will make it easy for you. Less ice = more heat. More heat = death

+Jim Douglas Is it not more so that the co2 melted the ice, which means less heat reflected back out, that contains methane which is a way more powerful greenhouse gas than co2?
+Edwin Avila You're thinking of the feedback effects, which haven't kicked in seriously yet. To date, the increased temperatures are all directly attributable to increased CO2. As the arctic melts, two major feedback sources will kick in. The much lower albedo of open water versus ice will accelerate the heating and melting. And methane liberated from the permafrost is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.
So then we still have a chance..... to not be screwed more than we are now! We must not let that methane escape. Can't we drain it out?
Those feedback effects aren't significant yet, but they're already inevitable. No matter what we do at this point, the arctic will soon be entirely ice free during the summer (the article that Yonatan linked to above).
And so the world evolves as it had been doing for ever!!!!! 
This crisis made me quit my career doing fancy-schmancy theoretical physics and pure math.  It made me start trying to get people to wake up, and trying to figure out good things people can do.  I'm very glad you wrote a post about it that got a lot of attention. 

I was feeling depressed when 2 years ago I gave a talk pointing out that we need to find 9 ways to cut carbon emissions by a gigatonne in 50 years just to keep carbon emissions constant for that time.  This is not good enough to stop global warming, just a tiny step.  What depressed me was that one of these ways would be to boost total worldwide solar power capacity by a factor of 80. 

I'm feeling a bit happier that now, we only need to boost it by a factor of 30.  It's been going up fast.  But still...

Any physicists out there who want to know how to help: try this:
+Yonatan Zunger I understand your decision to prune unfruitful discussion in this case, and I respect it.  Thank you for responding.
What we really need is more mouths to feed. World population needs to burst at the seams and flood the west with more mouth breathers.
That's a whole lota horse fritters! 
Oh, look! Someone just posted something in violation of the thread rules, and when I deleted it, copy-pasted the same text into a new comment. Goodbye.
Good lord.  You can plot out the instant this hit what's hot :-P.

This seems like an excellent case study for an argument to give prior moderation an option to a post, or to specify turning it on when hitting what's hot, and so on... :D

Just sayin' ....
+Cindy Brown I suspect that it actually shows when +Yonatan Zunger stepped away from his computer, & was unable to delete the worst idiocy before the rest of us could see it. ;^)
That said, a pre-moderation system that works like the current spam-flagging system (flagged comments are visible only to the OP until approved or deleted) would be wonderful!
Woudln't it though!!!

/fantasizes momentarily

Er.  Sorry for doing that out in public...
+J. Elliott-Smith There is little reason to save something that has shown time and again over hundreds of centuries that it does not deserve to be rescued from it's own stupidity.
+Marc Nations You're right that we're still within the norms for an interglacial period. What's been very far outside the norm has been the rate at which we've been warming up. The warm-up before the PETM was the fastest recorded one in the planet's history, and amounted to 0.0003C per year; in the past century, we've been averaging more than 30 times that. We aren't living in a tropical greenhouse yet, but we're heading towards one at a pretty alarming speed.

There has actually been one other cycle in the Earth's history which is similar to this: the Great Oxygenation Event, about 2.4 billion years ago. Prior to this time, the dominant life on earth was anaerobic bacteria, and there was almost no Oxygen in the atmosphere. But anaerobes (especially cyanobacteria) produce oxygen as a waste product, and it started to build up. We aren't exactly sure what triggered the sudden spike, but some kind of positive-feedback event occurred; it may have had to do with the bacteria getting better at photosynthesis, or that these bacteria used up some of the nonrenewable resources they depended on -- Iron III and Nickel being two likely candidates, or it may be that there was just a certain critical point beyond which a natural positive-feedback loop just kicked in. ("Bistability hypothesis") 

Whatever it was that triggered it, the atmospheric oxygen level suddenly shot up from about 0.02% to the 20% or so we have today. This wiped out almost all life on Earth, to which oxygen was a powerful poison; they literally drowned (and burned alive) in their own waste products. It was only the small number of aerobic bacteria who suddenly thrived, then spread and took over all the ecological niches. Almost all life on Earth today (the major exception being yeast) is descended from those aerobes.

The moral of that story, if there is any, is that there's a history of life forms triggering giant positive-feedback events like this. The Earth survives and fascinating things can come of it, but it rarely bodes well for the people who started it.
Yonatan Zunger
Everything I have been reading lately has been saying the Antarctic sea ice has been increasing full stop with September 26, 2012 covering a greater area than at any time in recorded satellite history.
+Nate Behary +Lionel Lauer +Cindy Brown Nah, it hit WH before I first stepped away -- you can't see it because I've gone beyond simply moderating heavily, the way I do on contentious issues, and have simply been nuking the stuff I said I would nuke rather than trying to draw people out into debate. There are a lot of important things to discuss on this topic, but if we spend every single climate post talking about the basics with people who are very determined not to listen, we'll never get to talk about anything else. 
Well goodness, then +Yonatan Zunger.  What were you thinking, to step away from  your computer?!  You must attend it at all times to keep teh mobs out!

the ice is gone the polar bear is die 
And  yes, I've found the upper division comments very interesting.  Fucking depressing but very interesting.  Some good comments up there.
+Mike Barton Ah, you're talking about this: 

Yes, it's true that there's been a recent rise in the size of the Antarctic ice cap. (While other parts of it are collapsing: the West Antarctic ice sheets, in particular, have been decomposing at a terrifying rate. A few years ago, a chunk the size of Manhattan disappeared in less than a week) It seems that wind patterns are involved, and it's causing certain areas of Antarctica to grow. 

I wouldn't gamble money on that continuing for any particular length of time. It's one of those transients that happen.
+Jim Douglas Thanks, and I read the article which gave an idea about scope (part of my follow up question), but this only covered the last 10,000 years. I was wondering about a larger sample size. I'm not questioning the man-made contribution. I'm just curious as too how much and how it compares to previous events.

We know the Earth gets warmer and then it gets cooler. What's the trigger?? We know of certain events that affect it: slight wobbles in the Earth's spin, slight variations in planetary course, the Sun feeling extra spicy for a few thousand years or so, plus other factors that have been theorized.

My question is more than that, with some fairly large implications:

Can humanity break the Ice Age cycle?

Think about that for a second. We may have discovered through unfortunate accident (as many scientific discoveries are made) on how to help the Earth in breaking the cycle. We know what CO2 levels need to be in order to maintain the interglacial peace we now enjoy. What if we had the means to ensure that level could be maintained more or less forever? 

In order to accomplish that, we need the whole formula. Part of that is knowing what caused CO2 emissions to increase during the last 4 cycles that led to interglacials. Plus knowing what happened that caused C02 levels to drop. Because there's a certain threshold we do not want CO2 levels to drop below. Bad things happen. Just like there's a threshold we do not want them above.

And we know it's more than just random volcanic eruptions or meteorite hits (which can bring on some rather foul conditions for a long time) but a regular cycle that should have predictable triggers. 

Overall, anything is possible that isn't rule out by physical laws. It may seem a ridiculous idea now, but having the ability to control CO2 levels around the globe could be possible in the future. At this point it may sound more like Science Fiction, but often does Science Fiction become scientific fact.
+Yonatan Zunger Very interesting comment about how urbanization may be the solution to the problems.  Intuitively it makes sense, but I wonder if anyone has actually done some sort of research into this? Do you know anything offhand?  
This is all just talk : or hot air as we call it (heh heh)

+Marc Nations For this particular cycle, there's some especially good evidence that anthropogenic CO2 is the culprit behind it -- the GISS-E paper back in 2006 (Hansen et al., "Dangerous human-made interference with climate: A GISS modelE study." J. Geophys. Res.) did this by building a best-in-class climate model, running it against the past 100 years of data to verify that it worked, and then knocking out a bunch of individual contributing factors (solar variation, etc., etc.) to see which ones mattered. It turned out that solar variation mattered almost not at all, while anthropic CO2 mattered a huge amount. 

(I actually did an online journal-club presentation of this paper back then: you can see it at

For previous cycles, you'd have to ask a specialized paleoclimatologist, which unfortunately I'm not. I know that we have some understanding of it, especially for some of these cycles where a known event triggered changes. (e.g., the famous asteroid impact at the K-T boundary that killed off the dinosaurs) 

However, all of these transitions were extremely different from the one we're in today, if nothing else for their speed; we're currently moving at over 30x the rate of the fastest previous warming transition in history, so we're very clearly looking at some very different mechanisms than the ones in the past.
+John Lawrence Argh. I remember that someone did do some interesting research on this recently, which is what got me thinking in this direction, and I absolutely cannot remember who it was. If I remember I'll follow up.
Come on, Yonatan, you know there aren't any solutions it's down to individuals to get into their own survival suits and go off into the wilderness. With or without their copy of King Lear!
Please don't scare the kiddies

This is the excellent foppery of the world, that,
when we are sick in fortune,--often the surfeit
of our own behavior,--we make guilty of our
disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars: as
if we were villains by necessity; fools by
heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and
treachers, by spherical predominance; drunkards,
liars, and adulterers, by an enforced obedience of
planetary influence; and all that we are evil in,
by a divine thrusting on: an admirable evasion
of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish
disposition to the charge of a star! My
father compounded with my mother under the
dragon's tail; and my nativity was under Ursa
major; so that it follows, I am rough and
lecherous. Tut, I should have been that I am,
had the maidenliest star in the firmament
twinkled on my bastardizing. Edgar--

+Yonatan Zunger That's interesting stuff, and I did not know the information on current velocity. Especially since faster velocity is harder to slow down if we ever do come across a means to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and transform it or hide it back in the Earth. 

However we know that the Earth has a means of dealing with it since cooling has occurred after each one of the warming periods.That's the part of this equation that fascinates me. 

Edit: Just saw your latest info. My above statement is assuming that all cooling trends weren't caused by singular events. I'm assuming based on the regular nature of these cycles that there are some regular and recurring forces at play.  
+Ian Schumacher Here are some of the better known feedback loops

methane clathrate basically a 10-25% boost in warming

methane permafrost

This puts the PETM in the minds of alot of people for reasons like this

The PETM was really bad for a huge chunk of living things
Just saw this wonderful TED talk tonight via +fan tai // Allan Savory: How to fight desertification and reverse climate change It looks like a good solution, but we still have to address deforestation, ocean acidification and extinctions along with developing eco-friendly fossil fuel replacements.
+Marc Nations I think (but this is where it becomes more clear that I'm not a paleoclimatologist) that all of the various mechanisms have involved systematic carbon sequestration. One mechanism has been that high CO2 leads to a greenhouse effect, which leads to massive plant growth, and lots of the CO2 gets captured in the actual biomass. Sometimes there are external forcing functions, like regular oscillations in solar input to the Earth (Milankovič cycles) or supervolcanoes and asteroid impacts that dump huge amounts of aerosols into the upper atmosphere. And there are all sorts of other things that can play into it, involving plate tectonics, oceans, etc., etc.

The thing about these external forcing functions is that, just like there are positive feedback loops which can heat up a planet, there are also ones which can cool it down, like ice-albedo feedback: ice reflects sunlight really well, so if you have more ice, more sunlight is reflected back into space rather than trapped, which means less overall heating for the Earth, which means more ice, etc. So even without a steady process like carbon being sequestered into trees, it's possible for a single event to knock the planet over a tipping point into an ice age.

The Wikipedia article on ice ages is actually a good starting point for this stuff.
The hot air takes over. Just like in real life!
Perhaps it is a different kind of denialism, but I do feel it is possible for human beings to still make meaningful changes in how we live in this world. Having made the obligatory bias statement, here are some things to consider...

re: solutions found in greater urbanization --

As much as I love the solitude of wild places and the rhythm of rural life, I have long believed that this is likely our best resort for sustainable living.   Our present technology can create a significant difference in the energy and biota profiles of our cities -- if we are willing to embrace some radical changes in how we conceptualize urban living. Here is one set of possible ideas:

Dickson Despommier has some interesting ideas about urban farming that I think merit consideration as well.

While current CO2 emissions are most commonly cited in discussions of global warming, I tend to have greater worry over already existing debt in the carbon cycle, e.g. humanity's ever-proliferating solid wastes.   A technology that has enormous potential for addressing that problem AND producing fairly clean energy is plasma gasification.  Not only does this process produce fairly clean energy, it could be a significant player in carbon sequestration of existing landfills and could potentially be used to strip toxic metals out of superfund sites.
+D. Luria Of course, increased urbanization would mean more wild spaces, as humans moved out of those large areas and concentrated more in smaller ones. 

But, as you say, this is going to require a real reconceptualization of urban living. The greening of cities is something tremendously important, as Beijing is discovering in a rather dramatic fashion right now. But it's possible, something that fills me with excitement. 
So really, what we need at this point is for earth be hit by another decent-sized asteroid.
In the meantime we just carry on writing well-paid rubbish so we can carry on feeding rubbish to our overweight kids, watching rubbish on our oversize tvs and driving through rubbish in our oversize cars. 
Exactly who are you and more importantly who are the "important scientists who agree on climate change"? What exactly is there to disagree about climate change (it was cool yesterday and hot today). What do you porpose? We stop using gasoline? electricity? water? what? You want us to stop using plastic? Why not? just ask every retailer and manufacturer out there to hand deliver there products to our homes, better yet, bring their own bags and stuff it in our cupboards. You want us to stop using gasoline? Then ask my boss to send my cubicle home, why not set a conveyor from my home to work? There was a time when science was about possibilities and solutions. Today science is more about sins of humanity and how we have to redeem our souls to the gods of clean environments or whatever. The high priests of science are getting shocked at our indifference, and are predicting misery and unhappiness for our children. 
+Lionel Lauer Of course! An asteroid to save humanity. Nothing can possibly go wrong with our plan!

You get the upsidaisium supply secured. I'll distract the moose and squirrel.
I believe in climate change and I believe it is the result of rapid development of humans and we doesnt care about the wellbeing of our mother earth.But the good news is ,it's not too late to plan and make our move to save our planet, so help us God.
We sure  need it from time to time.  Jean  Fleay
Let's look at some more convincing evidence. 

Methane from arctic permafrosts and clathrates. 
Fire and Ice: Permafrost Melt Spews Combustible Methane

As time goes on we will have to do more and more just to reduce the acceleration of climate change. We're not even talking about maintaining a stable climate. We need to recognize that a lot of work has to be done to keep the climate from changing faster than it already is. 

The rate of change is going to accelerate. 

Rate of change matters. If you gain 20 lbs in a year you have a big problem. If you gained 18 lbs in January, 19 in February and 22 in March you can see that the point where you stop entirely is rapidly approaching. 

Now look at this animated graph of arctic sea ice volume.

We refer to these graphs as "deaths spiral" graphs because we're reasonably sure that the closer this graph gets to zero the more endangered species die and the more individuals of species homo sapiens will prematurely join them. 
It'll be interesting to see what the weather is like is 20 years with an ice free arctic. 
This is the fault of developed countries like the US, Russia, China etc who only care about staying in power today because they won't be around tomorrow so don't care.
ya china and all of them need to stop worrying about who is in power and start worrying about how they as a country are doing to the other smaller countries
Though we are not still serious about the climate change...i think its not only changing its rapidly changing...
The problem is; while money is to he made, the earth will get screwed.
Oil drilling and mining have become a Pandora's Box...we should stop it with our single voice before its too late.we are still late for carbon fixation from the environment. 
+Sakari Maaranen, you knew all about this already, didn't you?

I've noticed many posts in the past speaking about the importance of blending in with nature rather than exploiting it, but I hadn't read before on really how serious the situation would be.

To think it might even start in our own lifetimes! That's a much shorter scope than I thought it'd take for the big changes to come O_O'

I have nothing of value to add. Though, I'd second Yonatan's comment up there: let's all start practising yoga. We may as well prepare to face our finality in calmness.
يسألنك عن الساعة قل علمها عند الله.....
+Yonatan Zunger your suggestion about yoga is equally valid no matter if we take it humorously (as intended) or more seriously. :)
Thanks for sharing this, good to see someone not afraid to call it as it is 
Sam Bao
actually I feel this is a good thing,finally we can get rid of those big cities, and the people that live within those cities with them shitty attitudes.
+Bao Sam: actually, concentrating people to live in the big cities rather than suburbs could significantly release carbon emissions, even if Jevons is right.
The people with the most money have the most to lose- if we where to take the matter of global warming as serious. The money moguls control what we see and what we here. Our thirst for technology and lifestyle is a slow and deadly cancer effecting the planet. Like a enormous fly wheel on an engine, the global warming crisis is increasing speed and like any fly wheel it will take a considerable time to stop, but then how do you send the fly wheel in reverse. 
When does it become to late and what can we ( the average person) do about it. I have changed my lifestyle to reduce my emissions.  
My friend Minik Thorlief Rosing has spent the last few decades studying the geology of Greenland. Recently he has been trying to get people to pay attention to what's happening to the ice there. Here's an account of an early success in that effort.

Minik and his family are visiting Stanford right now, and they had us over for dinner on Friday. I asked him whether there were a silver lining to the ice melt, whether there were more rocks available for him to look at. He showed me some pictures of a snow field several miles across that's now a huge puddle. It's a shallow puddle - one of the pictures showed some dogs lying on the snow, ignoring the water - but these pictures were a vivid illustration of the melting feedback that +Yonatan Zunger mentions.

Here's an overview of what happened in Greenland last summer. This was in the newspapers, though the explanations were not very clear and there was some active denial.
It is now Autumn here in New Zealand. .We have had a rather long arduous hot period over Summer ,infact we have had record dry Periods ,our Agriculture and Aquaculture have both suffered with insufficient Grass to feed the Cows and Sheep and a growth of Toxic Alge Bloom contaminating our Green lip Mussels.If this is an Indication of Tougher Times to come then,we All have to be Prepared to make Suitable Changes for us to Continue to sustain our Economies and our Heritages.Global Warming is infact a very Normal Occurance and it is Based on its Own Earthly Behaviour,Governed by the Global weather and the Lengths of its Seasons.February 2013 was a 75 year Highest record of Hot weather and what is to come in Future is also Record Breaking Status.Economists around the World are looking Desperately at their Pockets as this World is Tottering on into a Competely New Phase.Rather than Wasting Precious Energy on Observing and Critisizing what is Obvious ,we all need to Prepare ourselves for Drastic Times Ahead.
Global Polution is Rampant .Not only are Developing Nations Urging themselves onward ,there is in Fact no way more Advanced Countries can Halt their Industrial Growth .We Started it First now it is Their turn.Continual ,Wastage and the very Fact we have a Apocoliptic Situation at hand does not Ease the Factual World Anxiety we are all Suffering .Global Scientists need to Rally together and Form a Unity to infact Develope Scientific Solutions to our World Deficits .Toleration on a World scale is Deminishing while Fat Cats are Milking away at the mere Fabric of Our Existance.
World Leaders are merelly Minimising any World Catastrophy ,using sideline Decoys such as Currencies...Deposition Hearings...Nuclear Arms and Poor Leadership ,instead of Focusing on the Real Issues of the State our Blue Planet is in.Afterall we all Helped along with the "Hot House Theory" now we must all urge Government Stratergies to slow down the "Labour Pains " so to speak.
Ice Breaks are Occuring all along theAntarctic Ross Shelf ...some Iceburges are as tall as 1500 ft..they break off and Plunge into the Cold Depths of the Antarctic Ocean .Often making their voyage to the West...pushed around Gracefully by Tidal Currents and Galeforce winds.Observed continually 300 kms offsure New Zealand.While the Arctic Shelf is Deminishing. so is our Antarctic Shelf . Global Meterologists continually Predict in this area alone a Substantial Drastic Change to Climates.A dedicated Scientific Team who are Continually extracting Ice cores and Delivering accurate assumptions to our News Teams are Definatelly keeping us who are Downunder in " the loop".Factual hardcore Evidence is Abound .Theorising now is a thing of the past and what is Needed now on a Global Effort is for the Leaders to Agree what is the best Directives to take.I want my Great grandchildren to enjoy their Existance and for this Beautiful Blue Planet to Flourish on Generations to come.
A great New Zealand inventor back in the 1980s had invented the Water Engine for Automobiles and guess what ...he it then a Major threat to the Oil Industry...any further Development of Alternative Fueling is soon Quashed by the Oil Companies...and believe this there is no such thing as Oil Depletion anywhere it is infact Abundant .Indrilled areas in the World are Flourishing in Fosil Fuels.Rain forests however are another Sad Dilema.This is indeed just another Red Herring which swims around Quite Freely ,uninterupted as those Fat Saudi Shieks get Fatter and Drive around in their Petrol driven cars .
It will sadly take another whole lifetime for any Miniscual Change to Occure to our Situation .We are all standing on the Edge of our own Inahilation .Not to sound Pescimistic at all ...this is the Cold Hard Factual Evidence as well as Reality we can all Enjoy or be Disgusted with.
Call this the Human Epilogue of All Time!
Thank you +Yonatan Zunger what you have done is really important. Most do not pay attention to ordinary people.

What do you think about starting a non-profit to make and create an Algae Bioreactor Community (ABC) plus also plant miscanthus as citizen's science projects?

Is anyone interested in helping? Does anyone have suggestions, critiques or other ideas? I hope we all make an effort.

I am wondering whom to contact? Anyone else on Google+ ?   +Richard Branson #askrichard   is interested in this subject. I also looked for California billionaire Tom Steyer (previously with Farallon Capital Management) and there are some with this name but no profile here on +Google+ Paypal founder +Elon Musk

My post about the ABC and miscanthus projects: 
#citizenscience #climatescience #miscanthus #rubisco  
If you have a problem with the way your government is treating you, then
change your government. If you are unable to organise yourself sufficiently
to make this change then you should see to your motivations. It is likely
they are simply inadequate to the task. The answer is within you... all you
need to do is act upon it. If however you only wish to send a message to
your government that you are dissatisfied with their performance on your
behalf but have not yet succeeded in getting your point across, there could
be a failure in communication. Try speaking to them in terms that they will
understand, or at least so as they will pay attention to you long enough
for you to further explain yourself... Think about it!... What is the one
single fallback excuse or proviso that all politicians and/or
administrators worthy of the title, use to excuse or explain their own lack
of effort or success?
Just how long do you think it would take for the appropriate bills to be
passed and then acted upon or enforced if it was known what the
consequences would be for their failure? For sure, Become the change you
would see in the world, but also make sure that those who you live with are
not just along for the ride.
More Recognition to this Topic andall other Related Topics like this one is at least the Catalystic Potion to Change ....we all need to Backup the Movers and Shakers here ...I personally am in the Cockpit also we stand United here so lets move on Radically and get some Real feedback.
Grudo R
i guess we'll all be dead then. good, can we stop talking about it now? 
+Cindy Brown I just completed an intro course in sustainability, and the professor told us that he thinks that if we took a worldwide swing away from fossil fuel-based economy that we'd actually improve the economic status of the mass of humanity, meaning that even if the anti-change folks were right (that none of this is human-caused or it isn't really happening) that this would still be a better choice... if this idea can be gotten into the brains of enough industry leaders, maybe the change can happen within the firms as well.
And my trip with Denmark’s minister of climate and energy, Connie Hedegaard, to see the effects of climate change on Greenland’s ice sheet leaves me with a very strong opinion: Our kids are going to be so angry with us one day.

(from that times article someone linked in earlier: )
+Jorah Lavin where are you taking that course?  (p.s. Hi Jorah, long time no type at you!)
Hey, Robyn! This was a trial class for corporate, governmental, and NGO representatives at Wake Forest University in Charlotte, North Carolina. We had two professors... an economics guy and an ecology/biology guy. 
+Yonatan Zunger You've likely heard of Allan Savory and his 'desertification' reversal solution. Have you any thoughts about the effectiveness of his solution towards halting one of these feedback loops?
To handle issues on this scale we need to rework how we react to change and how we trust in each other. Luckily, the past decade has given us a bounty of research on those topics. Gottman's "The Science of Trust" and "The Willpower Instinct" and good, readable surveys to get us started.
"Of course, increased urbanization would mean more wild spaces, as humans moved out of those large areas and concentrated more in smaller ones."

+Yonatan Zunger  indeed -- but I would likely be living in those urbanized spaces and not the wildlands... and there in lies the rub.  I have an excellent and broad education in life and earth sciences coupled to a life-long awareness of the need for and dedication to humanity achieving environmental equilibrium -- and yet when I think of living in a high-density urban tower, something in me contracts into a shuddering ball of unhappy resistance -- even though I know what is at stake.  For someone of a similarly rural background, whose concerns and perspective are more squarely centered on daily existence rather than the science's broader plenum I can only imagine that resistance much exist in an order of magnitude greater than my own... and for as long as any significant number of us resist necessary change to our lifeways, humanity cannot and will not proceed along a path that runs to a future

So yes, reconceptualization is beyond critical here, and not just in how we can better utilize urban space, but perhaps most importantly, how we can make urban density be a happy home for primates that universally demonstrate a preference for wide-open, tree-dotted grasslands.

"...The greening of cities is something tremendously important, as Beijing is discovering in a rather dramatic fashion right now. But it's possible, something that fills me with excitement. "

Beijing is horrifying, but hardly the first instance of a city staggering under it's own air pollution. I fervidly hope the PRC takes a fucking clue from this and looks beyond their borders to other countries that have faced that challenge... and yes, the possibilities, the amazing, wondrous, glorious things we could do with our cities excites me to the point of giddiness (or at least excessive adjectives) as well.  That potential is one of the things my sanity hangs onto for dear life when the data rolling in is just too grim.
back to carbon footprint, carbon capture and planting trees.
1. There's a TED talk about planting trees across Africa from East to West to nibble away at the edge of the Sahara desert. Too far away for you?
2. Your neigbourhood park or an abandoned lot. Guerilla gardening or compaign for more trees. Too nebulous?
3. You have kids at school. Plant trees there. No kids (me either)?
4. Get your HOA to change the rules that say - NO Trees, horrors, they shed ... leaves EEK!!!
go Google there are many tree planting charities.
+Bill Jarrett we do have a garden, and we have filled it with trees, tucking spekboom into any remaining gaps.
I think there is not One World Leader who is equiped to take such a Stand on our Global Catastrophy .All seem to leave it to Chance ,their Flamboyant Apathy gets them everywhere . China is a Major Pollution outputter.India has burried its Head in IBM technology.Germany is Galantly Confussing the EEC.Tyrany abounds in Eastern Territories .Government instability encourages Unease in Arab States.Unity is only between Religeous Fanatics.
No wonder Our Beloved Blue Planet is being Forgotten.If all that Negative Global Energy could be Harnesed we Probably could Power. NUCLEAR WARSHIP.On the other hand Cows expelling Gas also hinders our Fragile Atmosphere.Veganism is more popular now than Mackers or KFC....The Global Chip Programe is becoming more acceptable and people are more aware of their Diets.Some small Movements are Noted in this Area .
Popular assumption is that "no matter what happens we are all rather safe as houses"...well ...i for one have witnessed how Fragile a House is .Mother Nature has the final say!
+Cindy Brown -- I think our kids are already quite peeved with us -- with excellent reason.
In January of 1979, a New York Times article was headlined: “Experts Tell How Antarctic Ice Could Cause Widespread Floods.”
For those that are interested in trees please see +WeForest 
Tree planting is good but fast growing trees such as eucalyptus, willow, and poplar produce isoprene and are not a good choice.

Planting perennial miscanthus grass is easy, fast and effective. Also it can be altered -- read about rubisco and other research about cell walls to produce a lot more sugar and utilse more CO2. In addition it can be used for fuels and will grow in marginal soils or waste land.

Modifying RuBisCo to bind only carbon dioxide to enhance crop yields, provide fuel and for climate protection is discussed here.     #RuBisCo
Dr. Stephen Long­ /releases/2010/08/100810122208.htm #miscanthus  
Another Reality check.Underworld sealife is Deminishing .Global deficiencies for Harvest are strife .Seafish both Deep and Shallow breeders are Colapsing under the weight of Global extraction and extreem Pollution .Harvesting on a world epic is Gradualy in Decline .Orange Roughy an ancient veriety of Deep sea variety is in substantial Decline .Moluscs and bottom dwellers are losing their natural Habitates due to Over dredging .Fresh water fish varieties are still abundant in numbers..but..only to the Continual Support of Mankind promoting their Breeds.Vegetatian is Abundant however the very soil it Survives in is being exfoliated and Destroyed of Natural minerals essential for Stability.
Culminating in ....Not to Drastic acceptances of Mankind ...."she'll be right mates".
All Western World Leaders are affiliated with the New World Order...Designed Centuries ago by Jeshuits...they are Personally responsible for the Stagnation we are all Witnessing.
Their Code of Conduct stipulates their Agenders.
Head of this Underground Movement is clear as Daylight .
No Movement to Combat World Decline is their Moto so....Orderly Global Control is Achieved by each Nation.Does this sound Familiar .
Lol David fascinate me to Boredom .....Yawwwwwwn
We have created conditions where we reached temperatures to a degree of absolute zero so manipulating a wider area by a few degrees shouldn't be too hard. Slow the breakup by putting up supporting scaffolding and steel netting. Fans to decrease temperature via windchill which has the added benefit of evaporating any melt water faster. What about reinforcing the ice with metal rods as it helps strengthen concrete structures. We can fix anything if we try.
Of course we can affect the climate. We have in a negative way apparently. We could even try spraying the surface of the ice with a hydrophobic spray to help stop the melting.
+Yonatan Zunger , it was about time someone to get out and say things as they are. I was tired watching people debating for the one or the other thing. Or even talking but mostly fondling the ears of each other.

 My best regards for this. 
+Ian Schumacher: we're talking about a couple of degrees on average.  The extreme rises can be much higher.  Twenty degrees temperature rise in Europe, or twenty degrees temperature drop in Siberia, can kill countless humans.

If you don't believe me, figure out what is the height of Everest if you average it over the whole surface area of Earth.
+Florian Roth The article you cited,, was written by a propagandist for the Heartland Institute. His research technique was to find an inflammatory tag line and then to use Google Search and Google News to see what had been published about his line, which may or may not have been a legitimate story.

That's not science. It took me one Google search and scanning two articles to find a serious consideration of this subject:

My summary of what's going on: The Antarctic is different from the Arctic. It's much colder. As long as the temperature in Antarctica is below freezing the rate of precipitation dominates over the rate of melting, so snow and ice accumulate. The warming of the Southern Ocean has several relevant effects: more water evaporates from its surface, stronger winds are generated and carry this moisture into Antarctica, and when the ocean's surface temperature rises above freezing old sea ice melts from the bottom. The area covered by sea ice doesn't tell the whole story when the ice is thinner than it was years ago.
I'll re-use +Yonatan Zunger's warning that I'm about to write things that are discouraging, but that we must not ignore.

Global warming is the most complicated social problem I've ever had to worry about.

It's a scientific problem. The effects of the accumulation of greenhouse gases will play out in ways that we know how to predict only through the use of computer programs that model effects that are extremely complicated. The results of this modeling contain large uncertainties; they can't predict what the weather will be like next week or next year.

It's an educational problem. Most people have a hard time accepting ideas that include a large amount of uncertainty. We want to just hear the answer, not a long explanation of what the answer might be and a longer explanation of why the answer is squishy. People can see the weather but they can't see the climate and they can't take the whole planet's temperature. There may be greater snowfall in Antarctica and colder winters in the Northern Temperate Zone even as the oceans absorb huge amounts of heat and carbon dioxide, which will eventually stabilize climate processes at a new baseline for centuries.

It's an engineering problem. We have to figure out how to slow climate change and how to live with the effects of the changes that we can't yet undo.

It's an economic problem. There's no clear economic incentive to do things that would work against the accumulation of greenhouse gases. There is an incentive to reduce the use of energy while energy is expensive, but we've seen that this incentive goes away when energy becomes much cheaper, and I think that natural gas will become much cheaper than it is now as we learn how to extract lots of it from the sea floor.

It's a political problem. We have to figure out how to perform triage and to allocate resources among prevention, amelioration, and migration - people will have to flee the effects of climate change, even across borders - even in the absence of complete knowledge of what will happen and of what strategies will work. This assumes that the money needed to do these things can be pried loose from the financial entities for whom there's no short-term payback.

Does this look like fun yet? Where should we start? Where should each of us start, so we can work together on the many approaches that we must execute concurrently?
+Chuck Karish we must start by creating the ICT that would enable us to collaborate on these different strands of the problem in a methodical and effective way. 
+Chuck Karish I'll have no reservations in adding that I am working on such ICT as part of an initiative called OSAAT. If you're interested in getting involved in problem solving this then let me or +Kristina Donauskytė know 
We must take this opportunity to work out what kind of ICT would be able to facilitate truly global collaborations that can address major global issues of this scale 
+Chuck Karish I really wish you weren't right about what you said in your last comment. It is, unfortunately, a coordinated problem along each of these axes.

If I were thinking about this like a giant emergency engineering problem, I could think of solution approaches: large investment in increasing efficiency of everything in sight; investment in a variety of energy sources; plant trees everywhere, extremely aggressively, to try to keep carbon loads under control. (Try to fake one of the planet's standard exit strategies from greenhouse situations, in essence, by sequestering carbon in plants) Energy companies would be extremely unhappy with this, because their profits basically depend on the reverse; we'd ultimately probably have to just bite the bullet and nationalize them. There's no way they are going to be a profitable thing under these circumstances, but we still need them, so they're going to be a genuine public utility. If we take a route like serious urbanization, then we have to start to think about cities like the incredibly complex systems that they are, the most complex machines which humans have ever built, and run them as such -- build up a generation of experts in making them stable and efficient. 

But politically, I have no idea how you would begin with such a thing. There's an incredibly deep political vein of people who do not want to believe this is happening, who want this all to be a lie by someone so that they can just keep going with their lives and keep investing in their future, rather than suddenly diverting a huge fraction of everyone's resources -- including theirs! -- into dealing with an emergency. And on top of that, there are plenty of people with deep vested interests (e.g., the energy companies mentioned above) in not doing these things. 

I'm not really sure what the best way is to proceed; but I'm not really an expert on political operations and how to get democratic societies to move in particular directions. 
+Vince Desmarchais I'm aware that he has some such proposal, but I haven't had a chance to go through it in detail yet. The basic idea that reversing desertification is important is one I definitely agree with -- for one thing, if we want to do effective carbon sequestration in plants, then we need places where plants can grow, and growing deserts are a classic example of a positive-feedback loop. (Plants that die release their carbon) On the other hand, the idea that by changing livestock management techniques we could reverse desertification... I'm not sure. That seems odd to me OTTOMH but I haven't studied his proposal enough to be sure.
+D. Luria I think that we could build cities that aren't as soul-crushingly blank as some of the cities we've been building so far -- when I see the giant masses of uniform apartments in places like Hong Kong it doesn't exactly fill me with joy, either. I don't think that we have to move to that level of density to achieve significant improvements; the density of a London or San Francisco or Rio de Janeiro or New York would also work, and they're considerably more pleasant. But making cities that are places for humans to thrive, and which give people access to the non-urban areas beyond, would be an important part of making them. We want to build places which are habitats for humans to be happy, not merely to continue to exist as the world dies around them.
The direction of our economies is primarily determined by what we take responsibility for. This in turn is defined by our accounting systems. This is the reason why Triple Bottom Line (TBL) accounting is being developed.

The environmental destruction is caused by what is called negative externalities. It refers to very real effects of our economy, which are not accounted for by our current accounting system that is based on money only.

If we deploy globally a new accounting system that as faithfully as possible covers for what are currently negative externalities, it would make our leaders accountable for those as well. In other words, if we deploy an accounting system that does not externalize significant environmental effects, then doing business based on that system will steer the whole economy in the right direction.

Now the only problem is how to actually account for these things. They are not easy to identify, qualify and quantify. These metrics are necessary for effective TBL that covers for all the three aspects of responsibility: economical, social and environmental responsibility.

Basically the only way to transition our global economy into a sustainable system is to make it responsible to the environment. This is exactly what efforts like TBL are intended to do. Note that I'm not an expert of TBL, but systems analysis is very much what I do for living and I'm looking at this whole problem as yet another systems problem.
You raise  very good point, +Sakari Maaranen. A huge fraction of the problem is negative externalities -- that people can create problems and force other people to pay for them. These much-hated carbon tax proposals basically amount to cleanup fees: you dumped this stuff, and by all the gods the taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for cleaning it up. But by phrasing it as a "tax," rather than as the taxpayers recouping costs, it comes out much more controversially.

That said, this sounds like the sort of conversation to have on a different thread, one where I'm not discouraging argument at all. :)
The only "solution" that makes intuitive sense to me is to consume less, encouraging others to consume less, and moving the global economy (and mindset) away from one which equates voracious consumption with growth and well-being. And this needs to be done until we have a much better understanding of the complex systems that we're dealing with.

Of course, one can't rely just on intuition (and my intuition really could be way off the mark here) but it seems to me that moving from, for example, gasoline powered cars to electric cars, while moving things in the right direction, would a case of too little, too late. Ignoring for the moment all other ways that we consume energy, transporting 200 lbs humans in 3000 lbs armors is just ridiculously wasteful, no matter how efficient or "clean" the technology (and what about air travel?). A modern lifestyle that relies on ownership and daily use of family cars, fairly routine air travel, a use-and-throw attitude towards consumer electronics (a new cellphone, TV, or computer every 2-6 years with no real possibility of repairs!?) is just completely unsustainable. (I reckon it's unsustainable even if only about 10% of the world population indulge themselves in this manner.)

Just my 2 cents.
+Alok Tiwari wrote: "it seems to me that moving from, for example, gasoline powered cars to electric cars, while moving things in the right direction, would a case of too little, too late."

By itself this measure is not nearly enough.  It's good to read about Pacala and Socolow's "stabilization wedges" to get some idea of what we need to do:

When they wrote their report, we needed to cut carbon emissions by about 7 gigatonnes/year within 50 years to keep carbon emissions from rising during this time.  If we started now, we'd need to cut carbon emissions by 9 gigatonnes/year within 50 years to do this. 

If we completely eliminate carbon emissions from automobiles in 50 years, it would save about 2 gigatonnes/year of carbon.

Of course keeping carbon emissions flat is not enough to stop global warming, or even slow it much.  Also, electric cars do not completely eliminate carbon emissions, unless electric power is made with zero carbon emissions.

Moral: while electric cars are good, we need to do a lot of other things too.
if l and some others try to use oil cars less, will it matter much, cos then oil price drops and others the careless ones  can use more oil 
Sue T
+Yonatan Zunger thankyou for an excellent (if depressing) post. I've found many of the comments interesting. Thank you also for deleting as many of the tedious, unhelpful, time-wasting comments as possible.

The most confronting experience I've personally faced relating to climate change, was when my 24 yr old daughter phoned from a climate conference she attended last year in London, with the words "we're screwed".  Hearing the shock and devastation in her voice haunts me.

When I asked if there was any support for the delegates in helping them personally cope with what 8 degrees (?) of warming means, she said that was for others to work on. 

Scientists are in the front line doing an incredibly difficult and confronting job. They're treated shamefully bo too many segments of the media. They've been ignored, sidelined and vilified. Other than yoga, I really hope everyone working in this field and reporting on it has excellent  formal and informal support and debriefing networks happening ... because we need you! And I desperately hope one of you  can pull a wonderful black swan out of a hat  - because the alternative is almost too frightening to contemplate.
Thoughts towards simple organisms that consume methane even under low level conditions and still survive; as well as bioreactors for same: it seems that most studies have been about wetlands and not about developing artificial environs for these organisms.

Here is an interesting study about Methane-oxidizing bacteria from one of my fav. sites Max-Planck-Institut

They discuss Karyotic protozoa (known as protists), such as amoebae, ciliates and flagellates which literally graze on the methane-oxidizing bacteria. They also mention additional potential negative aspects of using nitrogen fertilizers because use of nitrogen-based fertilizers could have repercussions for methane oxidation.

more here on this wonderful site:
The over-arching theme is that humanity will at some point in the future need to deal with climate change. We don't know when that will be, and whether or not we are speeding that process along, it's something to be prepared for.

So the question to be asked is: Where is the battle to be fought? Sun Tzu said "If a battle cannot be won, do not fight it." So let's paint a picture of what a realistic solution could be. 

In a hypothetical: Let's say a smoking gun was found that proved to everyone in the world that burning fossil fuels was speeding us along to this event. What happens then? 

Based on history we know that many still won't care. There are many living for "today". Some countries are too poor to afford more expensive technologies. Some countries may even see that as an advantage which would weaken enemies or place a premium on the resources they currently have.

Now I'm not here to paint anyone or any country in a negative light (trying to stay as apolitical as possible)- Only to point out that if some of the current suggestions on cutting back carbon emissions were successful in some countries, that the chance of getting worldwide cuts are nigh impossible. This is something that would require worldwide support, and when has the world ever agreed on anything?? Going on the assertions presented here it may slow down, but in no way stop, the current velocity. 

This is the reality of the situation.

And anyone with kids knows that at some point you just throw up your hands and yell, "I don't care who made the mess, everyone needs to clean it up!" You've moved past the point of trying to assign blame on to simply getting it fixed.

This is the point where I think a deal can be brokered, between people on both sides of the issue. The important thing is knowing what to do. Plus it does not require unanimity from the world. 

Technology is amazing. Having worked on solar projects in college I have seen quite a few "next gen" energy solutions come along but not quite take root. Some are simply robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Electric cars are great, but where is that electricity coming from? Right - a coal fired power plant. Not exactly a zero sum game. Huge wind turbines farms can disrupt air currents in the surrounding areas that disrupt weather patterns and local wildlife. Same goes for hydroelectric energy where dams can destroy ecosystems down the river for hundreds of miles. Nuclear is honestly about the cleanest energy we can make, but that's a hot button issue of course and the problem of where to dispose of the spent uranium (plus Chernobyl put that industry back a generation in public perception). 

Solar has always been "just around the corner". I think the answer for energy still lies in solar someday (I mean it's the friggin' Sun...Look how much energy is there!!) However it's not ready for prime-time still. 

Bloom Box...Where is our Bloom Box?? Energy from algae or photosynthesis, etc. The list goes on and on...

Overall, there just isn't a replacement technology ready as a replacement for fossil fuels. The message is always a negative one, "Stop using stuff" as opposed to "Here try this." So where to turn?...

I believe everyone should get behind efforts to figure out ways to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Plus, if all the data is true, then that is pretty much our only hope at this point anyway. That will solve several things.

First it removes a lot of the politics from the equation. The issue of blame goes away because there's a larger issue at stake: We need a method to maintain the CO2 levels at this existing interglacial level into perpetuity. That involves means of extraction and insertion because we may hit a point where it starts to cool off again. Humanity doesn't want it swing either direction.

Second it doesn't require unilateral support. This can be done (and is being tried as shown in this thread and other places) by joint efforts among willing countries.

Third, it removes the negative impact on economies and allows poor countries to still develop and improve standard of living across the world. Some countries are just now starting their own industrial revolutions. These are also the countries least likely to give up the advantages they are finding from increased production.

Fourth, (mentioned in the first point but is really its own) we find out how to maintain the current world environment despite what happens. Of course we could blasted by an asteroid or another humongous volcanic explosion that coats the planet in sulfur for decades. But maybe we could adjust to that a little better if we had the means to set the levels right again, not too much unlike watching the water in a fish tank. 

Overall, I believe it best to always remove sticking point issues from a problem if possible, especially if there is a better solution available. I think there is here.

Of course, messing around with planetary levels is it's own Pandora's Box (wasn't that the subject of a James Bond movie once?) Nonetheless, based on all the data on the subject plus practical limitations that are impossible to avoid, it seems the only option that could get all the parties to support it. 

Thanks again to +Yonatan Zunger  for providing data and moderating. This is a complicated issue.
I just saw this via +Gary Ray R  - great analysis, and I'm sure the majority of what I can add has already been added by other commenters.  One can only hope that Humanity's swan song will not come quickly, but it will come no matter what.  Everything ends.

I wonder how many intelligent species across the galaxy have come and gone in (geologically speaking) such a flash. Shame we could not learn from each other. 
+Marc Nations it needs to be dealt with ASAP, not some nebulous date in the future. We need to get wind power installation rates up 3x to survive.
+Marc Nations My personal maxim is "The solution has to be more fun than continuing to implement the problem."

Thankfully it is. 

A well insulated building is more comfortable than your balloon framed, drafty, leaky house with single paned windows.

This electric car has handling performance that simply cannot by matched by conventional ICE engine and gearing. It's physically impossible.

Solar PV on your roof give you autonomous control over your power pricing. The coal plant 150 miles away can/will charge you whatever it can get away with or cut off your power anytime it likes.  

Unless you're the POTUS or a fortune 500 CEO you are never going to be this comfortable on a plane. Modern rail travel is just more comfortable.

I could spend days finding ways in which energy saving measures increase the personal hedonic index of people using them. Not much of a challenge really. 
about solar cars. When we last lived in Switzerland. In 1995!! Many solar cars were charged by PV panels on the roof of the house/garage. Excess power was fed back into the grid. Germany and Portugal are having success with renewable energy.
PS I live in South Africa, but solar works in Switzerland too. 
This is a problem with many roots, the main of which is people.
Changing habits and behaviours is difficult.

Of course, bioreactors in every home will not solve the entire problem. That said, how many people can plant dozens of trees?

Engaging people by empowering them to contribute to a solution and better understand the problem is very important.

A citizen's science project will include people rather than exclude them from this abstract complex problem that does not seem solvable.

Where there is the will, there is a way.

Nothing goes on forever but there are efforts we can make.
+James Salsman I was actually watching a Ted talk recently about a new generation of Wind Power generators. They are much smaller, operate in a vortex shape which disturbs smaller wind tunnels, and as a result can be planted much closer to each other since they need a much smaller area of operable space. It's a very promising development.

Having said that, it's also a nebulous date in the future. Everything we have discussed is a nebulous date in the future, including all of the predictions on what/when we may be facing  the repercussions of climate change. As a result, I'm not sure any of the proposed solutions have an advantage since so many are more theoretical than practical in nature. 
+John Poteet I've had energy audits on my own house. I replaced my lights with flourescents when they came out and now converting again to LEDs. I can't install solar panels due to HOA restrictions (same for any kind of small wind generator). Nonetheless, I find these things interesting and would like to have more access to them.

Research into these areas should continue at the fastest rate possible because at some point we'll have a breakthrough and truly find something that's practical for most people. At that point it will be exciting to the masses as well.

Overall, I'm a pragmatist and believe in the carrot, not the stick. Find something that people can get excited about and they will use it voluntarily. Force them to give up things they rely on, and they will become resentful. This is simple human nature, and unfortunately that exciting technology just hasn't come along yet. 

I'm not suggesting we stop encouraging energy conservation. It's very important, but based on the data not a solution.  
+Marc Nations At some point we make things that are damaging the commons a liability for individuals. As much as you seem to want to deny it burning fossil fuels is damaging our atmosphere and environment. Attaching costs in the form of taxation has been proven to shift behaviours to more benign alternatives. 

Eventually we're going to have something that looks very much like a carbon tax; because cost shifting works. High energy taxes in Europe mean they use about half the per-capita energy consumption that U.S. citizens do while maintaining high living standards. 

Also: Your state may have solar access laws that override HOA restrictions.
+John Poteet   I don't believe I've made any arguments one way or the other when it comes to the issue of what caused the current spike in CO2 levels. On the contrary, I've been fairly clear in accepting both the data and the assertions laid out from the beginning. My point is a larger one and am simply looking for a middle ground on both sides.  The data is important because that gives you an idea of timing and potential consequences, especially put in perspective with similar historical events. 

Maybe a carbon tax would be effective in changing behaviors in some places. Will it fix the problem? Will it stop the current trajectory or have any affect on countries that don't participate? How would we force the non-participating countries to accept the regulations since we know that only with global participation could you actually have any long lasting effect? To me this is a stop-gap measure that will only affect a small percentage of the problem (which diminishing fossil fuel supplies will eventually have the same effect anyway). 

I'm asking people to think bigger. So the question should be asked - If none of the current suggestions would actually fix the problem, why even continue trying to prove something that is so hard to prove (which is why I made the Sun Tzu reference earlier)? It's a question of tactics.  

I believe people on both sides could get on board with just the data, irrespective of the reason, and the need to find ways to control our environment to prevent it from swinging either direction. I'm not denying anything, simply trying to change the argument. 
"If none of the current suggestions would actually fix the problem, why even continue trying to prove something that is so hard to prove...." -- +Marc Nations 

Firstly, it is extraordinarily easy to prove, which makes fossil fuel interests willing to pay to try to obfuscate it all that more transparent.

Secondly, we have a near-unity chance of survival as a species. Some people are going to get flooded, e.g., the Google campus will probably be flooded much sooner than the USGS predicts, but even if it wouldn't be, increasing wind power installation rates threefold and switching to carbon neutral synthetic methane and gasoline would save a huge amount of money in both the short and long terms, not counting the initial capital outlay, which is easily within reach. 

There is no need for alarmism, but it is absolutely true that if we couldn't switch to carbon neutral synthetic methane and gasoline in both the developing and developed world we would probably be completely doomed beyond any hope for survival of the vertebrates.

If you personally would like to do something to help (this goes for +Yonatan Zunger and everyone else) then please write to Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon asking him to force PARC's seawater carbon extraction patent into reasonable and customary licensing terms.
+James Salsman Let me rephrase that statement then since it implies something that wasn't intended. It's not necessarily about proof as much as getting everyone to agree on root cause. I went into more detail in the hypothetical later in that post, but the point was that it may be possible to reach agreement on solutions without agreeing on root cause if we look at the bigger picture.

Edit: I didn't have a chance at first to check out the seawater carbon extraction which I had never heard of (on my phone), but after reading about it a bit does sound intriguing. Thanks for pointing it out. This article which came out recently:

Goes into a bit of detail about the process. It also validates my overall point in a way, since according to this article we are past the point of no return, past the point of "cutting back". According to this we are already at the point of needing another solution.

And I know it's easier to paint a guy like me into one camp or the other, but you know it is possible to like both Star Wars and Star Trek ;)  Some folks don't fit into boxes, and I'm a guy with a foot in both worlds.

Living in Texas I'm of course in the middle of oil country. But you might also say I'm in the middle of windmill country as well because Texas generates more wind energy then the next two states combined. I've also seen other environmental groups try to stop more windmill farm creation because it kills endangered birds or disrupts weather patterns. Do they not care about the planet or just about birds? I don't know. I just know you can't make everybody happy.

I'm not sure how quickly the US can reach the wind energy capacity you wish because after a bit of a boom it's hit limitations in infrastructure, regulations, and the inevitable backlash from other groups who'd rather it be in somebody else's back yard or other axes to grind. No matter what your energy producing du jour is, it's going to run into issues. 
In the mean time, if somebody can create fuel while at the same time recycling CO2, wouldn't that be ideal? As I mentioned earlier, technology will prevail, somehow, and it would be best if all efforts could be focused on figuring out how make that happen. 

As I've mentioned before, the oil is going to run out anyway (predictions give it 100 years). It won't be long before the supply has gone down enough that other energies catch up which make things like a carbon tax almost irrelevant. That could happen in the next 10-20 years. Is that worth fighting over? I say no. Let's get everyone paddling in the same direction to focus on CO2 extraction. 
+Marc Nations a single accelerated positive feedback in a complex system of more than fifty components does not a tipping point make. If the skeptics need a bone of contention, they don't realize the implications of
Sorry  I cannot make a learned comment.  If it happens  it happens and I hope we handle the matter efficiently.  Good luck my frie;nds.   Jean Fleay.
carbon neutral? Remove CO2 from seawater ... then burn it as 'some form of chemical fuel' and return the CO2 to the air. How is that carbon neutral?
Biodiesel uses land, food crops and water, while local people go hungry. 
+Diana Studer Oceans are critically needed and very complicated environments. The oceans and forests are the lungs of this planet. I would be very concerned with such projects involving the oceans.

I think that solutions must be practical and where possible reuse what we have as we phase in better solutions over time. All resources are finite.

We don't need to use farm lands, food or much water to produce biodiesel and other fuels.

There are methods that can greatly increase the amount of food that is produced as well as reduce water requirements and eliminate chemical inputs; the keys are healthy soil and the method used.

Miscanthus captures CO2 and can grow on marginal lands or most anywhere. The roots are viable for decades as has been proven in Europe where the biomass is used in power plants and to make pellets for heating stoves. This biomass produces an enormous amount of alcohol; many, many times more than corn. With changes to rubisco and the cell walls the plant will produce even more alcohol and trap more CO2. Depending on the planting conditions the current plant can create 44 to 60 tons of biomass per acre and more than 5,000 gallons of ethanol, meanwhile corn produces only about 750 gallons per acre. Miscanthus -- low water use and does not require fertilizers and other chemical inputs.

Fuels can also be made from algae. Solazyme/Propel sell biodiesel in California at some stations for the same price as regular diesel. Diesel engines are much better than gasoline engines for many reasons and last a lot longer if they are built well. For example, buses that have diesel engines can operate for 50 years or more.

I'd rather see use of electric vehicles where possible but we need to make the battery less expensive and reusable as a home power device. In addition to improvements in chemistry and other design, we also need to improve aspects such as charging and heat damage to obtain optimum service life from such batteries.

All resources are finite. I support the concept of reuse where possible. An incredible amount of resources go into making a vehicle. Also many people cannot change for cost reasons.

Dr. David Blume wrote a book and produced a DVD "Alcohol can be gas" ... an unfortunate name because people immediately think this is about corn. Instead it is about a closed loop system for improving/increasing food production, improving soil, producing organic foods and providing alcohol for fuel. He also developed a kit to convert existing cars, though other such kits are on the market for about $350. Many people have been using these modifications to stock (not flex fuel) pickup trucks and cars with up to a 50% mix without any issues.

While this is not a perfect solution it does achieve several things 1] reuses existing vehicles 2] significantly reduces pollution 3] if the alcohol comes from biomass or similar, reduces fossil fuel use. Alcohol is a fuel we can use if we use a close loop system as Dr. Blume proposes.

In addition, other biofuels could be mixed in if needed or vehicles could be more heavily modified but one needs to change sensors and change the programming among other things to make this work with other fuel mixes.

The point is there are millions of existing vehicles that could be modified to reduce the current impact and at low cost.

As for food there are other methods to grow food that do not damage the soil and also greatly increase crop yields. In addition these methods do not require the chemical inputs such as fertilizers or pesticides.

For example, the SRI system is being used for rice in India to greatly increase yields from about 5 tons to 22 tones per acre. This method will need to be mechanized to make it popular.  What is also good about this method is it needs no chemical inputs nor special seed to achieve this and it uses much less water. Rice crops are very damaging to the environment so improvements are critically needed.

The SRI system has dramatically increased yields with wheat, potatoes, sugar cane, yams, tomatoes, garlic, aubergine and many other crops and should be vigorously implemented.

Permaculture and mixed plantings are methods that may interest you.

I have written about these topics in many posts -- as I have some moments away from other work I will create a community to organise the topics I mentioned here.

  #permaculture #biofuels #foodsecurity  
+Diana Studer synthesis has lower overhead and doesn't compete with food prices, because it doesn't use fuel, land, pesticides, fertilizer, or irrigation as an intermediate step.

+Pamela Wang algae is similarly inefficient compared to abiotic synthesis.
+James Salsman I can't find your earlier link in this string of comments. I'm sure there was energy involved in the process? 
It would be interesting to hear what a marine biologist thinks of removing CO2 from the ocean. How does that affect coral reefs for instance?
+James Salsman I'd like to know more about what you think about this. Also do you have links to supportive data? I have read so many contrary arguments about energy inputs and so on -- a closed loop system is important as is simplicity. High tech solutions cannot be implemented everywhere.

Another aspect of this is we still need to produce food and some of this intersects. Low water use is important in rice paddies as they contribute to ozone production among other major problems; this is where SRI is crucial.

I should also have mentioned carbon particles in my comment from burning which includes biofuels; but these can be reduced by design and careful choice of biofuel. I am not in favour of all so-called biofuels for this reason.

Realistically we aren't going to change all cars to electric or ships to solar sails or whatever immediately so intermediate steps will be needed. Most heavy equipment and marine transport use diesel fuel.

Black soot has terrible effects for human health, for the polar caps and the atmosphere. Significant amounts of soot comes from cooking stoves, burning fires, regular diesel exhaust and other sources. Soot also accelerates global warming significantly. A project to supply all places that chop down trees and burn wood for cooking with solar cookers would be meaningful. A local couple here is donating them to people in Costa Rica. It would be nice to see a global non-profit for this.

Geological disasters can also be promoted by climate change because when glaciers melt the internal dynamics of the earth are changed.

So far it is clear to me that even if people thought the window of time was only 10 to 20 years, few engage because there is always this idea that someone else will solve this problem or there is no point in bothering.
+Diana Studer, +Marc Nations posted which referrs to but a better overview by an overlapping author is at

+Pamela Wang "SRI"?

Suffice to say that the PARC patent is several times more efficient than the US Navy's most promising alternative, and is already competitive at nighttime wind rates, and will be until compressed air underground storage becomes orders of magnitude more popular than it is now.
yes, this.
'Basically, it’s electrodialysis, meaning they use electricity to clear unwanted components from water' from the Berkeley link
The process DOES use fuel.
+James Salsman Thank you. SRI (System Root Intensification) is for plants. Sterile miscanthus does not compete with other plants, foods or destroy biodiversity and does not need the chemical or water inputs like other crops. Thank you +Diana Studer from Africa 
Long-term experiments on degraded and abandoned nitrogen-poor land in the US suggest considerable potentials to produce carbon-negative bioenergy and C sequestration that might last several decades.
+Diana Studer I am only proposing the use of excess nighttime wind power, not fuel, for methane and gasoline synthesis. Moreover, it only costs about 1/5th as much to recover waste carbon from natural gas power plant flue exhaust than seawater, but since the ocean is in equilibrium with the air over several decades, we need both. It costs about twice as much to recover it from air than from seawater.

+Pamela Wang thanks! If biofuel agriculture makes sense to integrate with crop rotation strategies, all the better.
I haven't caught up on all the comments, but I have to inject one of my own: Please, everyone stop confusing the issue with questions of whether humans "caused" this or by how much.  That never mattered.  What matters is it's really happening, and whether there is something NOW that we can do.  And whether we actually DO it.
+Bob O`Bob It may not matter to you but it very much matters to some of the rest of us. Humans are, without any doubt, causing most of the observed, rapid, global warming. 

That means we can stop making the problem worse. 
+Bob O`Bob Actually, that attitude has always bothered me. Some people talk as though it's actually important whether or not humans caused it, as though being able to blame it on natural causes somehow makes it not be our problem. Guess what, idiots? - Even if global warming is due to natural causes, our grandkids still end up dead anyway.
+John Poteet too many people are using deflection and distraction to convince others to just ignore the problem.  And whether we caused it /or not/ the solutions are all the same.
+Lionel Lauer yes, many of the religious types dismiss it as "God's will" or point to it as punishment.  NONE of those deflections is in any way helpful.  Those who feel it's "God's will" to kill off humankind should hurry up and buy their new sneakers and purple face-towels.  So many idiots; so few comets.
+Bob O`Bob: Godswill is what we get when all the God's ice He has lovingly stored in Arctic will melt.
+Bob O`Bob My advice to them is to stock up on purple Kool-Aid, cyanide, & get TF out of the way of those of us who'd actually prefer to deal with the problem.
+Marc Nations wrote: "As I've mentioned before, the oil is going to run out anyway (predictions give it 100 years). It won't be long before the supply has gone down enough that other energies catch up which make things like a carbon tax almost irrelevant."

Carbon isn't just oil: it's gas, coal, etc.  There's about 20 trillion dollars of carbon underground that's already on the financial books of energy companies that needs to stay in the ground to give us a decent chance of holding global warming to 2 degrees Celsius:

If we wait 100 years to take this seriously, we're toast.
+Yonatan Zunger I just came across your post today and after reading through it and your comment responses I remembered that a few months ago (October 2012) I made a post with links to an article related to this discussion that really caught my eye.

That quotes a piece in Rolling Stone with science from NASA regarding the albedo and the POSITIVE FEEDBACK LOOP that creates, now...  "The Arctic Ice Crisis: Greenland’s glaciers are melting far faster than scientists expected"

There's some background and links over there which might be interesting to this discussion here.

[edit] For future reference, I'll stick those links from there into this comment here, just to make it easier on those that get this far.

"Global Warming's Terrifying New Math — Three simple numbers that add up to global catastrophe"
This article has more depth, explaining the significance, reality and scope of energy and the changes it translates into.

"The Arctic Ice Crisis"
NASA warnings about the ice melt.

If you want more background go to the post linked above.
This above caught my eye originally because I had seen an article about how the carbon trapped in the Permafrost (under the ice) is QUICKLY converted by natural processes into carbon-dioxide which makes matters worse.

It was not this article linked here below, from Scientific American, but a similar one written last year. This one gives you an idea though...

"because permafrost is such a rich potential source of the greenhouse gas. If all the world's permafrost melted, it could double the amount of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere"
+John Baez No is suggesting to wait 100 years. On the contrary, the point I was making (100 years until oil runs out) was to illustrate that the cost curve of oil would be crossed by other technologies much sooner than that given how commodities work - simple supply and demand. 

And yes there are other mechanisms than oil for greenhouse gasses, but the discussion is primarily about oil usage. With clean burning coal technology and natural gas the impact is much smaller. In fact the usage of natural gas has caused the CO2 emissions from the US to drop significantly:

"This switch from coal to natural gas—which releases 50% less CO2 than coal when burned—may be an important reason CO2 emissions in the US fell -12% from their 2005 high to 1994 levels at the end of 2012."

Look, you can't just turn off the energy spigot for the world on a dime. There's an iterative process involved of finding better and better ways to produce energy. 

And like it's already been pointed out, we need a method for CO2 extraction. Once we figure that out, then it becomes much easier to manage the problem. 
I'm sorry ... clean burning coal?  You mean to tell me there are actually people who believe that bullshit?
+Bob O`Bob It's not a matter of belief, simply a matter of acknowledging existing techniques.The overall issue is helped neither by those who deny science, nor those who deny technology.

"Carbon capture and storage -- perhaps the most promising clean coal technology -- catches and sequesters carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from stationary sources like power plants. Since CO2 contributes to global warming, reducing its release into the atmosphere has become a major international concern. In order to discover the most efficient and economical means of carbon capture, researchers have developed several technologies."
Here's some information on carbon sequestration for coal-burning plants:

A lot of good research is being done in China.  According to Nature, in 2009, the government-owned Huaneng Group opened a carbon capture facility at an existing power station:

"The system scrubs roughly 120,000 tonnes of CO2 a year from 3% of the facility’s flue gases, but what has caught everybody’s eye is the cost that Huaneng quotes: a mere US$30–35 per tonne of CO2, including the further expense of purifying the captured gas for use in the food and beverage industry.  That is far below the $100 or more typically estimated for first-generation projects to retrofit existing power plants for carbon capture and storage (CCS) in the United States and Europe, and it is within the range of past carbon prices in the European Union emissions trading system."

However, the challenge is to deploy these technologies (and many others) fast enough to do a lot of good. 
My understanding of the costs of retrofitting coal plants with carbon capture technologies from and strongly suggest to me that it will always be less expensive to replace a coal plant with a natural gas (i.e. also synthetic methane) plant, and retrofit that instead. You avoid heavy metal contamination in the flue, and you also build the natural gas infrastructure which allows for more precision (i.e. efficient if done right) utilization as well as easier recycling. (Who wants to bother synthesizing solid fuel? We can get to that for livestock feed once we solve the climate problem.)

+John Baez I think the price to beat for flue capture at US wholesale electricity prices last year was $15/tonne carbon (not CO2) although you should go back and do the units on the range weighted by practicality if you can, please. A review from last year which you can use to help survey is at (I haven't read it. I'm suggesting it as a stepping place to survey the competing $/ton carbon recovery prices. Please note that sequestration doesn't have such paybacks.)
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