Thursday, March 1, 2018

What happens after the global warming problem is solved?

It is the year 2038. 

The global warming problem has been conquered, but environment crises still plague mankind.

You all know the history.   The first breakthrough was the construction of the first large-scale viable fusion energy plant by Helion Energy of Seattle.  Who can not remember the day in 2022 when Dr. David Kirtley, CEO of Helion, announced the first successful test of their system, producing 50 MW of energy for 4 cents per KW hour from a device the size of a truck (see below).  It turned out that pulsing the magnetic containment fields, coupled with substantial computational resources and rapid-response control systems, was the secret.

Image courtesy of Helion Energy

It didn't take more than a decade for Helion's system and others like it to replace most fossil fuel power plants in the world.  The emissions of CO2 plummeted, radically reducing the growth of CO2 levels.

And the advent of  inexpensive 3D mixed perovskite solar modules in the mid-2020s, improving collection efficiency to over 30%, the advent of next generation graphene and silicon-anode Li-Ion batteries around 2025, the explosion in the use of smart-appliances that dealt with the issue of solar radiation variability, and the increasing dominance of electric cars,  played an important role in reducing fossil fuel use as well.

A national revenue-neutral carbon tax, passed by Congress in 2025, provided additional incentives for the quick transition to non-carbon energy.

But stabilization of CO2 concentrations was not enough, we had already emitted enormous amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, CO2 that had produced and would continue to sustain significant warming.  In 2023, a firm from Squamish, British Columbia (Carbon Engineering, Inc.) demonstrated a highly efficient system for removing CO2 from the atmosphere, one that sequesters atmospheric CO2 into a carbonate solution that could be injected deep into the earth (see below).  But it required a substantial amount of energy to function, a problem that was solved by Helion's fusion reactor and less expensive solar power.

Image courtesy of Carbon Engineering, Inc

With the massive deployment of Carbon Engineering's technology around the world in the early 2030s, heavily supported by the Gates and Bezos foundations, CO2 levels around the world begin to fall.  Based on international agreement, CO2 levels reached 350 parts per million in 2036, roughly where it was in 1985.  As expected, the earth is now starting to cool and should reach an equilibrium temperature around 2080, close to the observed conditions of the late 20th century.

So today in 2038, the global warming crisis is over.  The planet's climate will stabilize.  Bill Gates was right:  the global warming problem was a technical one that could be solved by technical and scientific solutions.

But with the anthropogenic global warming problem solved, global environment crises did not end.  

In fact, the environmental threats to mankind have never been so serious and pervasive.    Some examples:


Wildfire area and intensity have continued to increase, with some of the worse fires in 2035-2036, destroying large sections around Oakland and Los Angeles California.  And the great fire of 2033 in north Idaho, eclipsed the infamous Big Burn of 1910. 

Such fires were mainly the result of fire suppression over the prior century, mismanagement of our forests, the spread of flammable invasive species, and the huge increase of human population into the wildland-urban interface.   For decades, governors of major western states (e.g., WA and CA) neglected dealing with this issue, being more interested in blaming global warming, which only made a small contribution to the problem.

Loss of Soil

The loss of top soil and the loss of agricultural productivity in many of the world's breadbaskets has become acute. Accord to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) the global amount of arable and productive land per person in 2050 will be only a quarter of the level in 1960.  Poor farming practices around the world has led to this crisis, which was never a priority of national and local leaders.

Polluted Oceans and Overfishing

The world's oceans have become filled with plastic and other long-lived debris, resulting in massive deaths of sea birds, marine mammals, and other fauna.

But it is far worst than than. The levels of pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, detergents, oil, sewage, pharmaceuticals, and nano-particles have begun to accumulate in the oceans.   Increasing number of sick, deformed sea life have been observed, with the collapse of some species in heavily polluted coastal waters.

Coupled with unsustainable overfishing, the availability of fish protein has collapsed around much of Asia and portions of the north Atlantic.

In Washington State, politicians and some advocacy groups were fixated on the impacts of CO2 acidification (a minor issue at best during this period), while Puget Sound and our coastal waters degraded due to toxic run-off, sewage filled with pharmaceuticals and chemicals, fish farming waste, and the favored shell-fish industry, which sprayed pesticides and herbicides over our water, while churning up and altering our coastal zone.

The Fresh Water Crisis

The increasing demands of fresh water of a growing world population, coupled with the depletion of ground water resources in many locations, has resulted in a fresh water crisis in 2038.   Massive investments in reduced water-agriculture, water storage facilities, and desalinization facilities are needed.  The availability of fusion power and efficient solar generation, offers the energy resources for the requirements of desalinization in coastal locations.   Pollution of aquifers has been an increasing problem that has not been effectively dealt with.


The environmental community of the early part of the 21st century became fixated on global warming, as if that was the only problem.  They lost track of the real environmental crisis: the sustainability of the human race on this planet.

Few talked about increasing population and the impacts of the parallel yearning for a better lifestyle among billions.  Few talked about moving to a steady state, rather than a growth model of prosperity.    It was easy for politicians and those with social agendas to latch on the easy-to-communicate meme of a global warming earth as the key environmental crisis.  And it was particularly convenient that while  a lot of folks talked, few did anything meaningful about global warming anyway.

Global warming was a technical problem and it is solved.  Sustainability of human (and other life) on this planet is the real problem.  Today, in 2038 the excuses are over, with global warming being a solved problem.  Will we now step up to the plate to take on the critical environmental problems facing our species?


J said...

Here's a great link to Space Weather. A bit more perspective than just the microcosm down here on planet Earth.

Worth a watch.

James said...

I think this framing of the question—downplaying the magnitude of the problem and minimizing political solutions in favor of technical ones, while exaggerating the likelihood of the latter—is unhelpful. I imagine it is an effort to counter the global warming alarmism that is pervasive in some segments of society, but I think it is not a good idea to answer one exaggeration with another. And I think this post grossly exaggerates the technical advances we are likely to make. For instance I would happily give 10 to 1 odds against commercially viable fusion power being developed by 2022 in the manner described, and I can't imagine Professor Mass would take that bet even if he were a gambling man. In fact I would probably give 100-to-1 odds, and I still don't think Professor Mass would take that bet. If I'm right, then it seems to me that suggesting such an unlikely possibility is a misleading way to conduct the debate. If we are allowed to posit whatever unlikely scenarios we want, then what exactly is Professor Mass's objection to the exaggerations that have become routine on the left? Those are no less plausible than his fusion power daydreams.

A much more likely scenario is that renewable energy will continue to advance, but that it will remain too expensive and unreliable to displace traditional technologies without government support. In that case there will be a "technical solution" in a sense, but not in the sense suggested in the post (in which market forces, by themselves, would steadily and fairly rapidly induce the adoption of clean fusion power). Instead the "technical solution" would represent one of many possibilities, and would require significant political support to be implemented. Consider the example of CFCs in the atmosphere. In a sense the problem was technical rather than political, since the key question was how to replace CFCs. But it took significant political will to compel the implementation of the technical solution around the world.

This is why there is at present an important political struggle over the steps we will take to address global warming. On one side of that debate are conservatives who will do whatever it takes to prevent government action. To that end they have deployed any number of arguments. President Trump has claimed that global warming is a Chinese hoax. Interest groups have claimed that increased CO2 will "green" the planet and bring large benefits to mankind. In short, it is an "any weapon to hand" kind of debate being conducted on scurrilous terms.

In that context, this blog post serves only to give ammunition to the political forces trying to prevent action from being taken. Of course, the truth is the truth regardless of political consequences, so I am not among those who believe that it is justified to exaggerate the dangers of climate change for the sake of compelling political action. But to me it seems equally objectionable to depart from the truth in order to downplay the necessity of government action. And that is exactly what unrealistic speculation about fusion power amounts to—a misrepresentation of the likely future that we face.

What is especially frustrating about all of this is that Professor Mass clearly has his heart in the right place. He's fought for political action, arguing that climate change is scientific reality and warning of significant long-term consequences. And I don't mind his occasional puncturing of left-wing myths about climate change, so long as it is done in good faith and with proper context. But this kind of post is a horse of a different color, and I think it's regrettable.

Eric Blair said...

There are some viable solutions already close to coming online to help solve the AGW issue, the only detriments are the environmental groups that remain adamantly opposed to anything with the word "nuclear" in it:

Thorium reactors are just one of many alternatives that could help alleviate the world's over - reliance on coal, and the sooner the greens realize that wind and solar power are still decades away from being viable (meaning economic as well as utilitarian) options for most of the world's population, the better.

John K. said...

Love the population growth chart. Obviously, Mother Nature will be stepping in here one of these days and flatten that line out quite a bit.

Doc Wellness said...

Nice post. Good to hear about the Helion's fusion energy electrical generation and Carbon Engineering's CO2 capture and underground storage as carbonate solution. I appreciate your mention of the other environmental crises that we face: wildfires, soil loss, ocean pollution & overfishing, fresh water depletion & pollution, and overpopulation. Several aspects of our impending environmental crises that you did not mention: energy storage (batteries, pumped hydro …), a modern electrical grid, integrating other clean energy (wind, solar, geothermal …), climate adaptation (sea level rise, drought, floods …), climate refugees, the need for international agreements (e.g. Paris Climate Treaty), the financing needed for the above, and the need for job transitions for those affected by climate mitigation. Above all, what's missing is any consideration of how we generate the political will necessary to undertake the above.

Ansel said...

I don't know why, but since the 1970's, when the furor over Paul Ehrlich's book died down, the focus has not been on excess population growth. But we must not forget that that's the core of the problem, and I predict that at some point the focus on overpopulation will return. You don't have to be a rocket scientist, as the saying goes, to see it. Anyone who has kept a fish aquarium and tried to put in too many fish knows that the balance must be restored. All this talk that we need a new "green revolution" misses the point.

It is for the same reason that you need a permit to do a backpack in a national park- a facet of the problem that affects me directly.

Environmentalists are just like everyone else: They are susceptible to fad-ism. And the current "fad" is to focus on global warming. But while it is important to solve global warming, it is only a symptom of the real problem.

Chris Mc said...

Need to start colonizing the oceans, make use of all that empty space.. after a few decades of learning that life. Getting to the moon, Mars, and other accessible areas won't be such a disaster.

I don't see how any sort of population control is going to work, except the old style.. war.. but now with nukes and drones and such its going to really pack a punch if that gets going.

Tuff decisions ahead for sure.

I hope that fusion reactor does work though. Funny you posted this today, last night I watched a movie on Amazon about the international fusion reactor and it didn't look too promising. Figuring that out would at least be one step forward. Next figure out farming that doesn't strip the land and we'll be on the way.

Doc Wellness said...

@Ansel Overpopulation is an issue but not as much as you would think. See David Roberts on overpopulation at Vox. The richest 10% of the world's population produce 49% of CO2 emissions; the top 30% produce 79% of the emissions. The poorest 50% produce 10% of the emissions. Roberts says "Reducing high-end consumption could have an enormous short-term impact on carbon emissions ... Shifting wealth within populations — reducing the number of very wealthy and the number in poverty — can have as much carbon impact as reducing overall population."

Nolan Blake said...

Thank you. This was a very interesting and insightful (albeit short) read, Dr. Mass. Environmental issues do not stop with global warming. If only these other big ticket items could make headlines so well...

Jon Kahrs said...

I am curious about one aspect of removing CO2 from the atmosphere. With the greater latent heat of the atmosphere could the removal actually cause cooling and even something like a "mini-ice age' -especially with the sunspot cycle going into something like the Maunder minimum. I would be very curious to find out what our understanding of models implies about this. We are assuming stability- but is that a good assumption?

Eric Blair said...

"I don't see how any sort of population control is going to work, except the old style.. war.."

Perhaps, but we're long overdue for a widespread plague that we won't be able to solve in time. A scary possibility, but we never developed a vaccine for the last global plague that decimated millions right after WWI. Ebola, Zika, the list goes on.

"I don't know why, but since the 1970's, when the furor over Paul Ehrlich's book died down, the focus has not been on excess population growth."

That's because it's become politically incorrect to point to the Third World countries that are experiencing this problem. However, countries like China will soon be facing the reverse effect of their One Child policy - China and Russia are already undergoing the Negative Replacement Factor on their population growth. China will shortly become the first country in history to go from being one of the youngest in terms of the median age of population to being one of the oldest. Japan is already in dire need of new population growth, but since they severely limit immigration, their own native - born populace is slowly dying out.

Russell Cunningham said...

I think I have to agree with James' response up above.

While I think Dr. Mass' post here is highly intriguing and gets people to think, I'm not sure that creating language that downplays the threat of global warming is helpful. Even if this post was a "hypothetical situation".

The problem is that from a population-wide perspective, the human brain doesn't exactly separate timescales very well, nor does it seem to be able to make decisions based on fact and evidence, and not JUST emotion. This post is a good example of this in that it uses language in the present tense. I'm honestly not sure that most people are even close to educated enough or have the critical thinking powers required to fully understand the deeper message of this blog post.

I will fully agree that highlighting other environmental threats (such as ocean biosphere degradation) is utterly critical and needs to be on the same level of political priority as climate warming. The data would indicate that the collapse of the ocean food chain is equally as serious as a polluted and warming atmosphere. But again, as James said above, I'm not sure how truly beneficial or helpful this post is.

All that being said, thank you Dr. Mass for always stimulating people to THINK about issues, and not just "feel" their way to opinions.

Tom Butler said...

Don't worry - be happy and burn all the fossil fuels you want because technology will solve everything seems like a dangerously short sighted message to be spreading. And it is particularly dangerous basing it on the fusion solution. Having spent the earlier part of my career in nuclear (both commercially and in research ) I have seen a lot of physicists generate a lot of research money by hyping fusion. The results after 50+ years have been disappointing. I wish the small startups like the one mentioned well but people need to understand that getting fusion to work for short periods of time and actually generating power from it at an economical industrial level is a huge step (in the 50s the hype was that fission power, a much easier technology, would be so cheap that they wouldn't have to meter it).
Even assuming that the breakthrough does occur it may not be that easy to turn back the climate if the Arctic is ice free and the West Antarctic glaciers have destabilized which the climate science community is telling us is going to happen.

Michael DeMarco said...


Andres Depp said...

So, let's take a closer look at this. Let's ignore the fact that, as Tom said, scientists have been working for 50 years to develop a fusion reactor and have yet to achieve an energy break even point. Let's also assume that a modestly funded startup that doesn't even have a prototype will change the world and in only 20 years will manage to scale up this non-existent technology to the point where it's capable of replacing every fossil fuel plant in the world. This will involve replacing more than tens of thousands of power plants worldwide And what happens if we do this? We reduce emissions by 30%, because electricity generation only accounts for 30% of CO2 emissions. In order to stabilize the climate, 80% reductions of CO2 emissions are required. Fusion power doesn't get us there.

But, what about carbon sequestration? Again, the technology is unproven to work at scale. And in order to be effective, it would have to pull out of the atmosphere the amount of CO2 that is being emitted: the equivalent of 10s of thousands of power plant emissions + the CO2 emission of 1 billion cars + industrial + agricultural emissions. Unlikely to happen in 20 years.

And it gets better! Because the climate system has inertia - the oceans act as a heat sink and this has moderated climate change - even if CO2 levels were returned to levels of 100 years ago, we still would see warming for decades.

So, despite what Cliff claims, there are no technical fixes and we are facing very serious environmental problems for generations to come due solely to climate change. And, yes, there are other severe environmental problems, but climate change is the by far the most devastating. Climate change will not be a "solved problem" for at least a 100 years.

John Marshall said...

The dream of jamming the solution to global warming into the political process for a solution is a nightmare. Politics does not have long vision. Politics changes directions frequently. It even reverses itself. Look at US politics. Some of the same forces will change Europe's political focus in coming years.

But science and technology has shown that it can maintain a forward direction, following data, for decades after decades. It doesn't swing around and reverse itself. It doesn't forget what it has learned. It doesn't deny facts. We've seen countless examples of this in every major technology.

In my view only science and engineering can stay focused on trying to solve long-term, complex problems. Whether it will find adequate solutions in time to avoid a climate catastrophe is unknown.

But putting your hopes in political solutions to very long term technical problems is likely to remain extremely frustrating. That doesn't mean to give up on the politics, but rather to not depend on it.

Jimmie Ball said...

Scaling back on human exploitation of the natural world is the only behavior that has any chance of saving the human race as we know it. Seven billion and counting with current lifestyle expectations is obviously unsustainable. Technology itself will never be enough to bridge the gap between the needs of the natural world and the short term desires of so many clever primates with opposable thumbs. Mother nature will make short work of human society if we don't learn to respect and cooperate with the biological world we are all totally dependent upon.

Unknown said...

Based on what is going on in Europe, I'd say not only has the global warming problem been solved; it's been beaten into a terrifying pulp.

Note to other readers - please refrain from hyperventilating over what are simply sardonic comments.

Tallguy said...

Lots of wishful thinking here, without a shred of data driven support: the extreme techno-optimist view is yet another way of saying "proceed with the status quo, pollute away, some smart scientist will save us soon." Not likely.

Little data supports that view. Breakthrough technologies are highly unpredictable in origin, can be hard to recognize when young, and even then implementation timescales are slow. Particularly for large expensive infrastructure.

If such technologies appear, great. But the data driven approach says "what can we do with the technologies, including environmental, economic, and social tools, we already have today to fix these difficult problems?" Probability says thats how these problems get fixed.

And its not population thats the problem, its intensity of resource use. You really want to screw the earth: put one billion highly affluent people with private jets amd fleets of cars on it. Lifestyle in the developed world is the problem.

Apple Scout said...

Cliff - Thanks for your excellent blog. A thought provoking entry, though I agree with precious comments about the danger of over-reliance on a quick fix through fusion or any other technology. The stakes could not be higher. But my point in writing is to correct one of my pet peeves, the phrase "pesticides and herbicides". Herbicides ARE pesticides. This is a common misunderstanding. As a scientist I am sure you understand the importance of correct use of terminology as the basis for accurately framing an issue. In this case I think you just meant to say "pesticides". If you want to highlight herbicides (which do comprise the largest pesticide group by volume of use) then you could say "herbicide and other pesticides". But the phrase "pesticides and herbicides" is misleading. Or as Trump would say "Fake News!"

J said...

Seriously people, check out the latest from this scientist. The weather is more than just simply, let's all work together and stop burning fossil fuels. Way beyond that. Check out this video for starters:


Abe Jacobson said...

Cliff, I poured 9 years of my life into magnetic fusion. This left me convinced that even if it becomes possible in a scientific demo sense, the technology will be hopelessly complex and vulnerable to single-point failure. So perhaps you might substitute "solving the energy storage problem" for fusion in you narrative. If we solve storage- not a given -then solar + wind provide much of what we need.

Haley Agren said...

From this post I glean that if we were to rely on billionaires and their corporations to help get out out of this problem, we may have spent 20 years and billions of dollars solving only a silver of our climate issue. Really what we could have been doing in those 20 years is changing our lifestyle and our society to better coexist with our planet.

An example of a simple but radical environmental lifestyle change would be switching over to composting toilets. The switch over would help clean our waterways by reducing the amount of fertilizer, pesticides going onto our food but also reduce the amount of feces going straight into our waterways. The fertile bi-product of the composting toilet can be spread onto our fields replacing the soil that has eroded.

Permaculture farming practices could help reduce the amount of soil being eroded with more plant life present year around, less soil being directly exposed to the weather. The amount of animal feces entering our waterways would be reduces as well since animals are less concentrated (not a CAFO) and they are able to roam around a contribute their fertilizer to the soil.

We don't have to throw cooperations out of the solution, but we best not put our eggs in the same basket. I fear that we are looking at expensive complicated technical solutions when we have a plethora of simple and natural ones at a very low cost. There is not one solution because there is not one problem so we need to stop acting like talking about it is not helpful and discuss the topic further.


"The people who see the population explosion in the Malthusian way - as a geometric progression - forget that population growth is not a biological issue. People are not increasing in numbers out of stupidity and ignorance. Population growth is an ecological phenomenon linked very intimately to other issues, such as the usurpation of the resources which allow people to live." - Vandana Shiva

"Terra Petra: How the Worlds Most fertile Soil Can Help Reverse Climate Change and World Hunger" by Ute Scheub (Author),‎ Haiko Pieplow (Author),‎ Hans-Peter Schmidt (Author),‎ Kathleen Draper (Author),‎ Tim Flannery (Foreword)

Rabbits' Guy said...

Isn't Cliff mainly reminding us that there are other serious problems besides Climate Change/Global Warming and they all need attention?

jimijr said...

I just finished "The Road To Survival" by William Vogt which emphasizes all your points, especially soil loss -- in 1948.

Fisheater said...

Thank you, Cliff, for a thought provoking and interestingly contrarian post. However, I do not understand the shot at Shellfish Growers. Shellfish growing is the cleanest, best means of producing protein on the planet. Shellfish filter the water, create huge amounts of habitat for other marine creatures and sequester a tremendous amount of carbon. Compare the Chesapeake and Puget Sound--On the Chesapeake various levels of government are spending billions of dollars to restore oyster beds to boost ecological function--and struggling mightily to build traction. Here in Washington State shellfish growers are providing literally billions of dollars worth of ecosystem functions at no public cost, are producing some of the finest foods on earth and employing thousands of people in rural waterfront Washington. Come out on the beach some time.....see for yourself....

Unknown said...

I think this is a good approach from Dr Mass. I'd like to see a follow-up article with more details about what we in Seattle "are experiencing in 2038". One of the previous comments mentioned melting ice caps and glaciers which have continued to raise sea levels while technological fixes we're applied. Examination of how high sea levels are, what this means for Seattle neighborhoods, Port of Seattle, etc.
Bigger climate changes, new seasonal patterns we are grappling with, even as we stabilize in a new normal. Food prices, with the removal of ocean sources due to plastic contamination and collapse of fish stocks.

I'd like to see more exploration of this what-if scenario.

Unknown said...

It is amazing how many different kinds of negative effects the human species has been capable of causing in the very short period of time since the Industrial Revolution began. Aside from our major propensity towards violence to ourselves and to other species, we have developed an economic system based on the requirement of never ending growth. At its core, this growth model is fueled by the need for population growth to keep this unstable pyramid from toppling. And this growth requires an ever increasing consumption of scarce resources. Completely aside from ideology, our human conflict can simply be seen as competition for dwindling scare resources such as space, water, and arable land.

If we do not have a major technological and social revolution that is based neither on population growth or violence towards one another, like the force of gravity, nature will surely cause its own correction.

I think Cliff's technology bailout is a tongue in cheek exercise intended to point out the myriad of other problems that would not be solved if the issue of global warming was solved. But I would say it would be a big mistake to accept the argument that because there are other very pressing problems, we should not give serious attention to global warming as well. All of these problems have the potential of causing serious harm to the species.

And lately the renewed prospect of a nuclear winter may be the worst of them all, at least in the short term.

Bruce Kay said...

Cliff Mass presents what can only be described as a best best case scenario. Plausible but entirely outside the bounds of what can reasonably be predicted under current "best knowns" and entirely premised on technological leaps that are not even close to probable in this remarkably short period of time given. The project in Squamish BC that he mentions is a "real thing" but the barriers to scaling it up out of the shoe box with a desktop fan capability it now represents places it in a class of priority not far behind sending everyone off to live on Mars. From a risk management stand point, no professional would pin any degree of hope on such an outcome. There is more substantive likelihood in a fortunate series of volcanic erruptions cooling things down for a while but even that would be just a time buyer or at best, a strong hint that geo engineering might just happen after all.

All an extraordinarily optimistic offering for someone intimately familiar with the constraints of forecasting the future! I'm sure he will say he just uses this scenario as a perspective to consider his list of other environmental problems but again, from a risk perspective his other listed problems are run of the mill perturbations that even if late in the game can be stopped or even reversed by interventions and mitigation, such as rebuilding the collapsed east coast fish stocks. As bad as these catastrophies are, they are perturbed ecologies that return to a condition of stability, even if decidedly different than previous.

This is actually what humanity is experienced with - ecological stability with only periods of perturbation followed by return to stability. We have no experience with ecological instability, certainly not on a global scale, which emphatically is the potential result of continued global warming at the rate we are in.

This is how we all need to comprehend the risk of climate change which not at all the thing we are used to experiencing, as Unknown put it:

" ... as we stabilize in a new normal"

That is a fallacious assumption, one only entrenched by rosy speculations built on old expectations

BAMCIS said...

The same problem persists: Too many people on Earth.

Either make less babies or find other places to stash all the extra people.

Somebody said...

THANK YOU for mentioning forest management as an issue. There are ways to manage the forest like you manage your lawn. Harvesting, trimming, and even selective burning. The forest is a resource, not a statue. A hands-off approach leads to wildfires, and leads to a lack of wood products that we use. Burning wood is a carbon neutral practice (it releases just as much carbon and heat if it degrades on the ground when it dies). But it is unwise to not manage it.

Bill Wise said...

"Nothing the tectonic plates won't eventually solve." We humans are but a blip on the radar screen of earthy existence.

I really doubt we'll see commercially viable fusion energy in the timeframes indicated. And the amount of CO2 already in the atmosphere with its companion, ocean acidification, pretty much guarantee the eradication of more than 50% of our ocean's species. The carbon sequestration dream also seems dependent on a fusion "breakthrough" (PS - we've been working on fusion for 50+ years and I think we are still many decades away). We will see more species disappear, less fresh water, disruptive food systems, and more war over increasingly scarce resources.

Disease, starvation, lack of potable water and war... these will likely be the determinants to our human species survival or lack thereof.

I do hope we can find a way to ride this roller coaster down the steep slope with love and compassion.

Alec Corbett said...

Hey Cliff,

I was wondering what you can tell me about glacial-interglacial periods. I have done some reading about interglacial periods and it seems like past interglacial periods have been just as warm if not slightly warmer than the current period we are in now. I have also done some reading on this interglacial period and found that the majority of the Holocene has been just as warm if not warmer. I just wanted to know if you could educate me a little more on these cycles of climate? I was also wondering how much of the current climate change is normal change from Milankovitch Cycles and how much do you think is contributed to the increase in CO2 from human activities?

Unknown said...

A couple of interesting references on incorrect public perceptions on the near unanimity by climate scientists on the question of whether there is global warming and whether that warming is caused by humans. I appreciate that Cliff has publicly said a number of times that he is not a climate denier, but I also observe that many on this forum who appear to dispute that man-caused global warming is a real phenomenon take heart whenever Cliff makes skeptical-sounding comments on the nature and extent of global warming. Cliff is often directing those comments to the media exaggerations, which is I think is fair.

However, and I am a bit reluctant to say it, but sometimes you need to consider the effect of what you say by the friends you attract when you say it.

SharplyFocused said...


Thanks for the food for thought. Always good to dust the cobwebs from my brain.

However, I'll do better than James and give you 100:1 on viable fusion technology NOT being available by 2022. I'd give you 1000:1 but its just not worth it as I'd have to stake everything I own to get a paltry payback that isn't worth having. Even if it was though, you're won't save us. If anything, unless we change our ways it will accelerate the end and maybe that is your point. Within our current socio-economic framework, cheaper, more plentiful energy will always accelerate environmental degradation. Unfortunately, beyond the CO2 abatement, I fear this is true of renewables too. But let's not conflate that argument with a suggestion that climate change isn't a big deal. We both know it is.

I know after our lunch in January that you're heart is absolutely in the right place with your passion on this, and I totally get what you're trying to do with respect to keeping the media honest. I agree with you, we need to keep the communication of science pure. But this isn't an attack on media hype and if I didn't know you personally I'd say it was nefarious, when I'm guessing the real intent is to inspire some critical thinking about our priorities. I really do think this piece is going to do way more harm than good, and violates your own tenants, in that it is subjective, likely not realistic, and doesn't consider the science and engineering nuances that are important to its premise. As for there's a scary thought. We've buggered up the planet inadvertently, imagine the damage we'll do if we're actually trying to change it. Remember, that process won't be undertaken by careful scientists with the better good in mind. It will be done by corporations, for profit. Cut a few corners here, a few there, what could go wrong?

How about a note at the top like, "The science behind the greenhouse effect is well established...this post is not questioning the undeniable danger we are in, but rather stimulating critical thinking about why we are in this mess and how solving it doesn't solve the massive environmental degradation of the planet caused by human kind beyond the burning of fossil fuels."

Good as always to have some stimulating debate,



Kevin Cronin said...

Cliff for the water solution have you ever read/heard about SlingShot from inventor Dean Kamen. It produces clean water using much lower amounts of electricity then a standard distiller.