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A critical step to reduce climate change (www.gatesnotes.com)
346 points by mhandley 9 days ago | hide | past | web | 396 comments | favorite

Hello Bill Gates (who will never read this). You are a solutions guy, and a technology guy. Unsurprisingly, your blog lists lots of good technologies and solutions.

But climate change has shifted from a technological problem to a policy problem. We can solve climate change with a cocktail of existing tech, but we need public policy to make it happen. The biggest thing you (Mr Gates) can do is get directly involved in policy-making. US politics only empowers the ultra-rich, and you are sitting on the sidelines.

Get your face on TV, in front of Congress, and in the Oval Office. The rest of us can't, so you have to.

[edit for clarity]

Technological progress will solve any policy problem. If you make it so that wind, solar, and next generation nuclear power is cheaper than other alternatives and more desirable, the market will progressively switch. Most technological improvements did not wait for a policy to change to induce revolutions in their respective fields. Now everyone is investing in Energy, and there's hardly any need for policy when the market is already full steam in investment mode.

> If you make it so that wind, solar, and next generation nuclear power is cheaper than other alternatives and more desirable, the market will progressively switch.

Not necessarily. Lots of people have jobs in coal, oil and gas production, and those constituencies will often vote for politicians who promise to keep those jobs around. They can do this through heavily subsidizing the cost of fossil fuels (which they currently do) in order to reduce the extent to which the economic benefits of clean energy can influence the market.

In the long term, they probably can't keep this up, but we don't really have a "long term" anymore.

If you divide the total subsidies aluminum smelters in Germany receive by the number of jobs then you get 440,000€ of subsidies per job per year, the workers themselves only see a fraction of that. Unsustainability has never stopped politicians from doing stupid things.

I’d rather employ people to sit around (or not) and study/do whatever productive thing they want than enforce otherwise not needed work.

Not needed work is kind of already dis-incentivezed -- if its not needed, generally there is less market demand for it, but it behoves me to ignore all the exceptions propped up by cultural events and/or clever and insidious marketing like MLM.

Funny you mention study, because that's what people do in university and college, but in America they get a fat student loan when they graduate...

But how does that relate to a 440,000€/job/year subsidy? On paper it seems wasteful but I'm no expert in the economics of propping up the aluminium industry in Germany. Maybe it's a strategic move for national defence.

We don't really subsidize fossil fuels. I thought that your comment was interesting, so I looked it up. These "subsidies" are just completely normal stuff that ordinary American businesses get.

Mostly it is tax deductions. Everybody is getting tax deductions. Everybody from your local hair salon to Microsoft is taking tax deductions. For the fuel companies this includes income tax, fees for shipping, and royalties for extracting the resources. The only really offensive one is a deduction for BP's punishment, which sort of undoes the punishment... though that is fair if the tobacco companies got to do likewise for their punishment.

The rest is just the unpaid share of the cost of running various government agencies. First of all this isn't generally something the companies feel they benefit from; ditching OSHA/EPA/etc. would probably please them. Second of all, again it is something we do for all American businesses.

As with any other American businesses, wind and solar providers get the subsidies. They also get special environmental subsidies, which are huge.

I think this dispute started because the abnormal subsidies being provided to wind/solar providers have become a political issue. The wind/solar providers respond by pushing the narrative that fossil fuels get subsidies, but that just isn't a reasonable conclusion. The supposed subsidies are just normal things provided to American businesses, unlike what wind and solar are getting.

> We don't really subsidize fossil fuels.

If we allowed a restaurant to dump its trash for free in a public playground, we would be subsidizing that restaurant with taxpayer dollars.

When we allow fossil fuels to be burned and dump pollution for free into the public atmosphere, we are subsidizing the usage of fossil fuel.

In the trash scenario, we'd make the restaurant pay for cleanup, pay medical costs for the kids who got ill, and pay for its future trash disposal. Burning fossil fuels causes asthma, climate change, flooding, etc, and remediation costs should be borne by those who cause the damage.

If you consider the billions of dollars we all spend dealing with fossil fuel companies' waste, it's quite a subsidy. The least we can do is make them compete on a level playing field.

Perhaps this could be dismissed as semantics, but saying that we don't subsidize fossil fuels seems to not jibe with the reality that the only countries that have lower gasoline prices in world are countries whose economies are predominantly fossil-fuel based. See https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/gas-prices/#20184:United-...

If the US gasoline costs were even close to EU levels, (say, 2x what we pay), there'd be an inversion in household energy consumption economics (and it'd be the difference between 2% and 5% of household incomes). EVs wouldn't be just for tree-huggers. Buying from 100% clean electrical sources might be cheaper than "standard" sources.

The US has a large well-unified market with good transportation and local sources of fuel. That cuts costs.

Other places, like the EU, don't have all that. They also apply some really extreme taxes. Lack of punitive taxes isn't a subsidy. If the taxes are never imposed in the first place, it isn't even a tax credit.

The average gasoline tax in the US is $0.53 per gallon total, combining all taxes. Just the excise tax in Turkey is $4.32 per gallon!!! The average gasoline-specific tax in the 34 advanced economies is $2.62 per gallon, but then a VAT is applied on top of that.

The federal coal leasing program has been a frequent target for overpricing coal with some estimates at around a billion a year in benefit. There's also things like opening new areas for drilling in areas that are only profitable when subsidized (and then the subsidies come in), which is not a normal tax policy arrangement, at least not the kind your hairdresser has with the federal government.

The cost of "unions protecting their job" increases further as the alternatives get cheaper over time. So it's not sustainable in any way. Additionally, fossil fuels are usually subsidized the most in local areas where they are mined/extracted so states/regions with no such natural resources can be expected to move way faster in adopting new forms of energy production.

While the UMWA certainly has a vested interested in keeping coal mining jobs around, blaming unions for protectionism here is a little far down the value chain.

This is very true. I live in the DC area and the number of ridiculous "clean coal" ads plastered all over public transit and TV/radio here is insane.

Lobbyists will be the death of us all.

> If you make it so that wind, solar, and next generation nuclear power is cheaper than other alternatives and more desirable, the market will progressively switch.

Not necessarily... it depends on if it's actually cheaper, or just fake government-subsidized cheaper. Sure, you'll get companies milking government subsidies for all they are worth while they last, but if solar isn't actually cheaper than coal, "the market" isn't going to switch.

There’s also fake externalities-subsidized cheaper. Coal is incredibly expensive when you account for the environmental and health costs. But those costs aren’t borne by the people burning coal, so it doesn’t cause markets to switch away.

Yeah, you could factor in the healthcare cost linked to burning coal and ask coal industries to pay for some or all of it. Would change incentives a lot.

Spot on. In other industries, the entrenched, established incumbents' products are only viable because they are "fake government-subsidized cheaper" (ah ehm...looking at you, corn). I'd not be surprised to see this happening with fossil fuels here in the U.S. one day – maybe it already is?

> If you make it so that wind, solar, and next generation nuclear power is cheaper than other alternatives and more desirable, the market will progressively switch

Not necessarily.. in the UK I've lots of good ideas get ditched early on because they're allegedly "not a good fit", or "uneconomic". What I suspect that really means in many cases is that someone in government or their family has a vested interest in a technology that this would replace, and it gets ditched. As long as we have elected "representatives" like this, nothing will change.

The government is not the only one to make decisions. Companies, individuals, communities, towns, regions can also decide to build their own infrastructure. Hardly every country is completely centralized from top to bottom.

> Technological progress will solve any policy problem. If you make it so that wind, solar, and next generation nuclear power is cheaper than other alternatives and more desirable, the market will progressively switch.

Two problems.

First, progressive switching is slower than needed to even decelerate warming. The system already has enormous momentum and it cannot be arrested easily and with gentle measures.

Second, technological path dependency is extremely strong. Historically the kinds of jolts to move from one systemic technological optimum to another (eg steam-rail-telegram to oil-road-radio) have been enormous. Wars and depressions, mostly. It would be nice to avoid these.

> First, progressive switching is slower than needed to even decelerate warming

Since climate models are certainly not as accurate as we would like them to be, this is hard to say.

Second, progressive switching can be really, really fast. Look how fast people moved away from feature phones to smartphones. Complete conversion within a decade. Energy production carries more lag but still, progressive does not mean slow. When options are more attractive economically it will be a landslide.

Tech improvememt is certainly not linked to war. Look at all the tech progress we made in so many areas in the past 60 years without any major conflict happening. There is no rationale for progress to be dependent on conflict, at least it is not a model that explains anything anymore.

> Since climate models are certainly not as accurate as we would like them to be, this is hard to say.

They don't have to be very accurate at this point. Matter is conserved, including atmospheric CO2. It takes time to put in, it takes time to get out. Given that the only "out" right now is natural processes, it will take decades for CO2 to return to previous levels even if emissions dropped to zero instantly.

Underestimation of momentum is also true for capital-intensive shifts in dominant technology mixes. These shifts do not happen overnight; capital plant and equipment has substantial lags for decision time, financing, construction and onlining. These lags are going to vary by region, industry and technology. That adds substantially to overall reaction time under the just-let-it-ride scenario.

Misunderstanding the effects of accumulation is normal: http://web.mit.edu/jsterman/www/CroninGonzalezSterman061210....

Markets can and do dynamically adapt to circumstances, supply shocks, technological change so on. But they do not tend to overcome path dependency (we're all using QWERTY and standard gauge rail for no reason other than that's what locked in) and they do not have magical powers to ignore physics.

> we're all using QWERTY [...] for no reason other than that's what locked in

We are all using QWERTY because it's not bad. You could switch to anything else and it would not be so much better. It's a local maxima that is good enough and it happened for historical reasons.

Most people are not held down by the keyboard setting. They don't need to type faster, and if they did, they would need to think faster first - it's not the tool that is the bottleneck in this particular case.

If we always waited for the technical progress to give something cheaper and better, we'd still be using leaded gasoline and CFCs everywhere.

Except we don't have time to wait for technological progress to catch up sufficiently to resolve the current policy problems.

When you do that, here's my little suggestion for a policy: a carbon duty.

It seems to me the biggest argument against doing something is that any action we take would be useless if country X doesn't do anything.

But with a carbon duty, this is much less of a difficult collective action problem. Impose a significant duty on products coming from countries which are not meeting some reasonable target for carbon emissions.

This still falls into the "country X doesn't do anything" trap.

If France imposes a carbon duty but Britain doesn't, British companies will have access to cheaper goods. British citizens will have greater purchasing power and British companies will have an economic advantage.

France might say, "Britain doesn't do anything about climate change" as they're supporting the carbon emissions in other countries by importing their goods.

This would still only work if enough countries banded together to enforce it that it became too difficult to grow an international company without access to carbon duty countries.

Yup, last year's Nobel winner in economics has suggested exactly that


sooo all other countries will pay for it while US will keep pumping oil and burning coal? With US leaving the Paris Accord? That sounds very strange.

I purposefully left out a bunch of details because then people start debating the details rather than the main point. So I used the very nebulous "meeting some reasonable target for carbon emissions".

If the country imposing the carbon duty isn't also meeting the "reasonable target" then the carbon duty becomes very hypocritical and ineffective at influencing other nations.

I also didn't say that it has to be the US imposing this carbon duty, I see it as most effective if it's a small group of countries working together to try and grow their action into a large group.

Soooo, we introduce a set of trade tariffs where imports are tax depending on the degree to which the exporting country has already imposed a carbon tax on manufacturer.

You are missing the point. Imposing tariffs is a way to force other countries to follow some rules. But if your own country doesn't follow those rules, what sense does it make? And that's the situation here, because the 3 largest CO2 producers are US, Russia and China, naturally, because they are biggest. But China actually invested heavily into solar and lowering their CO2, such as electric buses, while US left Paris Accord, rejected Green New Deal, started more oil drills and did a bunch of other things that actually increased their CO2 production. So if anyone should impose carbon duties, it's everyone else around US to force US to start following the rules.

I talking about the other countries. Import import duties reflecting the cost of the global pollution created by the manufacturer of the goods.

But CNN has spent the past month telling me that tariffs = bad. I guess they’re OK so long as they’re introduced for noble reasons?

I mean... yeah. Tariffs are bad for the economy. But if you're willing to slow down the economy for a good enough reason, then yes, it's okay.

Most recent proposal in the US -

Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2019


> But climate change has shifted from a technological problem to a policy problem.

There is no such thing as shifting from a "technological problem" to a "policy problem". Technology creates the landscape on which political choices are made. Where a problem cannot be solved due to political costs, technology can provide alternative solutions that are more politically tenable.

We may have a "cocktail of tech" ready for fighting climate change, but it's not of the right mix; it doesn't have the right political taste.

Getting Gates involved in politics? That's not without its own risks, and it may not be the best use of his time.

IMO, policy has a huge impact on technology. For example, if carbon was priced to include its climate change externality, the market would respond with solutions.

I'm not disputing that - if emissions were priced in, we wouldn't be anywhere near the mess we're in. Note however, that pricing carbon correctly is not a politically viable solution today. There are many reasons for that, and some of those reasons are addressable by technology. For instance, electrification of transport is a possible way of reducing carbon pricing's potential impact on costs of necessities and transportation - making the necessary political adjustment this much less bitter for people, and by extension politicians.

Politics is an art of endless trade-offs; technology plays a vital role in shaping those trade-offs.

Policy shapes technology and technology shapes policy.

Choosing which directions to focus research on rather than relying on happenstance or the market is policy.

Therefore it all comes down to policy.

It's a feedback loop all right, but some parts of it are easier to nudge than others. Policy tends to be fixed, as it's based on fixed characteristics of human brain and fixed phenomena like those explored in game theory. More effort put into politicking will not yield better results (EDIT: it might do some good; see downthread). Technology is mutable, in the sense that more effort (and money) put into it yields meaningful change, that can also shift policy.

Note that your argument right now boils down to "we need to invest more in right technology"; while the decision is political, it's literally the opposite of what people mean when they say something is a "political problem" and not a "technological problem".

> Note however, that pricing carbon correctly is not a politically viable solution today.

Then this should be what all of us are focused on because the future of humanity is dependent on getting everyone on board with this.

Agreed. My point is, however, that while carbon pricing may be ultimately a political decision, technology has plenty of opportunities to make this decision easier and more likely to happen.

A country deciding to correctly price in environmental impact today would tank its economy on the spot. But availability of alternatives with lower emissions to various economical activities (e.g. electric cars as an alternative to ICE cars) allows that country to incentivize their use and offers opportunities to start pricing in emissions piece by piece.

The reasons why good solutions aren't implemented aren't always and only "because politicians are corrupt"; sometimes it's because they're impossible to push through (e.g. you'd lose election to someone who doesn't want to do this), and/or because going full-steam ahead risks social unrest and civil war, none of which will help climate.

>Then this should be what all of us are focused on because the future of humanity is dependent on getting everyone on board with this.

How about we make so much technological progress that removes our reliance on cheap carbon emissions that we can tax carbon emissions without affecting people very much therefore removing the need to get everyone on board.


If technology gets to the point where the cost of dealing with carbon is on the same order as municipal water and sewer it won't be a political problem.

The policy problem is that there is a large chunk of people who don't even think there is a problem. How is that going to be solved with a different "mix" of tech?

The different mix of tech will make it cheap/easy enough to do the "right thing" from a carbon perspective that few will do anything else.

I could burn my trash but my taxes pay the city to pay a company to come around once a week and collect a barrel from my house so why bother.

I drive ICE cars because in terms of results per dollar they're an obviously better deal than anything with lithium batteries. When it's no longer the economically obvious choice to drive ICE cars I'll stop doing it but not before then.

> When it's no longer the economically obvious choice to drive ICE cars I'll stop doing it but not before then.

Note that this may happen with policy alone. Many countries and cities around the world are now heavily subsidizing electric cars, through things like tax breaks and waiving parking fees. This is only possible because electric cars are an available option.

How does people having the right opinion change anything? I live in an extremely liberal city, and I still see people driving almost everywhere. They’re not all driving Teslas or even Priuses either.

Sadly, the people you are referring to won’t change until they feel the pain. And possibly not even then.

> but it's not of the right mix; it doesn't have the right political taste.

What's that have to do with the technology?

I described it above. Technology offers options for policy.

Our climate-solving cocktail of 20 years ago involved things like drastic reduction of car use in favour of mass transit, and mass deployment of nuclear power to replace fossil fuel plants. We would be in much better shape today if that was done, but that set of solutions was (and still is) politically untenable - so technologists had (and still have) to invent different solutions, that are easier for politicians to implement.

I've generally found Bill Gates to be actively unhelpful to this end. Even in this blog he sounds very negative that nothing can be done unless all the companies he personally invests in come up with something.

In reality, if there was the political will to roll out existing solutions we'd all be richer, healthier and happier, but another bunch of rich and powerful guys would prefer that their investments paid off.

We probably wouldn't be richer. Any solution is likely less efficient economically than what we currently have and thus we'd be poorer. We might be healthier, but even that is a tough sell considering that any realistic solution will impact the poor much more than the rich. Even if you offered universal healthcare economic difficulty would still impact poor people's health, because your health depends on factors like food as well.

This is why there's little political will to do something about climate change. It will mostly come at the expense of poor people, because climate change is a consumption problem and the poor, as a collective, consume more than the rich.

I think your facts are upside down. The externality of climate change and other pollution is what takes us away from efficiency.

But even ignoring that, to give just a couple of concrete examples: shutting down coal-fired power stations in America would save Americans billions just in the cost of electricity. That's completely ignoring pollution and climate change. Yet there's a lobby fighting to stop that. Do you really think that's because they're worried about poor people?

Every single projection suggests that electric cars will be cheaper than their ICE counterparts due to their massively higher efficiency, again even if you ignore local and global pollution. Yet there's an organised lobby fighting against that move. Is this because they're worried about poor people?

>But even ignoring that, to give just a couple of concrete examples: shutting down coal-fired power stations in America would save Americans billions just in the cost of electricity. That's completely ignoring pollution and climate change.

And they are shutting down, because they are becoming economically unviable. Natural gas seems to be much more efficient, but both of these have a significant impact on climate change.

>Every single projection suggests that electric cars will be cheaper than their ICE counterparts due to their massively higher efficiency, again even if you ignore local and global pollution. Yet there's an organised lobby fighting against that move. Is this because they're worried about poor people?

It's not about being worried about poor people. It's about being worried about getting votes. If you're the person that doubles the prices, then you're going to be unpopular in the future.

Aside from that, electric cars are projected to be cheaper, but they are not yet cheaper. Electric cars can't even fulfill the same needs that a normal car does. Say you live in an apartment, like many poor people do. They can't charge their car overnight. Not only that, it takes a lot longer to charge it at a charging station. The car also doesn't have the same range.

Also, keep in mind that electric cars will only matter if those coal plants that are replaced by nuclear or some renewable. Otherwise it matters little. Yes, it reduces the impact, but we need more than just the reduction of the impact.

Policy is messy and subject to differing values. Bill Gates would do worse getting into policy. He would turn off people who currently like what he is doing because his moral values are different from theirs. I don't even need to know anything about Bill Gate's moral values state this.

Climate change is a losing battle from a policy perspective; most citizens don't care and elected officials are actively hostile to any policy changes that would make a difference. IMO, Bill Gates should avoid trying to deal in policy and continue to effect change through mediums that sidestep wrangling with policy.

We need both better policy and better tech, right? As Bill's article points out, energy technology is by no means mature. There are huge improvements to be made in production, storage, and transmission. Could it be that policy requires and will respond to innovation?

Policymakers need to consider not just today's "cocktail of existing tech," but upcoming technologies. My perhaps naive hope is that strong investment in tech will convince policymakers that reducing civilization's GHG emissions toward zero is becoming ever more feasible, desirable, and profitable (for some people).

Disclaimer: I don't work in the climate sector, though I'd like to one day.

You are correct that this is a social, economic and political problem. Nothing new needs to be invented.

However, tech solutions can help build the necessary public demand and political will. This is the software side that people here will find more familiar than heavy engineering.

It's not just Gates that can help. We all can do something as tech pros. Join the team here: https://climateaction.tech/

to paraphrase Indian activist and writer Arundhati Roy:

> if Bill Gates were a shoemaker, he would solve the worlds problems with shoes

> We can solve climate change with a cocktail of existing tech

No. We cannot. We most definitely cannot.

It seems that everyone commenting on this subject on HN is working off preconceived notions or decade+ old information. We know better now. And the picture isn't pretty. And, no, you can cover this planet with solar panels and wind farms and you are NOT going to reverse things at all, in fact, atmospheric CO2 concentration will continue to rise exponentially.

This is surprising to me because the HN audience is --at least this is my perception-- supposed to be technically sophisticated and striving to be up to date with research and technology. None of the comments I have read so far on this subject in this thread and older ones showcase an understanding of what we know now.

I have written about this in the past. I just wrote about it again on this thread:


If you don't read what I wrote, I beg you to at least read this paper. The conclusion, paraphrasing, is: Even if we deployed the most optimal forms of all renewable energy sources globally, atmospheric CO2 concentration would continue to increase exponentially.


Read it. It will open your eyes to reality. It was done by Google Research and they were brave enough to publish their conclusion, even when it collided with their preconceived notions on the subject.

Build renewable generation to stop releasing GHGs - this technology is affordable, ready and is likely in the medium term to be alot cheaper than running the old plants. Its no where near necessary to "cover this planet with solar panels and wind farms" that is "decade+ old" mis-information.

Large scale aforestation can take a great deal of CO2 out of atmosphere and simultaneously help endangered and degraded wildlife, and help people visit and work within biophilic surroundings. Large scale afforestation is advised by the IPCC.

Geoengineering may well be necessary, we will see as things turn out but strong technological knowledge exists for this also. Ocean seeding, atmospheric aerosols, - langrange point "sun shade" construction... these possibilities should be researched and may need to be implemented at scale, but as IPCC advises they are secondary to reducing emissions - which we DO have the technology ready and improving still.

I dont regard that 2014 article you linked as representing reality well, its a five year old editorialisation - a magazine conversation piece not a sober or reviewed analysis. Since 2014 cost of wind and solar have dropped, almost in half.

> Build renewable generation to stop releasing GHGs

No. Because building renewable generation will produce more GHG's than you are going to "stop producing". Manufacturing isn't a clean process, particularly when you consider that most of the "build renewable generation" will more than likely happen in China, the worst possible locale in terms of GHG generation.

Reforestation is, without a doubt, important. However, a sense of scale is important here. You need somewhere over ONE TRILLION trees in order to counter the effects of ten years of CO2 emissions. This, BTW, assumes we plant trees everywhere possible on earth. The research comes from ETH Zurich.

I don't think you took the time to read the article I posted. This isn't some lightweight magazine conversation maker. This was written by people who came into the project KNOWING that renewable energy sources were the solution and wanted to show the world this to be the case. Instead they discovered they were wrong. If you think this has no merit I would suggest contacting the researchers to explain how you are right and they are wrong.

The hubris here is to pretend that we can magically change the rate of change of atmospheric CO2 reduction from a historical (800,000 years of data) rate of 100 ppm per 50,000 years to 100 ppm in 50 or even 100 years. That is preposterous at best.

The kind of energy and resources that would be necessary to achieve this rate of change acceleration as well as the waste product that massive undertaking would produce is far more likely to kill us all than "save the planet".

This does NOT mean we should not deploy clean energy or engage in aggressive reforestation. Not at all. What it means is that we need to stop lying about why we are doing it. We are not going to make even a dent on atmospheric CO2 accumulation through any of these means. Not possible.

Here's the question nobody ever wants to answer:

Without humanity on this planet (at our current scale) and all of our technology (power plants, transportation, etc.) it took the planet some 50,000 years to reduce CO2 by 100 ppm. We have highly accurate data on this going back 800,000 years.

Compare these two scenarios:

1- No humanity. No factories, power plants, planes, trains, automobiles, ships, deforestation, etc. Without ANY of that in place it took an average of 50,000 years to drop 100 ppm.

3- Humanity in full force. Factories, power plants, planes, trains, automobiles, ships, deforestation, etc. And all we do is switch to "clean" energy and do some reforestation (say, 25% of what was los). And THAT is going to change the rate of reduction from 50,000 years to 50 years for 100 ppm?


In the one case we do not even exist. In the other we make token improvements to how clean we might be. How is that magically going to save the planet in 50 years, or 100, or even 1,000?

You see, it's fine to talk about generalizations: Renewable energy, reforestation, geoengineering. Good stuff. And yet nobody stops to explain how that stuff is going to, not only do better, but actually reverse the trend when compared to a scenario where the entirety of humanity does not exist on this planet.

It's like an alcoholic switching to three bottles per day to just two. Valiant effort, but pointless.

That is the inconvenient truth, isn't it?

> building renewable generation will produce more GHG's than you are going to "stop producing". Manufacturing isn't a clean process

Production of renewables certainly does not produce more GHGs than are saved. You must be following poor articles and sources of advice on the matter if you believe this. The matter is well studied and documented. If you wish to get really emphatically critical about these matters in general, you need to respect or at least deal with the IPCCs research and policy advice. It is folly to write passionately about renewable energy tech otherwise.


Brother, all you have to do is load a few container ships with solar panels headed to the US and Europe from China and your panels have now produced more CO2 than you will ever save. Bunker fuel is horrific stuff.

See, that’s the problem, the cult of renewables loves to ignore reality. You have to look at the entire supply and distribution chain as well as installation, support and maintenance.

Again, that’s not to say solar isn’t useful —I installed 13 kW at my house— it just isn’t going to save the world.

> And, no, you can cover this planet with solar panels and wind farms and you are NOT going to reverse things at all...

In fact, if you do nothing to reverse it, it won't reverse. If all you do is stop increasing the problem, the most you'll get is to make it not grow.

If you use some of that solar energy to convert CO2 into coal, you may start to reduce it.

> ...in fact, atmospheric CO2 concentration will continue to rise exponentially.

And this is ridiculous. For a start, there isn't much room for the CO2 concentration to keep rising exponentially no matter what we do. If we aren't past peak fossil fuels (coal and gas did/will peak later than oil), we are so near it that there isn't much room for increase.

But the real reason it's ridiculous is that if we cover the entire world in photovoltaics (figuratively, I imagine), we will certainly stop nearly all emissions. Jevon's paradox or whatever, fossil fuels can't compete economically with PV that is already paid for.

Before you tag something as ridiculous it would be a good idea to read and think a bit in order to at least understand the subject.

This is the problem. This thing has become a religion. Which means at least two things. First, everyone believes the “truth” blindly. Second, dialogue is impossible.

I don't disagree that he should do that, but given how deep in the pockets of industry our government currently is, it may be that the only feasible solution is an economic one. They won't listen to people, but they will listen to money.

If technology becomes good enough, the policy problem is irelevant.

Once solar and wind, without any subsidies, are cheaper than coal, then societies will switch purely out of self interest.

No prisoner's dillema solution needed.

> Once solar and wind, without any subsidies, are cheaper than coal, then societies will switch purely out of self interest.

If coal prices included the negative externalities costs - in other words, if we charged coal companies for dumping their trash into our collective air instead of subsidizing them by letting them do it for free - it would greatly change the price comparison. Then the market would likely do the rest.

Lets all tweet this comment at tag him + journalists

>The rest of us can't, so you have to.

But if you use your resources in ways that do not align with the view that climate change is a problem, such as using a private jet when riding on a commercial will produce far less greenhouse gas for the trip, we will remember it when you push policies that tell if not dictate to us how we should be using our own resources in our own lives.

You know, life doesn't have to be an ideological death march. Let's focus on moral improvement instead of moral purity. Large scale incrementalism has wrought massive positive change for humanity. Whereas the large scale pursuit of purity brought about the disasters of the 20th century.

It’s difficult to see how asking somebody who is beating the climate change drum to toe their own line is sending them on an ideological death march. The hypocrisy displayed when these folks run around in their private jets while screaming about ice caps and carbon is a textbook example of the “fine for me but not for thee” attitude of the elites that many plebes find insufferable.

The issue is simpler than ideological purism at large scale. If you ask someone make sacrifices that the one asking isn't making, no one should be surprised when there is resistance to making the changes and the motivations of the one asking are called into question.

This. I've been in the climate movement for some 15 years. Our basic stance has been, "We have the technology; we just need the political will."

There are many groups that you can become involved in. If you're a pro-market-solution type, the Citizens Climate Climate Lobby has been around ten years, and it currently has a bill in Congress that has bipartisan support (ahem, one Republican congressman): The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (http://energyinnovationact.org/). With this plan, all the revenue from a carbon tax is directly returned to citizens as a yearly check--no enlargement of the state.

Carbon pricing (which can come in the form of a tax or cap and trade) is the single most effective mechanism to address climate change. The idea is to internalize the _real_ costs of climate change into the price we actually pay--ramping up the price on carbon over time until it is prohibitively expensive to use fossil-fuel-expensive products, and incentivizing the economy to adapt. That fundamental price signal, where renewable energy becomes cheaper relative to fossil fuels (and similarly less fossil fuel-intensive goods are cheaper relative to fossil-fuel-expensive ones) reverberates throughout the economy.

If you're skeptical of Republicans ever coming to the light, even when they have pro market solutions like the one above to choose from, the Green New Deal is the way to go. Like Obamacare, it will require a progressive majority to push through. Frankly, this is where I'm at, after spending the better part of 5 years trying to get conservatives to take action. I've seen the general conservative position shift from "its not happening" to "it's not human-caused" to "who cares? it'll be great for the economy." I am skeptical of Republicans both a) taking action at all, and b) taking action at the scale REQUIRED to address climate change (i.e., a high price on carbon that is not meddled with by oil baron lobbies).

If the Green New Deal is really the only alternative, then we can pretty much say that the US will do absolutely nothing about climate change. That proposal was drenched in equity policy that people find unacceptable.

We don't quite have the technology. Battery swaps didn't work out, and recharging an electric car is so slow that they only work for homeowners with private garages and fairly short commutes, so no apartments and no ride sharing.

What was the problem with battery swaps? I’ve always thought that that is about the only way to make EVs viable.

Not clear. They had one pilot station positioned for SF/LA road trips by appointment (which doesn't solve the apartment problem at all) and then closed it over low demand.


I’ve been reading the book “Oil’s Deep State” about the oil lobby in Alberta and what it says makes me pretty much in your camp

I second this.

> electricity generation is the single biggest contributor to climate change—responsible for 25 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions and growing every day

To put it in perspective: livestock clocks in at 18% and transportation at 13%. [1]

But greenhouse gas emissions is not all that counts, there's also acidification, eutrophicatoin (phosphor pollution) and land use. Livestock clock in very high on all these points. [2]

We need land for forest: reduce footprint while re-creating habitats.

Good to know Bill also invests on that side of the picture. [3]

[1] http://www.cowspiracy.com/facts [2] https://phys.org/news/2018-05-reveals-foods-markedly-environ... [3] https://www.cnbc.com/2019/01/21/how-bill-gates-backed-vegan-...

Livestock only accounts for so much globally because much of Asia and Africa contributes little to CO2 output other than growing livestock. But that’s rapidly changing as those countries develop. The amount of CO2 China added to its footprint in the last year alone is more than what would be saved if the entire US switched to being vegan. As India and Africa follow the development trajectory of China, livestock will become a very small portion of CO2 footprint, just as it is in developed countries. (In the US, the difference between the average diet and a vegan diet is just a few percent of your footprint.)

>> (In the US, the difference between the average diet and a vegan diet is just a few percent of your footprint.)

I can believe that but could you please source it?

I think this was a commonly misinterpreted study from 2016.


With this being the key figure: https://postimg.cc/pmQCfdZq

And the key conclusions from that table:

"The impacts from food production for a vegan diet reflect the least GHG emissions when compared with that of a meat-based or vegetarian diet. As per Table 10, vegan diets produce carbon dioxide emissions of 1,798 g/person/day, showing the lowest amount of emissions, versus 7,891 g/person/day from a meat-based diet, demonstrating the highest emissions (Table 10). Vegetarian diets produce slightly higher emissions than a vegan diet, totaling 2,622 g/person/day. The largest individual food group contributor is red meats within the meat-based diet in the amount of 5,153 g/person/day. At the opposite end in a vegan diet, the lowest contributor to GHG emissions is potatoes."

Every study I am aware of is clear that a vegan diet is less carbon intense than a carnivore diet. Beef especially, which is reported as 49% of the total for meat eaters.

I think the people suggesting that "in the US it would raise CO2 emissions" is like a third-order effect people imagined up by drawing a box around the US and saying emissions from cattle grown in other countries for our consumption somehow emit carbon that doesn't get to the US while simultaneously assuming land use conversion in the US to increase agricultural output of plants which would increase emissions locally. Maybe. A lot of our crops go to feed those cattle.

I would be extremely skeptical of any claim like this that flies in the face of 3rd grade science class where we learned that at each step up in the food chain 90% of the energy is lost to support systems like... being alive... while only 10% remains as biomass to eat. This is basically thermodynamics in action with edge effects that contrarians want to focus on.

The definition of "meat-based" in that thesis is interesting:

>> Meat-based diets presume consumption of a combination of plant-based foods in combination with differing kinds of meats and fish and can include milk products, honey, and eggs.

So "meat-based" is any diet that includes any amount of meat. A person who eats a beef steak every day and a person who eats a chicken leg twice a week are both counted under "meat-based" and their environmental impact is calculated as one, and compared to vegan and vegetarian diets'.

I find that dodgy to say the least.

Also, I don't see where the bit you quote agrees with, and so is a likely source for, the bit of the OP's comment I quoted.

I'll re-emphasize the table I linked before, though I agree with one of the other responses that the OP meant that the benefits are marginal on an overall basis so my response wasn't strictly addressing the comment.


They absolutely distinguish between poultry and beef, though they don't distinguish steak from hamburger. They specified exactly what that breakdown was in the table and I doubt that it's random.

137gm red meat, 57gm poultry, 22gm fish per day on average per person using the "meat-based diet" model.

Assuming that pork and beef are both "red meat", the USDA availability chart (couldn't find consumption) is here:


and what I see is about 100 pounds of red meat, 65 pounds of poultry, and 15 pounds of fish per person per year available. 100 pounds of red meat per year is 124gm/day, and the ratios are a little off but not by a ton. They definitely report what their diet assumptions were though... my guess is they had a more robust model diet from USDA they used than the chart of clearly not quite the right dataset I took that from.

I guess it depends on the definition of 'a few percent' in what they said but I think you're misinterpreting it. They don't seem to be saying it wouldn't lower your emissions, they're claiming it's a small part of your emissions.

The change in that paper is ~2 tons/year, and average use in America is ~16 tons/year so about 1/8th. It depends if you think ~12% is 'a few percent' or not.

>It depends if you think ~12% is 'a few percent' or not.

I find that people have no consistency in such matters. What counts as enough of a difference to care about seems to change upon the issue and just so happens to generally align with an individual's view of if an issue is worth worrying about or not.

However the food wastage/carbon footprint from Cereals,vegetables and fruits is far greater than Meat, milk and fish combined.

Pic: https://postimg.cc/D4ZNpBLz

This pic does not say if it's talking about the total or the total per unit consumed, nor does it give a measure of what the total is. The chart is unfortunately not especially helpful in a vacuum. Which is not to say you're interpreting it wrong, I just cannot tell if your conclusion there is actually valid. Or if it's post-consumer (i.e. table scraps) or industrial (i.e. animal feed that goes bad) which dramatically changes the interpretation if animal production and cereal grain waste are correlated.

This doesn't really make sense, though. You have to grow grain in order to raise livestock. Without seeing how these numbers were calculated, it's hard to say exactly what this graph is showing.


The drop from vegan to average is about 1 ton of CO2 annually. Americans are 15-20 tons annually. China’s CO2 emissions growth was 2-3% last year: https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2019/02/28/china-coal-renew.... 3% on 9 gigatons is a 270 megatons increase. That’s somewhat under a ton per American.

We need a change in culinary habits, eating meat each day for seven days a week isn’t pheasible on the long run. And I don’t think people will flock to eating artificial meat, I don’t think real milk has been replaced by soy milk.

Also, a fact left unsaid by most of the people commenting on this, we need to reverse the engines of economic growth, this planet doesn’t have the resources of providing a middle-class lifestyle for 7 or 8 billion people. In essence, I’m saying that Malthus was right, and the longer we fight against his ideas the longer it will take for us to complain about stuff that I’m afraid is already outside of our control.

I’m not really sure what sort of event will bring the next environmental state of equilibrium, we used to rely on wars and lack of antibiotics for that in centuries past, but I’m sure it won’t be pretty.

I think the effort to get people to stop eating meat and XYZ favorite food isn't going to work. A lot of people eat what they eat because they don't really have much food choice. And with some people pushing weird options like bugs as a protein source while the rich will surely keep eating normal old burgers, life is starting to feel like a bad scifi movie.

I think the absolute biggest and most immediate solution is eating less. Not less beef. Not less pork. Just less of everything.

Obese people can easily consume 2x or more of the food a non-obese person takes in. In America alone, about 1/3 of the country is obese. Doing incredibly rough math here, cutting the calorie consumption of that top 1/3 in half would be the equivalent of 1/6 of food consumption vanishing. As someone from a rural family full of almost-carnivore 400+ pounders, getting them to cut their calories to ~2500 calories a day would be like half the neighborhood and their consumption simply vanishing.

And that's not even factoring in the gas we need to burn to accommodate the greater mass on airplanes, in cars, etc. Dropping the average weight of obese countries by 1/3 would put a big dent in emissions.

People have been prophesizing collapse and mass death for decades. They were wrong every time (obviously).

Do you have the numbers to back up your claim about middle-class lifestyles?

We do currently witness mass death for insects, which had managed to survive through quite a few geological revolutions but which apparently cannot survive the humans’ need for industrialized agriculture (and you cannot feed 8 billion people without industrialized agriculture). And the extinctions among the mammal genre are already pretty well known.

For millennia, actually. They have been right a few times.

> this planet doesn’t have the resources of providing a middle-class lifestyle for 7 or 8 billion people.

So what? What do you propose, concretely?

> Malthus was right,

Again, so what?

I'm not the person you're responding to, but I think the only way to fight climate change is by changing to an economy that doesn't rely on increasing production, and accepting a lower standard of living.

I see people blaming climate change on overpopulation, but this isn't really the truth - a majority of the world's energy usage comes from first world countries.

How much of a reduction are we talking about? Because if it's far enough, then it won't really be any different than the destruction of our civilization. At that point we might as well go full steam ahead into climate change, because the results of it aren't actually set in stone. The IPCC says that we still don't know how to properly model clouds in our climate change models - they could have a significant cooling or warming effect.

> and accepting a lower standard of living.

I think nearly everybody is ready to accept a lower standard of living... for their neighbourghs!

> So what? What do you propose, concretely?

I did say:

> I’m afraid is already outside of our control.

so you could say I'm a defeatist, as in I know of no workable and ethical solution. I am just laying out of the facts as I think they are happening.

Maybe we agree in the following conclusion:

Global warming is here to stay (because only a global effort can constrast it and human nature is against global efforts). Let's stop pretending we can make anything about it and let's instead focus on adapting to it (because humanity thrives when everybody can try and improve his own condition without sliding into theft).

> I don’t think real milk has been replaced by soy milk.

It doesn't taste like cow's milk though. And it's not trying to. Artificial meat on the other hand has a goal of being as close to beef as possible.

Cowspiracy has been debunked over and over again also it's good to know that bill invest on GMO, at least now we know what this side of the picture is.

Has it been debunked? As far as my reading has shown me in the past and now, it seems to be fairly accurate, with some criticisms levelled at its conclusion that veganism is the right solution.


Yes. And other shady investments. I wasnt trying to paint him a saint. ;)

You can't really compare CH4 and CO2 emissions. They have completely different lifecycles and short term properties.

Those livestock emissions nearly do not contribute to ocean acidification, and half of it will be gone in 20 years.

Bill Gates gets it. We need to step on the gas and deploy boatloads of wind, solar, nuclear, batteries, pumped hydro, long-distance transmission, energy efficiency measures, CCS, demand response, and whatnot.

Yes, it will cost a lot. But leaving our children with an increasingly hostile planet isn't a tenable option either (and one which will be even more expensive as well).

I think the fact that it isn't cheap shouldn't be that much of an issue (although I know it currently is) because the price we (not even our children) will pay because of climate change would be much higher (in pure economic costs, before we start talking about more moral and environmental costs like animal extinction).

But I think the problem is that people care about today a lot more then they care about tomorrow, or next year (and definitely more then their potential future descendants).

> I think the fact that it isn't cheap shouldn't be that much of an issue...

EDIT: Apologies for the combative tone below, what I'm trying to say is, it's not as simple as monetary cost.

I'm afraid that's looks like first world thinking. For countries still developing lives are literally at stake right now. Rolling back environmental impact means lower economic growth, poorer infrastructure and therefore people dying in poverty.

It's not all bad news on this front. Modi committed India to opening a swath of new coal power stations before coming into office, but has since changed tack with the collapse in the cost of solar energy[1]. Still, this will be new solar capacity and while it's better than more coal it's still environmentally worse than no new energy generation at all.


> this will be new solar capacity and while it's better than more coal it's still environmentally worse than no new energy generation at all.

I don’t understand what you’re trying to say here.

Can you elaborate more on this last point?

Do you mean to imply that one approach to the problem is to build no new electricity capacity?

How will we displaced fossil fuel use for transportation, manufacturing, agriculture, and mineral processing if not with new electricity generation?

Or did you mean to imply the world would be better off if India’s poorest continued to suffer in the dark and cold?

All I'm saying is that new capacity to meet an increased demand has an environmental impact even if it is solar.

More broadly my point is we cannot expect developing countries to simply stop developing. That's not an acceptable short term cost, as I pointed out when I said lives are at stake. I'm pointing out some complexities in the issue. How you can get from that to me saying poor people should suffer in the cold confuses me.

Rolling back environmental impact means lower economic growth, poorer infrastructure

This isn't true. It just requires a different development path than Europe and Asia have followed. For example, local power generation can bootstrap a small, isolated economy without requiring massive investments in a nation-wide energy grid. And renewable power (solar or wind) lends itself much better to small-scale deployments than fossil fuel generators.

All of those increase environmental impact, they just do it less than historical approaches. Actually rolling back environmental impact is another thing altogether.

Yes, this. Cell phones in Africa are a great example. They skipped right over having land lines and went straight to cell phones.

The last ten years' experience with renewables has shown that local-scale generation is underwhelming and large-scale deployments are the way to go.

With the exponential recent declines in production cost, most of the cost of solar is now in deployment, not manufacturing the cells. This has made huge desert installations much cheaper per watt than rooftop -- as a result, large-scale installations is where almost all the growth is coming from.

As for wind power, efficiency increases superlinearly with blade length. As a result of this, and improving material science and production/deployment tech, turbines have been getting enormous (Eiffel-tower-sized or more) and no longer fit outside of dedicated wind farms.

As for nation-wide grids, they're are a central part of the solution to solar/wind intermittency (because weather patterns average out over long distances).

> But I think the problem is that people care about today a lot more then they care about tomorrow

Absolutely, and to change that, you need to ask why this is the case.

There are many reasons for that. Some people are selfish, some are merely short-sighted. This needs to be fixed by changing the mindset.

But to me the (by far) biggest problem is that too many people simply cannot afford to think otherwise.

Climate change in X years means nothing to someone living in, or close to poverty today. "Green" means nothing to someone hungry today, and it would be absurd and apathetic to expect otherwise. And a very large share of the global population today are poor.

Given that the poorest are not disproportionately consuming the least-clean energy, I think the poverty issue is minimal.

My parents smoked heavily. Even after the causal connection with lung cancer was well-established. Even though both of them lost their father to lung cancer. Even though their child (me) suffered from asthma, to the extent of being hospitalised. I know addiction is a thing. But there was no sense that those choices were made because of the physical compulsion. There were no attempts to quit. The biggest addiction was mental: a lack of any interest in trying.

I don't think it is helpful to claim we are 'addicted' to high-carbon energy. But whatever the label, there is mind-boggling inertia in the human soul.

Nobody drives a shitty, old, inefficient, dirty gas guzzler because they are addicted to them. They drive them because they can't afford something better.

A solar panel is probably an unaffordable object for at least a quarter of the world's population.

No, but plenty of people drive brand-new, expensive, inefficient gas guzzlers. Poor folks are much more likely to buy a cheap small engine Honda than a 200 cu.in. un-aerodynamic brick. Guzzling gas is expensive.

And the poorest ¼ of the world contribute way way way less than ¼ of our CO₂ emissions.

This is true, a great deal of good can be accomplished supplying electricity and light and clean water to those who don't have access now. However, the carbon footprint of poor individuals is vastly less per capita than of rich individuals. Every rich person, and you are most likely rich in a global sense, must realize their luck and their lifetime carbon footprint and do their part for decarbonizing, given we are those who emit the most.

This is called "eating your seed corn". Do you go somewhat hungry during winter, and possibly starve now? Or do you eat your seed corn now, and have nothing to harvest later, and certainly starve later?

Our ancestors figured this out. Some of them did starve during winter. But we're the descendants of the lucky and prepared.

Why should the future be any different?

> But we're the descendants of the lucky and prepared.

Some of us may be the descendants of those who enjoyed their seed corn during the winter and later reaped the cobs planted by their neighbours.

Because the time scale of our situation is different. Those threatened by starvation in winter aren’t the same people who will need the seed corn in spring. That disconnect creates an immediate, imposed suffering on some for the future, anticipated benefit of others.

This is not "eating your seed corn", as that story is about a single resource, and the short-term planning of when to consume it.

You can put a price on the planet when you have more than one. Until then, this thinking is absurd.

We do have other planets, relocation will cost roughly $3.75e+15 USD at SpaceX price estimates. IIRC, the global economy is about $1e14 USD/year.

I haven't read the estimates, but that would be relocation only, correct? Assuming that's true, you need to add the costs of terraforming on top of that.

Correct. I kinda assumed the people who moved would build up domed habitats while there until it counted as “done”. Multiply by ten if you want to do it directly, I think?

We don't "have other planets" in any useful sense. We know there are other planets out there. We're a long way from knowing with even a shred of certainty whether we will ever be capable of relocating to them, let alone when it may become feasible or what it will cost.

So it will only take 37 years in impossibly perfect conditions? Unless people are willing to sacrifice themselves to let others survive this scenario is never going to happen.

That’s literally moving the entire population of the planet — you’d only do that in a very unusual circumstance when most people were going to die anyway if you didn’t leave, and building domes over your cities does nothing to help.

Most people don’t even move more than, what, a hundred miles from where they’re born? Just because I fancy giving it a go doesn’t mean I expect people to go to Mars en masse even if it was free.

But they could if they needed to.

A wealthy retiree without kids is going to naturally live for today and not care too much about tomorrow. Suspect there’s plenty of them too.

Apart from being uncharitable, that's just not a reasonable generalisation of human behaviour. Plenty of old people with no relatives have died wealthy wile living very simple lives, giving their wealth to charity. Wealthy retirees with lots of relatives have left all their money to their cat, or whatever. It's just not possible to paint big swathes of humanity with a single broad brush.

I’m not intending to be uncharitable - I agree that there are plenty of people of all sorts. My point is that there will be some people who really don’t care - these could be younger or older, childless or whatever. I am not sure if there is going to be much more than anecdotal evidence on who causes the most damage to the environment and who is likely to change their behaviour due to climate change.

I’m also not saying anybody would be wrong to not care about the future. It’s quite understandable to me someone using their freedom to say f the world, question is if everyone needs to be on board to make necessary changes then how do you achieve that.

In other words the point isn't the (admittedly unjustifiable) generalisation, it's that there are people who are not going to be on board unless they see something in it for them. Could be a wealthy childless retiree, or it could be someone in their thirties with four kids travelling round the world for work racking up air miles for their career to support their family.

A wealthy retiree without kids contributes less to climate change than basically anybody that will have kids. His climate impact stops with him, it doesn't for people with kids.

I just want to point out that "our children" here is literally us and our actual children. It's not some far future hypothetical human population.

If you're under 30, you will probably live to see large swaths of the plant that were previously inhabitable become unlivably hot due to human created carbon emissions. Factor in increased natural disasters, and the effects of a warmer climate on our ability to produce food, this is an incredibly serious problem that will affect you and people you know and love.[0]

Now is the time to act and get involved. Look into groups like the CCL[1] or local Green New Deal organizers. Call your congress-person, get involved at the state and local level. Make this a priority.

[0] http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2017/07/climate-change-earth-... [1] https://citizensclimatelobby.org/

Another option for getting involved is: https://climateaction.tech/

"Technology professionals from many companies — such as Google, Facebook, Tumblr, Etsy, Github, SoundCloud, Lyft and many more — are coming together under the banner of ClimateAction.tech to find ways to accelerate solutions to climate change."

There are lots of interesting projects and support in the slack workspace.

This will cost a lot, and this is not even the hardest step. We use energy for electricity, but also transportation, heating, fertilizer production/agriculture, cattle produces GHG, A/C recycling, and what not.

The USA will need to reduce meat consumption, improve public transportation (electric cars if produced at scale will introduce lots of other environmental issues), relocalize industries. They are late to the transition in every domain.

I just want to take a note (and please do not take this as a critique).

Not OP, but when I personally talk on reducing meat consumption for environmental reasons - I do not have animal farts and burps in mind. The process of growing meat requires a lot of resources by itself and at current human population scales we are wasting vast amounts of resources (energy, land, etc.) to grow meat instead of spending those resources to feed ourselves. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecological_efficiency#Ten_perc...

IMO, feeding animals unusual foods won't solve the main issue and produce more challenges. It's anecdata (cannot cite anyone), but as much as I've read about ecological farming, problems with animal health and infamous though prevalent use of antibiotics in industrial animal farming is due to the diets of the animals. Animals grown in ecological open farms with habitats natural for the animal grow healthier. But as mentioned in first paragraph - at current human population scales - meat consumption must be reduced rapidly.

P.S. I will digress, but as the problem is insanely big human population (and it's exponential growth), it would be great if people globally won't procreate at such rates.

Of course I have seen stuff like this. How much seaweed needs to be produced, won't this have other ecological repercussions? Why is this presented as a kill-all-worries innovation?

A much simpler and less crazy solution is simply to have more grass-fed beef. Their manure and body shade can help recreate green pastures in desertic regions, and this would be pretty much CO2-neutral. It's just more expensive, so nobody does it.

Solutions are here, and they're not that hard. People just don't want to implement them because it impacts their profits and abilities to eat tasteless meat 3 times a day for next to nothing.

Growing more seaweed sounds like it would sequester more carbon too.

Just like growing soy to feed beef, like we do now, except that we found out that the cheapest way to do that was to cut down trees in the amazon forest, grow it there and ship it to the US.

Uncontrolled innovation may have unexpected results.

It sounds almost like the disruption necessary to stop global warming is greater than the disruption that would be caused by the global warming.

When no one can forecast plausible consequences for global warming that have any consistency, it's very hard to have any idea. We have wild apocalyptic visions of the world ending in twelve years, or Mad Max resource scarcity causing the downfall of society, massive sealevel rises wiping out coastal cities. Or it could be an adjustment of a degree or two upward, to bring us in line with the averages for the Medieval Warm Period and other previous climate optimums.

Nor do we have any real understanding of the equilibrium effects of the climate, and many who are pushing climate models are quite obviously ignorant of shifts in global temperature and atmospheric composition on a paleontological scale.

Nobody really knows what the hell is going to happen, and when presented with rank fear-mongering, it's prudent to puzzle yourself with the classic question, cui bono?

Applying the classic question, I'd conclude that the confusion is probably exactly what those who 'bono' the most from inaction are actively creating, and I'd put my money on the many scientists across disciplines who seem to be panicking instead.

When concerned scientists and climate alarmists stop flying in airplanes I might give their warnings of impending dire consequences more credit.

Until the smartest or most concerned folks begin to consistently eat their own dog food I won't either.

Pain now or in the near term always seems far more severe than pain in the further future. Let's suppose that unrestrained global warming will reduce agricultural production to the point where it's no longer viable to grow any meat (or maybe 1% as much). Alternatively we could reduce our meat consumption in the near future by 90%, as part of a broad sustainability program, and be able to maintain that level of meat production indefinitely.

That's the sort of tradeoff we might be looking at.

The difference is that if it's a consequence of nature then people will just accept it. If it's a consequence of politics, then people will fight wars over it. How are you going to stop a sovereign country from growing food that they want? If your trade deals can't offer them more than what your restrictions on them are, then the only option is to intervene by force and institute an authoritarian rule.

Politics isn’t all about coercion. Persuasion and consensus can work just fine. Nobody’s about to start a war over other countries growing too much cattle on their own territory, but as the direct and tangible consequences of climate change become increasingly apparent, I expect the imperative for change to become more broadly accepted. The Paris agreements show that there is broad agreement internationally already.

There’s also no need to draconian enforcement. We can start with a ramped increasing environmental tax on meat products, reductions in farm subsidies on the same, etc. 50 years ago smoking was ubiquitous as a core social and recreational activity, now it’s marginalised. The same could happen to meat eating.

not sure youre being sarcastic or not... of course the disruption due global warming will be vastly greater than the disruption caused by trying to prevent it, that much is a given

The wealthier will be disrupted relatively more by mitigating climate change as they consume more and have the means to invest. The poor will be disproportionately affected by climate change and are less able to adapt. So even if everyone is worse off overall without mitigation measures against climate change now, the rich would be relatively stronger and so may consider later adaptation preferable to present mitigation.

I don't think this is true, unless when you say "the rich" you mean "90% of the population of the West".

Resource consumption happens by a person. There's only so many resources a person will use while being rich. A rich person might consume far more resources than a poor person, but rich people collectively have a much smaller impact than the poor, because there are far fewer of them. This means that if you start tackling climate change and the impact is that food becomes more expensive, then poor people will be far more affected by this than rich people.

How is that different from saying that wealthier people are better off, and that this will continue to be the case?

I don't know any simulations of either scenarios, so I can't tell if the disruptions are comparable or not. It was just my thought at the pretty harrowing and grand scale list of sacrifices we would need to make to stop global warming. Maybe the alternative is worse, I don't know.

Even if the actual disruption was the same magnitude - if you have control over the disruption, it is much more pleasant one than the one you don't have any control over.

Is it though? Because if humans have control over it, then you can be sure that humans will fight over it. How would the US tell Russia to pollute less?

Yep. IPCC AR4 report claims that climate change will cost about 5% of GDP by 2100. That comes to a net present value of about 0.1% of GDP (assuming 3% growth).

What part of "eating less meat / driving less/ relocalize industry" will kill people from heatwaves and cause mass migrations?

Relocalizing industry will certainly cause mass migrations (people will follow the industry).

You're being intellectually dishonest here.

Relocalizing industry is a controlled process, where the direction of the flux of people is known, and housing and infrastructure sizing can be planned and handled, and people won't follow the industry if they can't get acceptable living conditions.

Mass migrations from climate change are due to unexpected meteorological events either directly (floods, heat waves, etc), or indirectly (food scarcity, drinkable water shortages, political instability, etc). The scale, location and time are unpredictable. The people concerned will need to migrate and have to live in unsanitary housing camps.

not even close

There are around 1 Billion people right now without electricity[1].

For them is already a hostile planet. I wonder if their governments care more about the environment or provide more people with electricity.

[1]: https://ourworldindata.org/number-of-people-in-the-world-wit...

How could be people convinced about importance of this if it doesn't or won't impact them enough?

Yes, "think about our children" is good, but in the end people are still selfish and will think that it's not their problem.

I meet much more people that use “other people won’t care” as an excuse for not doing anything themselves than I meet people who actually don’t care.

If we just started doing our parts and didn’t worry so much about other people doing theirs we wouldn’t in this mess.

Yes, saw recently on HN (and often IRL) "no point recycling when industry ...", and "we'll never best 10% domestic recycling, why bother".

In UK councils quote 50% recycling rates. And that's with most supermarkets still producing food in unrecyclable packaging.

At the risk of injecting extra negativity into the thread: what about the recent revelations that a lot of (if not most) recycling is really shipping the trash to poorer nations to be dumped there?

>"councils quote"

Yeah ... I've not investigated that yet. But I have seen some of our local recycling facilities and they seem to be operating rather than secretly filling shipping containers.

It does trouble me visiting my town's rubbish dump, there is so much usable stuff in the skips, so much waste.

Presumably China now refusing other country's trash is shedding new light on these issues.

I think we have to fix our entire economic systems in order to solve this, and I don't think that's going to work readily because people will always exploit others for financial/political gain at the expense of the environment. We're going to have to seriously curtail individual freedoms that allow people to make excessive use of resources. We can't do that under our current market-based systems.

Take a simple example, fleece fabric is great, cheap, used widely but is a massive source of microplastic pollution - we're going to have to make it expensive, and stop people from throwing it away, and use the income to do proper filtration and recycling.

We're going to need to start treating fraud wrt environmental issues as akin to manslaughter - actually put businessmen in jail who are responsible (knowingly, or unknowingly through negligence) for things like shipping recycling abroad and not confirming it is recycled, or lying about car MPGs, or failing to filter effluent, or allowing runoff to poison water sources, ....

We probably need something akin to a global one-child policy as well. We can't go on increasing population and just expect resources to stretch. Things are going to break much harder with population rates left as they are.

I better stop ... /rant

or in other words, the tragedy of commons.

No, it's the tragedy of blaming the tragedy of the commons.

That's one of the most important jobs of a politician. Make the hard decisions and convince people that they are needed, even if they don't see it right now. Politicians who don't do that don't do their job. And yes, that means we are in the West (and probably elsewhere) in a veritable political crisis. Not because we have some nutjobs run around "it's all a myth! we don't need to do anything!" but because politicians don't work anymore against it and instead take the lazy path to votes and just agree with it, even if the long-term consequences will be disastrous for humanity.

These initiatives will create a lot of jobs: engineers, administrators, electricians, construction workers. Many of those in areas that were hit hard by manufacturing moving away.

> How could be people convinced about importance of this if it doesn't or won't impact them enough?

As engineers, I feel it's our responsibility to make environmentally friendly solutions that are simply more economically viable than the unclean/unsustainable alternative. I'm working on the oceanic shipping industry myself.

One thing that might help is that longevity research is going on well. Hopefully in 10-20 years it will produce enough results for the general public to start believing that saving the Earth is not just about their children.

> We need to step on the gas

Nice metaphor...

Maybe “get the lead out” would be better?

In current Formula 1 parlance; we need to increase our torque demand.

Really nice, because a ramp up in mass production of these things causes a lot of emissions that will take 50+ years to recover from.

Indeed, it's not cost but investment. There's a return on investment and it's not just getting rid of carbon. IMHO the easiest way to get the world moving to mostly wind + solar is continuing to lower the cost (unsubsidized). Lower cost of energy enables new use cases.

People seem to be talking about replacing existing energy suppliers with clean ones. Instead we need to be talking about what it will take to generate 10-100X the amount of energy in a few decades and what that would enable. Cheap clean energy enables a lot of things that are currently too expensive/polluting to consider. Countries that manage this will be able to grow more rapidly economically. China looks like it is well positioned for that.

I'm not against nuclear but it will have to come down in price and upfront investment cost for that to have meaningful impact short term. As long as people still dream about maybe being cost competitive with coal/gas one day, the ambitions are simply not high enough. It needs to be vastly cheaper than that. 2-3x would keep it competitive with solar and wind for some decades.

IMHO any price comparisons against current prices are in any case effectively obsolete since those are likely trending down for solar and wind for some time to come. If prices drop by another few double digit percentages, a lot of home owners will do the math and put some solar on their roof.

Carbon capture schemes only make sense when the combined cost of that and keeping the carbon producing stuff they offset functioning is lower. However, even without carbon capturing a lot of these solutions are already problematic in terms of cost and making them more expensive will only speed up their demise. With coal, that has already happened. Natural gas will last a bit longer. However, when wind and solar bids start undercutting these solutions consistently the same will happen there. There's a real chance that remaining gas plants switch to clean sources of gas (i.e. generated using solar/wind/nuclear) when that gets cheap enough.

If we insist on a system with exponential growth the natural outcome will be self destruction, no matter what technology drives this growth.

Why would we settle for the "natural" outcome? Jeff Bezos' dream for Blue Origin is that population and civilization growth can continue in Space, where there's plenty of space and resources.

I just have a hard time with that.

So we make our own planet, a space in the universe we are literally evolved to use, unlivable at some point.

The solution is that we'll magically figure out how to make space, an already hostile environment, livable?

Honestly, space settlement makes for nice headlines for the new ruling class to pat themselves on the back with, but for the rest of us, the natural outcome of unlimited growth is population crash.

> The solution is that we'll magically figure out how to make space, an already hostile environment, livable?

Well, potentially yes, because it would offer us to relieve the pressure on Earth - and the spin-offs from the process of creating space infrastructure and space habitats would be mightily useful for fixing the damage we've already done to Earth.

We didn't break Earth out of spite; before technological civilization, life on Earth was shit. We're breaking the planet out of desire to make our lives better, and we might fix Earth out of the same desire - but only if we get the chance to do it in time.

Not magically, intelligently. Earth exists in Space and is livable, therefore it is possible.

I mean, what else do you want? You don't want the mass death of population crash, nobody has the power to order billions of people to stop wanting things and live in poverty, no one person or group can change government policy of all nations, and we can't keep polluting and increasing energy use at current rates.

There's no way back to an ideal perfect before-time. The only way is forward, and the only way forward without mass death is more technology. I hope someone can work out a way to put the polluting energy intensive things away from where we live.

I'm surprised to not to see inertial storage there

And by no means is the "duck curve" or storage an impediment for adoption. I will not go as far as identifying it as a "core" issue here.

I wouldn't take offense, it's rare for our personal pet technologies to make it into high level documents. These are just Gates' opinion of the best ones after all.

But I would put my money on reflow batteries in the long run if they weren't so far behind, simply the decoupling of storage capacity from power density feels like an engineering perfect storm to me. I was lucky enough that my pet technology made it in =)

Why do you think inertial storage might be superior? I've talked to a fair number of people working on it and it sounds totally doable but I'm unclear that it actually costs less per joule stored or why it would. Granted a flywheel costs less per unit mass and compressed air is cheap, but on a capacity and fabrication basis? Maybe. I don't think I'd call it a shoo-in though and wouldn't invest in it myself.

> Granted a flywheel costs less per unit mass and compressed air is cheap, but on a capacity and fabrication basis? Maybe. I don't think I'd call it a shoo-in though and wouldn't invest in it myself.

Its power and energy density is next to nothing in the industry.

Fabrication, cost on the market? Even most basic flywheels like one used as industrial UPSes can be used right away for grid storage, and be more or less competitive with their high round-trip efficiency.

This just shows that how low a commercial opportunity for energy storage as such is. You need truly monstrous daily variations in energy price to make people put money it it.

By the way, I'm talking about regular steel flywheel, not carbon fibre ones

That graph is quite misleading, it should be a percentage of total usage, if we wanted to show progress. Global energy consumption could have grown just as much, making progress zero.

This graph shows things more accurately: https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/global-primary-energy

From 2000 energy consumption has increased by 50%. Every type of energy usage has increased except traditional biofules (wood basically).

I think the key thing to take from this graph is that renewable energies aren't replacing older methods, simply new demand is proportionally being supplied by newer method (and even that by a minuscule amount).

Good point, bill's graph suffers from numerator analysis, only showing production but not the overall percentage based on the total.

The graph you posted is sobering. Looking at coal, there is a tiny dip in it, wow that's all the death of coal we hear about. Its still going to be phased out for 20 years globally, nevermind the phaseouts of oil and natural gas which will take even longer.

We have a long way to go, let's keep striving!

But because the world must balance the need to eliminate carbon emissions with economic growth

I read this often, and everytime can't help but wonder: must the world really strive for economic growth? Is just stability not enough? Isn't unbridled growth a major cause of the situation we're in now (and not just with respect to climate, but also the wealth of other environmental problesm, even disasters, the earth faces)? Note: these are honest questions. I don't know how econmics really work. Maybe I'm naive, and I perfectly get for some 'more more more' is the key aspect in life. But is that really required?

Well, it's easy for us to sit here in the developed world and talk about how the world doesn't need growth.

There are billions of people for whom more of the same means more poverty. When everybody in Africa, South America, Asia, heck even the poorer parts of Europe and North America, has access to clean water, food, education, healthcare, safety, justice etc. we can discuss whether we really need growth.

Growth may not be as needed in our parts of the world, but it sure is for a lot of people.

Since 2000, China has gone from a per capital PPP GDP of $3,000, about the same as the US in the 1880s, to $17,000, about the same as the US in the 1960s or 1970s. In the process, it has added 6 gigatons of carbon output, more than the entire US footprint. Carbon output was the way to a modern, decent life for a billion Chinese. India and Africa are still stuck where the US was a century ago (and their carbon output is correspondingly low). Economic development is necessary for them.

Economic growth is what allows _very good things_ like education and healthcare continue to improve, and reach a larger number of people, regardless of what you think of material consumerist goods.

These things have made life way better for average people, in many obvious and non-obvious ways, that aren’t the mere collection of material goods. Infant mortality dropping is one obvious effect, but violent crime also decreases for example, the murder rate a few hundred years ago was orders of magnitude higher than now.

I was curious how the homicide rate has changed over time. It’s true as you claimed that it was substantially higher hundreds of years ago, and has been on a steep drop in modern times:


If there is population growth, there must be economic growth, or every new born mouth makes the rest of the world poorer. That tends to turn people on one another.

Zero population growth is now possible; zero growth in resource usage may be compatible with economic growth.

Yes. As others pointed out: without economic growth, population growth makes everyone poorer.

Also, economic growth is not our enemy here (nor is growing energy usage). In fact, properly applied, they're our friends in this problem. The trick is doing more of the helping stuff, and less of the damaging stuff.

I've argued this two days ago, so to not repeat myself: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19897547.

Our enemy might be an economic system based on growth that gives critical political power to groups of people that don't actually care about decreasing carbon emissions.

True, economic growth makes everyone richer. But if we don't find a way to both get economic growth and keep the planet in a liveable state, losing economic growth sounds like a better option than destroying the conditions for human life.

My main fear here is that by fixating on economic growth being bad, we might wind up killing the very engine that gives us technologies to deal with climate change and fix the damage already done. That's why I urge to decompose "economic growth" into pieces, and focus on addressing the parts that are causing trouble.

This is a fair point. But couldn't there be a different engine to technological progress?

Not sure. By their very nature, new technologies improve things, creating economic growth.

Incidentally, I'm not 100% sure whether general economic growth is what powers technological growth directly. I've recently seen arguments suggesting that progress of technology is tied to population growth - which has slowed in the past decades. If this is true, then we're in deep shit - at least until we learn how to convert money into technology instead of researchers into technology. But still, we would neither need economic growth to support population growth to cause technological growth (researchers -> progress), or economic growth to support technological growth directly (money -> progress).

Maybe there's a different economic regime that would let technology to progress and life quality to improve without invoking an explicit concept of "economic growth", but I'm not sure what would that be and whether now is the time to figure it out.

Economic growth is not required for the survival of humanity. Economic growth is just something that wealthy people want so that the can keep or increase their wealth. Again, wealth itself not being vital to the survival of humanity (and many species of animals).

Not many people care about "survival of humanity" in the abstract. What we all care about is not suffering, not dying, and not seeing others suffer and die. And then other things on the Maslov's pyramid. Economic growth is absolutely necessary to achieve that; the default, natural state of humanity is pain and death.

I think the abstraction of humanity as a group of which every human being is part of is something that many people understand. People care about the messages they hear, and most of them still hear a message that says there's no real issue and it's possible to keep living the way they live, and it's possible for everyone to keep living the way they live.

Many people would be okay if the message was: we are all going to have to change the way we live, including the rich.

That's fair. I do too subscribe to the abstraction of humanity as a group.

I guess what I'm saying is that even with climate change, survival of humanity is not at stake. We're unlikely to collapse the climate to the point where no humans can survive anywhere on the planet. What's under threat is survival of our technological civilization, of our ways of life, of our grandchildren. The danger is that a lot of people will suffer greatly and die prematurely, and that the future will only contain more suffering.

"economic growth" just means that we produce more goods and services that people desire, for cheaper.

It it borderline tautological to say that economic growth is "good".

I am not sure how someone can argue against a concept that is almost by definition positive.

> I am not sure how someone can argue against a concept that is almost by definition positive.

People argue against the "more goods" part, on the basis that we have way more stuff than we know what to do with anyway. They're sort of right, but it's throwing baby out with the bathwater. Economic growth also encompasses doing same stuff better, and being more efficient with resource use. From what I've seen, the motivation behind criticism is usually twofold: criticizing greed, and worrying that ever-increasing use will exhaust available resources.

We tend to think of economic growth as a fairly tangible thing with meaning. But, GDP is an industrial era measure. Add up all the shoes, cars & kettles that come out of factories and see if that's growing YoY.

Even then they had to deal with serivices and the other more ethereal parts of the economy (financial services, then and now, are a contraversial element in measuring economies). But, the tagible parts of the economy were big enough that GDP had meaning. If GDP doubled, it meant more food, cars, clothes, steel...

These days, GDP growth, economic growth is a lot more poorly defined. Economists have measures for it, but they can't describe what "GDP doubled" looks like beyond the abstraction used to measure it. It could mean more lawyers/lawsuits/contracts or it could mean more childcare/education. Asking "do we want the economy to grow" is a far less meaningful question than it once was.

To the point in the article though, I do think that we need more energy, not less. In fact, for the future to be futuristic, we need a lot more energy. A side effect of clean energy tech is that we're eploring new paradigms, some with tremendous potential to scale beyond what carbon provided.

Stability is probably much (much) harder to achieve than either growth or decay.

The measures of economic growth are not perfect but even something like improving a product or service is, in a very real sense, economic growth. Are you asking whether every such improvement should be matched with a corresponding degradation?

Personally, if you're happy with your situation, you shouldn't feel compelled to constantly improve it. But then, if you need or want to protect something (e.g. yourself, your family), a certain amount of {slack / profit / extra resources } is necessary to weather unknown future adversity. And a growing capacity to handle such adverse events is as important as the things you wish to protect and preserve.

Growth does not imply consumption of resources. It can simply be technological advances. Finding better cures for cancer is also growth.

Of course mankind would continue without better cures for cancer. But I find it difficult to argue that we shouldn't look for better cures.

But the growth talked is "economic growth"

Curing cancer is also economic growth.

Required implies that there is some kind of divine guidance out there, which there isn't, so I suppose we could force humanity to stick to some stable point and not progress any further.

But economic growth is required in the sense that advancing technology requires economic growth. And advancing the human race requires advancing technology, and so on.

The world's population isn't a single entity, so even if one group decides to not pursue economic growth, others still will. The only way to not fall behind is to keep playing.

All of capitalism is predicated on unending growth. There are some fields of economics that do research into alternative models, but they are niche and unpopular: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steady-state_economy

No, the world doesn't really need to strive for economic growth. IPhones sales not growing year over year is not a disaster for anyone, really. Same for Amazon market share, and so on. And yet: it is, because the system works this way. Growth is god. It's instilled into DNA of every entity working in the capitalism.

We could stop the growing obsession, redistribute the accumulated wealth to the developing nations (perhaps iPhone sales would grow then?), and live happily ever after. Obviously, it's an utopia that's not going to happen.

And yet, it's the only viable way to achieve the emission targets needed for humans to survive on this planet. It's commonly accepted that the best advice you can give someone who wants to reduce her/his carbon footprint is: "consume less". Well, we need to consume less globally.

Nuclear startup companies need more than words of support. They need financial backing and they need it now. There are on the order of 50 startups in North America trying to commercialize new nuclear technologies. A few have billionaire backers, a few others are receiving government grants. All are under funded.

In a world where a web service can be prototyped in weeks and complex hardware can be prototyped in months, the investment community is not taking nuclear startup proposals seriously. We get it - you want to make money as fast as possible.

If we want to see operational Generation IV nuclear power in the next decade, investors need to recalibrate their investment timeframes. This means we have to wait longer and make larger bets. The human mind is tuned to yearly seasonal cycles which is fine if projects can be tested on that time scale. But for something as complex and risky as nuclear power, we need to think in five or ten year cycles.

To all the people with money advocating for climate protection and low cost power for the developing world - enough talk - nuclear startups want to get to work, and they need financial backing. Next time you fund a company focused on fintech, weed, or low-paying gig economy jobs, consider that you could be investing in Generation IV safe nuclear. The contrast is stark between companies that shuffle money around or capitalize on addiction versus companies that produce the most basic resource of energy.

The long view is gone. Let's just imagine we cannot stop climate change. Who's working on that problem?

One thing I don't hear discussed much is that we really need enough renewables installed so that on good days for solar and wind, we're actually generating much more than 100% of demand. This then substantially reduces the fraction of the time we depend on expensive storage. This only works though if we have additional variable demand that can kick in when things are going well, both to stabilize the grid and to provide a profitable market for energy. This is where technologies like Prometheus are developing could fit in really well - generating carbon-neutral aviation fuel from atmospheric CO2 and electricity, so we can decarbonize those parts of the economy that cannot switch directly to electric power.

Problem with many of these schemes is that they are capital intensive, so if you can run them only when there's an oversupply of renewables on the grid, well, the economics are going to suck.

I do think that synthetic fuels is a likely solution for things like long distance airplanes which are very hard to decarbonize otherwise.

I think it more likely that utilities (or someone) will begin buying up heating, cooling, and other flexible demand so that they can use a much higher % of their renewables efficiently.

One obvious step that seems to be missing is having governments acknowledge this as a top priority. Make carbon-based energy production expensive enough that these technological innovations are the only alternative.

It seems like a classic case of the Innovator's Dilemma[1]. We are so economically dependent on carbon fuels that the incentives to develop and adopt renewable energies are not yet strong enough. Shouldn't governments do more to speed up that adoption curve?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Innovator%27s_Dilemma

> One obvious step that seems to be missing is having governments acknowledge this as a top priority.

It is missing because it's not possible!

Any government who doesn't have economy at its top priority will be overthrown. Economy can at most be slightly slowed down in order to push green policies, but that's it: anything more, and next government will be voted on the promise to restart coal mines!

It always interests me that lithium batteries are used in situations with such different constraints: from mobile phones (lightweight, compact, frequent irregular (dis)charging, etc.) to grid storage (controllable (dis)charging patterns, weight and size are less important).

I wonder which other, less battery-oriented, chemical reactions have been investigated for grid storage. For example, non-rechargable aluminium batteries have been suggested for electric cars ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aluminium%E2%80%93air_battery ); I could certainly imagine a substation topping up the grid by corroding a huge heap of metal (aluminium is abundant, but heavier materials could be used since they don't need to be mobile).

The interesting dynamic with such non-rechargable "batteries" is how they're manufactured: they would come from surplus production at times of abundant energy. AFAIK energy-intensive processes like aluminium smelting are already used to balance the grid (either directly, with contracts between both parties; or indirectly, by changing energy prices).

Are the round-trip efficiencies of such reactions too low? Are the energy quantities too low? Would this just be an indirect (and hence less efficient) form of the existing load balancing?

The problem is "lithium batteries" is too wide category. There are vastly different chemistries that just happen to have lithium in them that all get grouped into "lithium batteries". All those applications you mention, for most they each have their own dedicated chemistry.

This is a good approachable article that goes over all the common types of lithium batteries. https://batteryuniversity.com/learn/article/types_of_lithium...

The article lists three important solutions for transition to clean electricity. But there is also a fourth important solution, one that I think HN crowd can help with: demand side management systems. Essentially, this aims to match energy utilisation to energy production.

One idea which needs implementing ASAP is a way to use EV batteries as a flexible storage device, so that you charge the battery when there is a surplus of power, and perhaps release a bit of energy when there is a deficit. To do this in a user-friendly way is not trivial, but surely not that hard either. And yet no current or planned EV seems to be offering this.

Can someone get onto this please :)

> And yet no current or planned EV seems to be offering this.

In the UK, Ovo customers can do vehicle to grid transfers from their Nissan Leaf, with an appropriate charger.


Nice find! This is exactly what I had in mind!

It is curious that this system is only compatible with Nissan leaf though. Perhaps we should work on a standard?

We are going to need more than just those 3 solutions they mentioned. One of them is demand side management systems, as you mention. These behind the meter (BTM) solutions are going to vary a lot in the scope they address.

You mention using EVs. This will happen in the future, but it is still a ways a way for a few reasons. The primary reasons are because EV adoption is still rather low (adoption is increasing fast and penetration varies by region), and because there is often little monetary incentive, largely because tariffs (electricity rates utilities charge) are not sophisticated. For more sophisticated (and effective) rates to incentivize actions like what you mention, we are going to need more intelligent systems in front of the meter (the transmission and distribution systems that utilities control), and those are often enabled by smart meters (AMI).

For demand side management, think beyond physical batteries. Think virtual. Buildings can act as virtual batteries as they can vary consumption (which is largely enabled by thermal inertia). A lot can be said about energy right now, so I'm not trying to be long-winded...

Also, we're on it! At yize nrg[1], we are lowering HVAC energy costs for large buildings using intelligent agents. We save money by lowering consumption and by doing so at advantageous times, like when prices are higher (based on LMP or tariff). This is demand side management, and we can also offer demand response services back to the utility. [1]: http://www.yizenrg.com

This is very interesting, but note that in the diagram on the linked page, the "consumers" are "not controllable" - so it seems that this does not address the demand side management opportunity.

Heating or cooling of buildings is probably easiest way do that in large scale.

I am not sure... where I live (Australia), the electricity supply policy is essentially aimed at avoiding brownouts on hot days, I suppose for the fear of losing building cooling (this has resulted in fatalities in the past). This incidentally results in having a massive amount of standby power generation, and rather high electricity prices.

I think the low hanging fruit (in Australia at least) is various industrial users (eg aluminium smelters). The politics around this are fascinating, but unfortunately too complex to describe properly here...

These solutions are touching only the technical aspects and I believe most experts probably know exactly what to do, but that doesn't mean they can actually do it simply because its execution depends largely on politics.

We can have one country practicing it but another just doing the complete opposite to ruin it for everyone, then realistically we don't really make any progress at all no matter how much effort we put in.

For any climate change solutions to really become effective, it will definitely require a joined global effort. That's where our root problem is, until we can solve that the rest are just useless noises.

Bill forgot the only thing that can truly be a game changer: Nuclear Fusion. In the long run, this is the only solution that can provide the amount of energy required by our modern society.

Ja, called sun. Already an off-earth installation available. Transfer of energy via radiation. Has just to be collected and transformed to electricity.

Nuclear fusion and fission are both exceptionally complicated ways to boil water, and even if given an ideal water boiler, turbine and cooling plants still need to be built for them and situated somewhere that about 3 times as much heat energy can be released into the local environment. This is known as thermal pollution:

"ultimately, when heat waves are extreme enough, power plants will need to draw down their power output."[1]

Here [2] is a study which shows anthropogenic heat emissions from energy consumption are a pressure on global climate. If we put out another 200%+ of whatever energy we consume, in the form of thermoelectric cooling (heat) then quite surely that will amount to a bigger problem.

Also, "Thermoelectric power use has a significant impact on water resources and the power sector is highly dependent on these water resources; the United States Geological Survey (USGS) estimated on a national level that 41% OF ALL FRESHWATER WITHDRAWALS in the United States in 2005 were for thermoelectric power operations, primarily for cooling needs (Kenny et al 2009)."[3]

I believe the real game changers are plainly solar and wind. These have shown the most rapid improvements from investment. On similar timescale to developing fission or secure nuclear, floating oceanic wind and solar combined with hydrogen generation rigs (and even ocean plastic filtering) are possible...

[1] https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/earth-and-planetary-sci...

[2] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-017-2092-z

[3] https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/7/4/045...

> 3 times as much heat energy can be released into the local environment

Or used for desalination, hydrogen, syngas, ammonia, methanol, ethanol production [1] etc.


Also, your estimation is incorrect. The thremal rated power of a nuclear reactor doesn't mean it releases 3x as much heat in the environment. At least 1/3 of the thermal energy is converted to electricity, and part of what remains is fed into a new cycle. The overall efficiency of a nuclear reacor is 33-37%. Gen IV reactor projected efficiencies are above 45%.

Waste heat cant simply be used for this and that, or else we would see all existing thermo-electric powerplants already doing so. Efforts to make thermo-electric plant more efficient and use waste heat are ongoing, but full use of waste heat would be a more game changing development than practical fission reactors !

Its rather rhetorical for us to quibble with my statement "about 3 times.." But in my readings on the matter 33-37% is the theoretic optimal running efficiency of most existing nuclear plants (depends on the kind and expense of turbine cycle and cooling system employed).

Combined heat and power (CHP) is a thing, though mostly in colder climates where there's a need for heating in the winter.

In principle you could do the same with nuclear, but there's challenges in siting a reactor close enough to a big city, and also current reactors tend to be too big. SMR's might help, and there's active research in this area.

SMRs likewise require generators and cooling plant, 2 or 3 times as much cooling as electricity produced, perhaps even more if its to be done most economically. So if CHP is justification for such release of heat into cool environments - they should be categorized as mainly a source of heating, not high value electrical energy. An ability to make continuous heat on this planet is not a futuristic energy supply in its own right, it falls well short of the "game changer" goal.

It's pointless to debate whether we should use a technology we don't have yet.

I'm currently reading Griffith's Classical Electrodynamics and Jackson's Electrodynamics, coupled with lecture notes on plasma physics, in order to take a crack at the problem of nuclear fusion. Many other people are doing similar things, because it may possibly be the most important invention that anyone will ever create.

Oh, I don't mean that we should ignore fusion. We should invest in its research, probably as much as is helpful to speed it up. But when considering how to reduce greenhouse emissions right now, fusion is not an option.

I don't think so, not for the foreseeable future at least - fusion has to be cheaper than fission to be interesting, and fission is probably too expensive at the moment already.

No, solar is fine. Well, that's also fusion power in a way, but driven by an existing fusion reactor that doesn't cost us any energy. And for the next couple of centuries or millennia, it will continue to produce more energy that we'll ever need.

Nuclear fusion would certainly be nice if it could be made to work, but I've lost my enthusiasm about that a long time ago. Solar is giving us far better returns.

> our modern society

You probably mean future society, as this technology is not really viable yet (in its current form).

Citation needed.

Fusion is also the only energy source which will allow us to reverse the worst effects of climate change (melted ice caps in particular).

Very unlikely that fusion will have any impact on climate change on the timescale which is necessary. The cuts need to be made over the next 20 years, even if we had the technology, it would take a lot longer to scale up.

Not sure why only fusion power would allow that. Solar power is making use of energy that's already heating our planet without us making use of it. Turning solar radiation into electricity instead of heat, makes more efficient use of energy we already have without having to generate more of it from different sources, like fusion.

And the amount of sunlight we receive is enormous. If we could make use of a significant faction of that, it would provide more energy than we ever need. There's no reason that can't do anything that fusion power will ever be able to do on Earth.

The only real advantage fusion power has over solar is that it's independent of the sun and can be used in deep space. Well, once it finally works.

If anyone can help for climate change - it's easy: don't eat beef. Really. Сattle produce TONS of methane. Less consuming => less market share.

Cows are also among the most inefficient at converting food to ... food, and responsible for a large part of habitat destruction world wide (eg cutting the Amazon for pasture), which is I think an equally serous problem to global warming.

I am all for renewable energy but what worries me the most is that our world population in out of control. At what point do we factor this in and start doing something about it? Even with renewable sources of energy can we sustain such growth? I understand nobody wants the government telling them how many kids they can have but I just don't see how we can keep on going this way, and I think a decrease in the population rate would help the climate out as well maybe even more so than renewable energy.

The world population will saturate around 10B. It's not really something to worry about for two reasons: (1) From what I've read, there's very little that can be done about it in terms of policy. (2) The largest effect has been caused by the exponential growth in the last couple of centuries. The additional 50% won't bring anything radically different.

I tend to agree with this (but I admit that I haven't given it much thought). For the most part, population growth is far higher in developing countries. As some of the other commenters here point out, population growth tends to slow down as your country gets richer. However, the issue is that the environmental impact of people in rich countries is far higher per capita.

Some back of the napkin math:

- India population = 1,324,171,354 [0]

- India growth rate = 1.19% [0]

- India CO2 metric tons per capita = 1.58 [1]

Assuming each additional person has the same per capita carbon footprint:

1,324,171,354 * 1.0119 * 1.58 = 2,117,087,809 additional tons CO2/year

Compare to the United States:

- US population = 328,863,150 [2]

- US growth rate = 0.62% [2]

- US CO2 metric tons per capita = 15.53 [1]

328,863,150 * 1.0062 * 15.53 = 5,138,909,636 additional tons CO2/year

So even though the US has 1/4 the population and a lower growth rate, the growth of carbon footprint is 2.5 times higher. These numbers are obviously very inexact, but the point is that if you believe that the current rate of CO2 output is unsustainable (and this is hard to dispute), then even if the world population levels off, this is likely due to increased prosperity. And increased prosperity means more consumption per capita and more consumption means more carbon footprint (and other environmental damage).

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_India

[1] https://www.ucsusa.org/global-warming/science-and-impacts/sc...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demography_of_the_United_State...

Many predictions of population growth converge to a value between 9 and 12 billion, maybe followed by a slow long-term decline after 2050 or so. This would be high but manageable with proper resource distribution.

These are more pessimistic predictions, of course, but the more optimistic ones are based on the observable trend that higher standards of living correlate with lower birth rates.

I don’t think it’s the number of people the problem, but rather the demand for resources a few people from the Western world create.

That's not an either-or question. Both population growth and per-human resource demand need to decrease for our society to survive the next 100 years.

Gates has solutions for that too. Lifting people out of poverty by tackling healthcare, nutrition, and education issues, helps improve living standards and is correlated with lower birth rates.

E.g. providing energy to villages that currently don't have any so they can turn on the light at night (education) and pump clean water (health), actually helps achieve this.

World population growth is said to be slowing down. But, in regards to what to do about it, support good sex education in schools, and support policies and groups that provide easy and free access to birth control options. The best way to combat overpopulation is to help people prevent unwanted pregnancies. Planned Parenthood.

The growth of the world population is already slowing down. As someone mentioned, it will probably peak at 10 billion. Many countries already have near zero or even negative growth. Increases in prosperity and education do a lot to limit population growth.

This is a nice chart for that: https://www.theatlas.com/charts/HJBLgF8_f - compare to https://tradingeconomics.com/south-korea/gdp on max range.

(If the scale disappears on mobile, it's 1960 - 2015)

How good, realistically, are our climate models? What are the probabilities of the various outcomes if current trends continue?

It would be really interesting to know if the research has been verified by any independent researchers not employed in academia - ideally from the world of finance, where evaluating correctness of methodology and models is absolutely crucial. Ideally they would also be highly sceptical of the predictions and have a pro-economic growth bias.

> ideally from the world of finance, where evaluating correctness of methodology and models is absolutely crucial

Isn't it only crucial to the group doing the analysis? Financial world thrives on information asymmetry. If you have more information / better models, why would you share it publically instead of extract as much as you can from that difference? (Unless it's a one-off invest/short-publish-benefit case)

Not sure I understand what you are asking. What I mean is that in (non-academic, applied) finance - unlike many other disciplines - you relatively quickly get feedback on the predictive power of your models. Like climate, finance is also a complex system. You have to always be critical of the steps you took to arrive at your model and focus on your research methodology.

Therefore I would trust someone who was successful in financial model research to perform that "audit" of sorts. Someone like David E. Shaw, for example.

The financial industry is strongly biased in favor of carbon trading. You see, this becomes like trading stocks and futures and bonds. Hedge funds, high-speed traders, and every other kind of parasite can go do their thing to extract wealth.

Well, assuming that something must be done, carbon trading does seem like a sensible solution. But I am more interested in the forecast/outlook rather than mitigation options, hence the requirement for whoever is looking at it to be a sceptic apriori.

Why is a pro-economic growth bias relevant?

Because they would likely have a higher hurdle for being convinced that we may indeed need to sacrifice economic growth to change the course of humanity's future for the better. If they do their research and are convinced, it would mean a lot more to me than if someone who supported the conclusions of environmentalists' apriori reaches the same conclusion.

If there is any such bias among climate scientists (e.g. people that go into climate science already hold certain beliefs about what should be done politically, and inadvertently favour the models / parameters / methodology that support their beliefs), this would help mitigate it to some extent.

I think one thing overlooked with solar panels is their short lifespan and the toxic chemicals they leak into the environment when they are disposed of. There isn't much regulation on how to handle the material waste from solar panels, wind turbines, etc. And with the current threats to the oceans, fresh water, and soil from climate change, agriculture, and industry... it doesn't seem to me to be the one we should rely on.

Nuclear has been, and maybe should be, the way to go. Even with the horrible accidents that have happened, it is safer than coal and has caused less human harm as far as I can tell. I'm sure most people who are experts on this know more. Maybe we should bump nuclear from a footnote to the leading header: nuclear with a light mix of other renewables.

However none of this is useful if there isn't a unified push from all countries across the world to rally together and make this happen from policy all the way down. This is a problem facing humanity, not any one nation -- but people everywhere.

One fundamental step that we could take tomorrow is ending the subsidies and tax breaks on oil, and reassigning them to renewable energy sources.

Why we haven't done this already: special interests controlling our government.

Why not biomass? For millions of years the nature balanced CO2 itself with plants, water cycle and fires. Massive reforestation would help with water retention problems, biodiversity etc.

Solar, wind, batteries, nuclear sound big but they are not environmentally neutral (massive and toxic mining of rare materials, noise, poluting production, toxic recycling, disruption of airflow[1]).

Burning fosil fuels is dead-end way but do we want to make this planet a complete artificial wasteland full of solar panel, wind farm, battery and radioactive landfills because "we wanted to stop CO2 emissions at all costs"?

[1] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/wind-power-found-...

Simply put: biomass is not a good technology. You need huge,huge fields to produce enough crops for turning into biofuels. Those fields need water, space, pesticides, and labor, it's simply not economical compared to solar or wind on the same location.

Massive biomass plantations don't really help biodiversity. The arable land of the earth that isn't already used for growing food or cities is desperately needed for nature.

And as another poster already pointed out, biofuels are horribly poor in terms of energy produced per area. There's simply not enough land on the earth to produce enough biofuel to run our civilization.

For a most egregious example of this, see the ongoing disaster in Indonesia where pristine rainforests are cleared away to make room for palm oil plantations, so us Westerners can feel good about using biofuels. Heartbreaking.

It seems to me that climate change can only be stopped using unpopular decisions. And unpopular decisions can't be applied globally in a heterogeneous world. I think it is called "the tragedy of commons".

On a journey in the car the other day I was looking at all of the Oil Seed Rape grown in the British country side. Diesel cars can be run with minimal modifications on straight vegetable oils. I wondered how much land we'd need to be self-sufficient on car transport.

We fill the car with fuel roughly once a week. So that's 40 litres a week or 2000 litres a year. Looking on wikipedia I found the yield is about 1000 litres per hectare. So for our purposes we'd need at least 2 hectares (about 5 acres or 2 rugby fields).

There are 24 million hectares in the UK. However there are 38 million registered vehicles (and some of them will be using a great deal more fuel than we do). That's without any allowance for the energy use in growing and pressing, land use for other crops or housing, or suitability for crop land. And that's just transport not the various other energy requirements we have.

I'm not sure what the point was but it made me quite sad.

Totally off-topic. I like the design of the site so I looked up the source.

There's something like 25 000 lines of JS and CSS o_O.

"It’s easy to be overwhelmed by climate change and what to do about it. Global greenhouse gas emissions, for example, went up again last year—another reminder that we must act quickly if we want to prevent the worst-case scenarios of our warming planet.

Still, as I learn about all the new ideas to address this challenge, I am optimistic that with the right mix of solutions we can deploy right now and new innovations we can build a path to a carbon-free future."

I bet if you google it you will find exactly the same statement written by somebody 10 years ago. And I bet somebody will write it again 10 years from now. When will we stop fooling ourselves that technology is gonna save us?

This is all well and good (really), but I'm a bit disappointed that the entire post omits the word "efficiency." Yes, we must do everything he mentions – but we waste a TON of energy. Reducing our demand will only make any other solution(s) easier to achieve. One salient stat: it's estimated that commercial office buildings in the U.S. waste about 30% (!) of the energy they consume.

Shameless plug: my startup (bractlet.com) uses physics-based simulation models to try and claw back most of that 30%. If you're interested in that sort of thing, I'd love your feedback on our website/offering. Feel free to email me: brian@bractlet.com

I'd like to know who he thinks the "we" is in this article. Several countries are already using ~100% carbon-neutral electricity and the USA and Europe are progressing rapidly. The main culprits are developing nations and China, so it's "them" who should be doing something urgently and "they" have a whole slew of other problems not covered by Gates' US-centric perspective.

Reasonable approaches would be to bring manufacturing back to countries that use mostly clean energy (oh, and modern approaches to labor and human rights) and to tax imports from developing countries with poor CO2 record heavily until they fix their issues.

How much of the China's footprint is generated for manufacturing stuff for the developed nations?

We may have 100% clean energy locally only because we've outsourced the dirty one.

> We may have 100% clean energy locally only because we've outsourced the dirty one.

We have outsourced it because they have been undercutting local producers in pollution, labor, human rights standards. Therefore bringing back manufacturing and taxing them is a much better solution overall than bringing more extreme measures to our already pretty "green" region.

Wicked consumers! Doubtless Chinese factory workers will find alternative employment in the fields should the need arise.

You could not be further from the truth. Carbon emissions per capita is way higher in the US and in Europe than in China and India.

It's more complicated than that. Emissions in the US, Canada and some European countries are higher (per capita) while some other countries like the UK, Italy, Spain and France are below China. The EU as a whole ranks a bit below China on a per captia basis.

However the other important factor here is the trend line. Most western countries above China in this ranking has a trend line pointing downwards, while China still has a trend line pointing upwards. So if both China and the US continue on their current paths then China will indeed soon surpass the US.

isn't it even more complicated than that?

It would seem that manufacturing would have a significant impact on the figures and a lot of manufacturing has been outsourced to China/India.

So how much of all the stuff that is bought and consumed in the EU/USA is actually produced in China or India?

China, 7.5 metric tons per person in 2014. Switzerland, 4.3. Sweden, 4.5. France, 4.6. Spain, 5.0. Italy, 5.3. UK, 6.5.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_carbon_di...

Not sure if you were trying to make a point about China having a greater output than European contries but you missed the USA: 16.5 (metric tons per capita).

Cherry-picking data much?

That same article lists the EU overall at 8.6 and US at 17.

AFAIK a fair part of China's emissions are due to the production of goods not bought by Chinese but by Swiss, French, Spanish... nationals. China "decides" to produce, so this country is somewhat "guilty", but let's not neglect its "accomplices".

Good point. Have an upvote.

You are downvoted for apparant racism.

The western world, of about 500 million people, pollute 4x more than China which has 1.2B people.

European Union: 6.4 tCO2 per capita per year

China: 7.5

And EU is about 500 million people.

Source: 2014 numbers from https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/en.atm.co2e.pc

All that stuff the EU and US buys - where's it made?

It counts toward China's emissions total. Whilst having reduced EU or US contribution comparatively speaking. We globalised manufacturing emissions, and most of them ended up in China.

The simple fact is no one can claim their halo - everyone, everywhere has a part in the solution, and we can find failings to criticise everywhere too.

Maybe Orkney got closest to their get out of jail card, but they're tiny.

> All that stuff the EU and US buys - where's it made?

Not that I disagree, but it is not just Europeans' choice to buy from China, but also Chineses' choice not to sell.

The western world, of about 500 million people

How did you get to that number? EU is about 500 million people, The US and Canada is about 350, Add in any other countries you might consider 'western' and that's another 50-100 million.

> apparant racism.

By people who apparently don't even know the meaning of the word.

> The western world, of about 500 million people, pollute 4x more than China which has 1.2B people.

The western world has a much larger population, but I'd like to see you back that claim up with reproducible numbers.

It's a fact that CO2 emissions in China are growing rapidly (per capita and absolutely) while the "western world" is mostly reducing them and has been doing that for many years. Also, we have to rely on China's "official data", which may or may not be correct.

> It's a fact that CO2 emissions in China are growing rapidly (per capita and absolutely) while the "western world" is mostly reducing them and has been doing that for many years.

If it's a fact you should be able to cite a source?

> Also, we have to rely on China's "official data", which may or may not be correct.

The rest of the world is more than capable of monitoring China's emissions using satellite data.

> CO2 emissions in China are growing rapidly

China rapidly tripled their emissions from 2000 to 2010, but after 2011 they have hardly increased at all.

Second graph here: https://www.carbonbrief.org/guest-post-chinas-co2-emissions-...

> Now let us return to why the reported Chinese CO2 emissions growth in the communique is so much lower than our projection in the 2018 Global Carbon Budget. The real reason is not clear, but the problem is an unexplained inconsistency in the coal statistics in the communique. [...] >There is no apparent explanation for these discrepancies. Some people have suggested that China’s statistics bureau is manipulating the data to make coal consumption growth look smoother than it actually is, although there is no direct evidence for this. Whatever the case, the discrepancy over coal means that overall CO2 growth could be as high as around 4% – compared to 2.3% reported in the communique – even before accounting for other sources of uncertainty that we usually include in our analyses. Those factors push the uncertainty range even wider, to -0.4% to +6.7%. ...


Report dated 30 Nov 2018

"China is positioning itself as a global climate leader, and its actions have an enormous impact on global greenhouse gas emissions. Discouragingly, a rise in coal consumption drove Chinese CO2 emissions to a new high in 2017, which will likely be exceeded again in 2018."

So what's the right approach here? Could there be a BDS-like movement on things created with dirty energy?

If there was a "made with renewable energy" certification on products, I'd certainly consider paying a premium and even being inconvenienced into finding them.

Maybe even a version of the better world shopper (https://betterworldshopper.org/) which does exclusively energy grades and then have forward-thinking grocery stores start to to put the grade on the label.

I'd certainly shop at a store with that system at every conceivable opportunity.

I think the best solutions are very down to earth, non-ironically. Plant many many trees, stop deforestation, stop people eating up on Amazon forest, they're literally destroying the Earth lung while it needs a bigger lung. Of course it'll need changes, people will need to stop over-consuming about everything, reduce their meat consumption drastically, and stop many other negative habits. One that upsets me are pets, how come more than 1 billion people have pets? Just imagine the huge impact on climate if they were all to replace them by plants

These solutions make sense to me. To get there, I think we need a price on carbon. Use the revenue to pay a dividend, to make it palatable to the general public. Ratchet it up aggressively over the next five to ten years. Let people trade credits to spark innovation, reforestation, etc.

Basically follow the Behavioral Economics of a 401k plan. Get people to start contributing anything, then get them to commit future raises and bonuses to the plan. The more “out of sight, out of mind” the better.

The article mentions traveling wave reactors and molten salt reactors being developed by Terra Power. Any relationship or synergy between these two, or are they orthogonal efforts?

I suppose there would be some synergy in general nuclear knowhow, fuel supply (that is, making available a supply of HALEU or RgPu which is not something the current global nuclear supply chain is providing) and maybe in terms of reprocessing. But the reactors themselves are quite different.

I'm excited to see a "Subsurface pumped hydro" solution on his list. This is an idea I thought of recently and have since found other projects working on it.


Personally I'm waiting for us to directly inject heat into the Earth's core, and retrieve it when needed.

This is all good, but the reality is we'll not have enough renewables any time soon: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_energy_consumption

We should seriously consider solar geo-engineering. Not as the ultimate policy but to buy time.

I really hope not. We don't even know all consequences of geo-engineering. Well, we know it will lower yield of crops on which we depend to feed ourselves.

Future is green or none at all.

Why not both - our current "forward" momentum is increasing greenhouse gases and, even if we switch fully to renewables with minimal carbon footprint in a very short time-frame, that momentum will continue to have effects. If we apply the "backward" momentum and start removing carbon while also switcing production to green, it should stop the negative effects more quickly.

Of course, I'm all for thorough planning and extensive, well-funded and organized research first - unfortunately, we can't seem to start doing one of these things seriously, let alone all three...

Removing CO2 is not geoengineering in my book. That is reversing what we did and I'm all for that.

Geoengineering is for example emitting particles to atmosphere to lower amount of sunlight hitting earth. This will cause sky to change color, lower yield of crops and possibly other unknown consequences. That I would rather live without. That is last resort think, not first think to do.

We don't even have carbon tax, plane fuel is not taxed etc. and we already talk about geoengineering. This is crazy.

We already did geoengineering in form of burning fossils. Reversing this is also geoengineering.

If carbon emissions dropped to zero today, there is enough carbon in the atmosphere to permanently raise the temperature and potentially enough to kick off nasty positive feedback loops like permafrost methane.

Assuming we could hit zero today is of course wildly optimistic. Even reaching an equilibrial state of carbon inflow and carbon outflow would mean approximately halving emissions, rather than tinkering around the edges.

> we know it will lower yield of crops

that is true only for one kind of geo-engineering: emulation of volcano eruption, and that's indeed not the kind of geoengineering we need. What we need instead is a much finer control over weather to prevent +35 and -20 in cities, drive more water to deserts, and make arctic warmer without melting all of greenland ice sheets.

The way around that is to use particles that block/reflect EM radiation that is not useful to plants. For example, glass or silicon gel.

You are being misled by the graph. Here is why:


So basically the chart is based on fuel consumption not actual energy output. Most fossil fuel consumption is inefficient to the tune of about two thirds of the input fuel being wasted. So the graph down-plays the contribution of renewable sources and nuclear by a factor of about 3x in terms of substitution for fossil fuel sources.

I think biochar is a CCS technology that works right now, and could be deployed/encouraged at vast scale.

Small-scale farmers char their agricultural wastes rather than just burning it (perhaps in simple earth kilns) and bury it in their fields, capturing carbon, and improving the soil at the same time.

Climate change sounds as innocuous as daylight savings. We should call it the impact it will happen to people. Maybe climate caused catastrophe, or climate extinction, anything but climate change.

Something I have been thinking about for years: black attracts heat, right? So why do we not have a worldwide initiative to turn anything that is black to white. Primary uses I am thinking are roofs of houses, and pavement on streets. I remember as a kid painting roofs on my Dad's commercial properties in Florida with reflective paint in order to reduce cooling costs of the properties, which ended up working pretty well.

If climate change really is the threat they say it is, why are we not starting with the simple and obvious solutions first that are super easy to deploy/implement?

>If climate change really is the threat they say it is...

When can we stop couching our discussion of climate change with clauses like this?

Also, the UN has some numbers on what happens if we increase the albedo of the planet. IIRC, the issue is that almost nothing we do can counteract the loss of albedo from the melting icecap.

I think it helps to understand that only 0.37% of the world's land mass is artificial covering [0]. It makes sense that counteracting the loss of albedo from the melting icecap would be difficult as that would imply drastically increasing the artificial covering while making up for the loss of albedo from what is removed during the process.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_cover

When the climate change has actually happened.

But obviously not to the degree that something dramatic has happened to the world. And a lot of assumptions presumably go into that chart, that are not shown on the chart.

Anyway, I don't want to discuss climate change. Just saying there is no dramatic impact yet - once there is, maybe the language will change...

Due to the gradual nature of the change to the climate in comparison to the average human lifetime and the shifting baseline of people's perceptions, many people will never acknowledge that there has been a dramatic impact.

Increasing the albedo is one geoengineering strategy that is being discussed regularly. But it doesn't help with other negative aspects of increased CO2 concentrations like ocean acidification.

Actually some places are already working in those solutions as well, like basically painting roads white, and it has been proved that in those areas it's not as hot in the summer so there is less power consumption for AC. (see https://www.cbsnews.com/news/los-angeles-is-painting-some-of...)

However, that is still very expansive, and you need to paint a lot of surface areas (counting those that you can even paint) for it to make a significant difference (in world-wide terms).

That doesn't seem a bad idea - it is like polar sea ice reflecting heat. However, you'd need to calculate what the benefit would actually be and compare that with the impact of suddenly manufacturing and applying a lot more paint. It might be worth it, it might not.

Do you have any idea how much surface there would be to cover outside of your own backyard for this to be effective ? Are you aware that 1/3rd of the Earth's surface is covered with snow at some point of the year but that snow cover has been declining for decades ?

It truly boggles my mind that you think painting stuff white is the first step to take to take on climate change.


It can reduce energy consumption for start... and you already might need to paint your roof...

Part of the problem with climate change is that it's too big for anyone to intuitively comprehend. The scope of the disaster (both in timescale and magnitude) is beyond anything humans deal with in their everyday lives, so laypeople are prone to unhelpful observations.

By being completely non-political, Bill Gates earns my attention. I like his ideas.

It appears that the link is broken

Link contains a bunch of unnecessary parameters but works for me. Maybe try the "clean" link? https://www.gatesnotes.com/Energy/A-critical-step-to-reduce-...

Doesn't work either.

Even if I go to https://www.gatesnotes.com/ and click the link on the frontpage I reach the "Oops!" page.

This is truly disconcerting. The fact that someone like Bill Gates writes (and presumably believes) something like this is of real concern and an indicator of just how far askew this whole business of climate change has gone. Everything he proposes is pointless.

I've written about this before:


Here's my challenge for anyone to undertake. I don't care how much or how little you know about the domain. See if you can refute this and then we can have a conversation. If you know basic college Physics even better.

Step 1:

Take a look at this graph. It represents ice core atmospheric composition data for the last 800,000 years. Yes, it is VERY accurate information.


Step 2:

Measure the slope of the rise from minima to maxima. Get a sense of what you might call the average rate of change over this 800,000 year period.

My numbers are, again, roughly:

Increase of 100 ppm atmospheric CO2, about 25,000 years.

Decrease of 100 ppm atmospheric CO2, about 50,000 years.

Step 3:

Understand the crucial point (in caps for emphasis only, not shouting):


Think about that for a moment.

Step 4:

Now explain how installing bunches of solar panels, wind farms and converting the entire transportation infrastructure to use these energy sources will REVERSE climate change.

Step 5:

Really think about the above. Hopefully you've realized the absolute futility of these proposals. I would call them "demented" but the more accurate term is "political". They are not rooted in any kind reasonable scientific basis.

Realize that if humanity evaporated from this planet next Monday it would take around 50,000 years for a 100 ppm drop in CO2. IF HUMANITY EVAPORATED FROM THIS PLANET. Then answer this:

How, pray tell, is anything less than us leaving this planet going to deliver results any faster than about 100 ppm in 50,000 years?

Step 6:

This is for extra credit.

Some out there are talking about reversing climate change (which, for the most part is code for atmospheric CO2 accumulation) in 50 years.

Great. For 100 points: Explain how we are going to achieve a 1000x improvement of the natural rate of change without destroying the planet in the process. You see, anything we do will require energy and resources. And nothing is 100% efficient. Which means the byproducts of this massive planetary-scale undertaking is far more likely to cause more damage than to fix anything at all. You don't speed-up a planetary scale process a thousand-fold without serious --unknown-- consequences.

Again, any time you find yourself saying "but, but, but, solar and wind power are clean and renewable" remind yourself that it would take 50,000 years for a 100 ppm reduction if we left earth with all of our toys in tow. That is reality.

Now what? No clean energy then?

No, of course not. But not for these fake reasons. Here's a research paper you can read that will set you straight as far as the relationship between renewable energy sources and climate change. The conclusion, paraphrasing, is: Even if we deployed the most optimal forms of all renewable energy sources globally, atmospheric CO2 concentration would continue to increase exponentially.


Pour that into your cup, sip on it for a while and then go re-read the Gates memo.

We want clean and renewable energy for other reason. It will make human life better. We want nuclear also, which is FAR, FAR better than the other sources. What we do not want to do is continue the lie that this will "save the planet". It will not. It will make things better but the solution to atmospheric CO2 accumulation will require an approach and technology that we have yet to imagine.

Whenever i hear something about Trump and see all those people following him and playing / taging along, i get very frustrated and unhappy.

We all should be able to fix climate change while in parallel Trump is President and we don't care about that?

How does that work?

I'm 32, i might just not create children, accept our faith and will enjoy what still exists.

Bill Gates: somebody buy my nuclear stuff, I already invested so much

Let's imagine the government got their act together and decided to act on climate change. I firmly believe that simply investing in R&D, reforming industry and rebuilding infrastructure will not be enough. Whatever policy is introduced to fight climate change it will have to include, one way or another, radical reduction in consumption. We might as well pretend that that policy is already enacted and start behaving accordingly.

- less flying.

- less meat more plants.

- take some days off. reduce commute.

- if you have any fossil investments... for love's sake, why do you still have fossil investments?!

The only way to do this is a radical change in government from democracy to autocracy. The only way to do that is a catastrophic war or resource shortage.

Not necessarily. Prohibition was introduced by a democratic government, wasn’t it? Not that it worked very well. But airlines and airspace might be easier to control than alcohol smugglers.

> We can do even more. By investing in energy innovations...

Ok. Do it. You promised to give away your entire net worth years ago but you're still worth $100 billion. What's the hold up?

> The organization's stated goal is to inspire the wealthy people of the world to give at least half of their net worth to philanthropy, either during their lifetime or upon their death


You mean that promise? Seems to be coming along as promised. How you doing?

So what you seem to be suggesting is he should spend his entire net worth all in one go right now and then walk away, and if he doesn't he's a fraud? If that's what you mean, it doesn't seem to me to be a very effective strategy when tackling long term problems, especially as new problems keep coming up. No investments means no revenue to tackle new problems.

Do you really think committing everything up front would be a better use of his resources?

At very least he could have its foundation desinvest in non-renewables.

They dis-invested from their fossil fuel portfolio in 2016.


My bad. I wasn't aware of that. Genuine question, did they also dis-invest in GMO (which tend to be bad for bio-diversity) ?

They do support some GMO research as part of their commitment to improved agricultural output and food security in the developing world. I suppose it's a case of conflicting priorities. They've been into reducing poverty and hunger longer than they've been into environmentalism.

Even then it's not a straight trade-off. GMO can have harmful consequences, but if it reduces the agricultural footprint that's an environmental benefit.

I have to agree with you. Put your money where your mouth is.

I imagine the vast majority of that net worth is tied up in investments and not immediately available to spend. It's not just sitting in his bank account.

The threat of climate change isn't significant enough for him to liquidate his investments?

He's already liquidating them pretty quickly to fund the vast amounts he's ploughing into eradicating polio and malaria, and projects to provide access to clean water, contraception and decent sanitation in the developing world.

It wouldn't surprise me if the linked article doesn't mark the start of a shift in focus to address climate change as well. You may not be a fan of Bill Gates but when it comes to putting his money where his mouth is he has a pretty decent track record in recent years.

Edit to add: When you hold more assets then anyone else there's a limit to the rate that they can be liquidated without completely disrupting the global economy.

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