Scientists Warn of Perilous Climate Shift Within Decades, Not Centuries

Mar 29, 2016

Photo credit: Charles Ommanney/The Washington Post, via Getty Images

By Justin Gillis

The nations of the world agreed years ago to try to limit global warming to a level they hoped would prove somewhat tolerable. But leading climate scientists warned on Tuesday that permitting a warming of that magnitude would actually be quite dangerous.

The likely consequences would include killer storms stronger than any in modern times, the disintegration of large parts of the polar ice sheets and a rise of the sea sufficient to begin drowning the world’s coastal cities before the end of this century, the scientists declared.

“We’re in danger of handing young people a situation that’s out of their control,” said James E. Hansen, the retired NASA climate scientist who led the new research. The findings were released Tuesday morning by a European science journal, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.

A draft version of the paper was released last year, and it provoked a roiling debate among climate scientists. The main conclusions have not changed, and that debate seems likely to be replayed in the coming weeks.

The basic claim of the paper is that by burning fossil fuels at a prodigious pace and pouring heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, humanity is about to provoke an abrupt climate shift.

Specifically, the authors believe that fresh water pouring into the oceans from melting land ice will set off a feedback loop that will cause parts of the great ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica to disintegrate rapidly.

That claim has intrigued some experts who say the paper may help explain puzzling episodes in Earth’s past when geological evidence suggests the climate underwent drastic shifts. Yet many other scientists are unconvinced by some of the specific assertions the authors are making.

“Some of the claims in this paper are indeed extraordinary,” said Michael E. Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University. “They conflict with the mainstream understanding of climate change to the point where the standard of proof is quite high.”

Despite any reservations they might have about the new paper, virtually all climate scientists agree with Dr. Hansen’s group that society is not moving fast enough to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, posing grave risks. An agreement reached late last year in Paris seeks to cut emissions, but it is not remotely ambitious enough to limit global warming to the degree Dr. Hansen regards as necessary.


Source: The New York Times

41 comments on “Scientists Warn of Perilous Climate Shift Within Decades, Not Centuries

  • Dear Science Deniers.

    Are you a betting person. Like a punt on the ponies perchance? This article presents a gamble, and you are invited to bet that all of the science, from multiple disciplines, across multiple countries, which all says the same thing, that humans are causing the current rapid warming of the planet due to burning too much CO2, is untrue.

    The science has reach a level called Consensus, which means there is no doubt that we are heating the planet. Consensus science means its reached the level of Relativity, Quantum Theory and Evolution as the fact. That is, beyond reasonable doubt. So what odds are the bookies going to give you, considering the favourite is a very short odds on to be true. The bet you are taking is a 1,000,000 outside chance that you are right, and all of the world’s scientists are wrong.

    Now, what stake are you putting up. If you lost, and you were the only person affected, I wouldn’t care too much, but given the fact that if your bet is wrong, you are betting with my stake as well, without my permission. You are betting that things like the Tundra Methane Tipping Point wont’ cause a runaway greenhouse gas event, which will result in a mass extinction event. That means, you are betting the lives of my grandchildren that the world’s scientists are universally stupid.

    That makes me very, very angry.

    Homo Sapiens may well be the first intelligent species in the universe to commit voluntary mass self inflicted extinction caused by mass stupidity and greed.

    The Arctic permafrost carbons are a ticking time bomb.

    Unexpectedly Widespread Permafrost Melting Could Set Off A Greenhouse Gas Timebomb

    http://www.iflscience.com/environment/unexpectedly-widespread-permafrost-melting-could-eventually-set-greenhouse-gas-timebomb



    Report abuse

  • David R Allen #1
    Mar 29, 2016 at 5:20 pm

    The Arctic permafrost carbons are a ticking time bomb.

    Unexpectedly Widespread Permafrost Melting Could Set Off A Greenhouse Gas Timebomb

    Ah! But the “brains” of the carbon-pollution denial industries, have plans for these!!!!!

    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/plugged-in/methane-hydrates-bigger-than-shale-gas-game-over-for-the-environment/

    Methane hydrates – bigger than shale gas, “game over” for the environment?

    Methane hydrate deposits could hold up to 15 times the amount of gas as the world’s shale deposits. At the same time, they represent more carbon than all of the world’s fossil fuels combined. So, it’s no wonder that the response to recent announcements by the Japanese has been a bit mixed.

    “Of course, just as with shale gas, not all of this potential energy resource will prove technically recoverable. Yet if (or should we say when?) technology to commercially extract gas from hydrates is developed, the implications for global energy markets are staggering nonetheless.”

    “Depending on where the final cost of capturing methane hydrates ultimately rests, this can mean large reductions in natural gas prices throughout the world,” explains [Christopher] Knittel, [MIT energy Professor of energy economics].

    In short, methane hydrates could once again reshape global gas markets, just as the development of shale gas has done in the last decade.

    While hydrate resources look like an enormous boon to energy-starved nations like Japan, all that carbon and methane has climate scientists and advocates concerned.

    Developing methane hydrates would be “game over for the climate,” writes green blogger Mat McDermott.

    It’s easy to see why he’d be concerned: methane hydrates contain more carbon than all the world’s other fossil resources combined, according to USGS estimates.

    If developed at a significant scale, hydrates would certainly be more than enough to cook the climate.

    Depending on how cost-effective production of gas hydrates proves, this vast new fossil energy resource could lower energy prices worldwide. “These lower prices almost certainly will lead to an increase in fossil-fuel consumption on an energy basis,” says Knittel. “That’s the bad news, from a climate perspective.”

    Professors of ECONOMICS have explained the financial benefits of these developments! – They seem to have missed the financial and other PENALTIES of ignoring climate change which climate scientists could have pointed out to them!



    Report abuse

  • I find myself so furious with my fellows for refusing to deal with climate change, I find myself wishing for extremely painful consequences. Such idiocy, duplicity and greed needs to be punished.



    Report abuse

  • Like theologians, “professors of economics”, can never agree with each other. And also like theologians, their predictions are worthless. Paul Allen of Microsoft fame, has built himself a nice little fortress in one of the Hawaiian Islands. Perhaps he knows something the theologians, the economists and the deniers don’t know ?



    Report abuse

  • Paul Allen’s (No relation) is wasting his money. You see, the thing with Anthropogenic Global Warming is this word Global. You can’t build a fortress that’s not on this globe. When the food supplies run down, you can die in safety, inside your fortress.

    And the argument from economics re global warming. Argghhh. If a dinosaur extinction size asteroid was on a collision course with earth in a couple of years, and we could deflect the hit but it was going to cost a few trillion dollars, you wouldn’t blink an eyelid. Spend the money. Save civilization. Would an Denier say, “It will put up my taxes too much. Don’t spend this money. Let it hit the planet.” No way Jose. They would be screaming to spend the money to save their trailer park.

    The potential mass extinction event of global warming is a slow moving asteroid, and thus, is beyond the comprehension of most stupid white men. (GOP)

    Is global warming an environmental problem. Is it an governance problem. Is it an economic problem, Is it a scientific problem. No. Primarily, it is a moral problem. Can you do something today, that will kill someone tomorrow.

    And what price, economically, do you put on a mass extinction event. Can an economist run the spread sheet over this, and come up with a figure. And even if it doesn’t result in a mass extinction event, and just really messes up civilization with wars, famines and pestilence, coastal flooding, refugees, what is the spread sheet value of a scenario like this. The venal stupidity of using economic arguments against acting on climate change are akin to a genocide invitation. Money has no role in solving global warming. It just has to be solved, regardless of the cost.

    If you put up the white board, and wrote up the 100 most pressing problems facing humanity, and ranked them in order, the number 1 problem would be, “We must change how we live so that civilization can sustainably continue for the next thousands years.” Now rub out the other 99 “important” problems, because they don’t matter. You cannot move on to any of them until you solve this problem. Nothing else matters.

    @Roedy

    I hear you. I was recently transporting a car load of my wife’s inebriated friends home after a night out. One particularly obtuse “friend” started quoting the current denier favourite, that climate has always been changing and this was no different. The red mist descended. I gave her a 10 minute burst of all barrels blazing disposal of that position. Silence in the car. I was told by the Senate that I was required to apologize the next day. When I did apologize she said, “You’re just a passionate person”. I wanted to say, “No, I want to save the lives of your grandchildren.” I walked away, because I could feel Roedy’s need to:-

    I find myself wishing for extremely painful consequences. Such idiocy, duplicity and greed needs to be punished.



    Report abuse

  • Perhaps the economics professors should work out the cost of the loss of all the worlds ports! – and substantial areas of low lying coasts!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-35926694

    Global sea levels could rise by more than double the current best estimate, according to a new analysis of climate change in Antarctica.

    The modelling assessment says that Antarctic melting alone could contribute more than a metre to sea level by the end of this century.

    By 2500, according to the study, the same source could cause levels across the world to rise by 13m.

    The authors say that rapid cuts in carbon emissions could limit this risk.



    Report abuse

  • David R Allen #9
    Mar 30, 2016 at 6:42 pm

    Breaking news Alan

    Let’s see how far investigations go into slush-funds, and how many corrupt officials are taken to court? – Or if the politicians are too corrupt, inept, or cowardly, to set up competent investigations?



    Report abuse

  • I work for an environmental charity in the UK, and working to reduce the effects of Man-induced climate change is a key role of the organisation, and particularly relevant where I am based. My colleagues understand the devastating effect climate change will have on the animal and plant species found at our workplace. Yet these people think nothing of flying within the country to attend meetings, or even to fly within the country to go on holiday. They think it fun to drive big trucks through the nature reserve. And why drive to a meeting in a car when one can take a truck? These folk live an environmentally-unfriendly lifestyle at all other times. They are mostly young people, with a science degree, and their lives ahead of them. Yet they just don’t “get it”! Is it that they don’t care? Most don’t have children (those who do have 3 or 4!!!), so they don’t have that issue to think about. If these informed, educated people don’t care, how on Earth are we supposed to encourage Joe Public to make a difference? I despair.



    Report abuse

  • 12
    fadeordraw says:

    Actually, I find it amazing that our species has learned to grow on the planet so well they we are now, with our affluence and effluence, influencing the planet’s atmosphere. This alone is the single reality that our species needs to apprehend.

    Important to note: as a thing growing on the planet, our instinct is for survival, our own and our species. Therefore we’re wired against our species’ extinction and population reducing catastrophes. But we’re evidently so good at growing on the planet that catastrophe, and particularly extinction, are not at issue; to say otherwise is, I believe, fear mongering, which has never proved to be helpful. The evidence of our long past clearly indicates that following generations will do marvelous with our affluence and effluence. When we began growing cities by rivers, we found we made the river and ourselves ill; we now have, in many places, marvelous sewage-treatment systems.

    The BIG ONE (from my perspective): I believe that our economic (and psyche) growth is all about our planetary instinct for population growth; and that our governance is geared to that end. That is: capitalism and democracy are all about population growth. BTW: that commie alternative of having scientists and bureaucrats do the governance, has repeatedly ended in totalitarian dictatorship. But if we keep capitalism and democracy as our governance, then we’ll keep growing.

    So sure, we’re still mostly dealing with vast population segments grappling with mythological and post-planet perceptions of life on the planet. Still, surely, the newly appreciated reality that we’re living on the planet the same as plants and animals will eventually take hold. The governance that goes with this will be marvellous, likely evolutionary.



    Report abuse

  • No. We’ll cover every inch of the planet and use what’s on it while we’re at it.

    But what happens then. And while we’re covering every inch, what happens to the orangutans. Do we have the right to send every other wild species extinct, while we expand to the limits of this closed system?



    Report abuse

  • We have reached, for many things, the moment of PeaK Stuff.

    For many other things peak stuff is not far behind…

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/31/consumerism-reached-peak-stuff-search-for-happiness

    Capitalism is going back to some of its earlier inventions of growth through service provision not growth through provision of stuff (Selling horsepower not steam engines). Such service offerings fit neatly into the idea of a circular economy of creating long lived platforms of beautiful and cherishable things, modular and maintainable like Google’s modular phone, the modular car you can only rent…lamps even. Eventually, taxation and then legislation will increasingly drive companies to own their physical product and recoupe all of its assetts, favouring an open modularity to enable upgrades of function from third parties to maintain competition in driving innovation. This drives local rather than remote value added company structures. Scotland is in the vanguard here investing in making the country an attractive home for these necessarily rooted circular economy businesses.

    Science and technology are really only working at a third of their possible problem solving effectiveness. They are mostly used to create cheap products. Creating a market environment that creates service businesses that roll up all costs of the service, personal ITC, personal travel, etc. allows technology to win as much by solving the problem of reliability, efficiency and resource recovery. The market is healed of (some!) of its gaping gaps and those others relating to a proper valuation of The Commons provided by democratic fiat are more fairly and reliably enfolded. It also creates a burgeoning economic sector investing in physical stuff that fuels cash stream businesses. Investing in these brings economic stability like nothing else.



    Report abuse

  • fadeordraw #12
    Mar 31, 2016 at 11:11 pm

    Actually, I find it amazing that our species has learned to grow on the planet so well they we are now, with our affluence and effluence,

    and effluents!

    influencing the planet’s atmosphere.

    . . .in ways which have proved disastrous for 90%+ of life in the past.

    This alone is the single reality that our species needs to apprehend.

    fadeordraw – #14 – We’ll cover every inch of the planet and use what’s on it while we’re at it.

    Like yeast in a bowl of fruit juice, unrestrained population growth means exploitation of resources until there is nothing left to exploit: – followed by being pickled and cooked our own waste products

    Important to note: as a thing growing on the planet, our instinct is for survival, our own and our species.

    Our instinct is to survive in increasing numbers, but natural restraints of disease, predation, and food shortages, have prevented the expansion to saturation levels in the past.

    Therefore we’re wired against our species’ extinction and population reducing catastrophes.

    Nope! Just like other species which have been reduced or gone extinct, we are consuming limited resources and having to adapt to the natural and man-made changes in the environment.
    If the environment changes more, or faster, than a certain rate, millions or all humans will go extinct, as other races of humans apes, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, have done in the past, and are doing at present.

    But we’re evidently so good at growing on the planet that catastrophe, and particularly extinction, are not at issue;

    Extinction is never an issue until the population crash kicks in! Ecologists have well established graphs of the boom and bust of population growths and collapses in population dynamics.
    Some times populations recover. Sometimes the crash goes all the way down to zero!

    http://www.sustainable.soltechdesigns.com/survival/exponential-function.html
    This graph should keep you awake at night. If it doesn’t, you haven’t been paying attention. It shows only the rise of human population. The following graph shows the rise and fall of yeast in the vat. The fall during the 43rd hour happens so quickly that it is barely noticeable on the graph. We’ll soon know whether humans are smarter than yeast.

    In 1944, 29 reindeer were introduced to St. Matthew Island. In 1957 there were 1,350 rather fat reindeer. In 1963 the population reached about 6,000. In 1966 there were 42 survivors. By the 1980’s, the last reindeer on the island had died.

    99%+ of all species which have ever existed, have gone extinct.
    Sometimes in the huge batches of mass extinctions when the climate has changed in ways which we are busy triggering at present.

    to say otherwise is, I believe, fear mongering, which has never proved to be helpful.

    Instilling fear of real threats in apathetic populations, is probably one of the few motivations to initiate the cooperative addressing of the threatening issues with effective action. The population graphs of yeast and reindeer populations expanding in environments of finite resources, should carry a clear warning about population dynamics!

    The evidence of our long past clearly indicates that following generations will do marvelous with our affluence and effluence.

    Every affluent empire which has ever existed, has collapsed due to being weakened by squabbling or corrupt rulers, or by natural or man-made climatic changes destroying their food and water supplies.

    The world’s jungles and deserts are full of ruins of collapsed civilisations!



    Report abuse

  • @Alan

    You’ve covered most of what has been smoldering in my brain since I started to read Fade’s post.

    And Phil. While I admire your optimism, it sounds a bit like the band playing on the Titanic.

    You cannot escape a fundamental rule of nature, so graphically illustrated by Alan’s two examples, that Close Systems Have Limits. This rule is unbreakable. The only we way we are still “Thriving” (if you call this thriving) is that we are using the sustainable environmental habitat Credit Card. We are using tomorrow’s resources to maintain the appearance of progress and growth. This is a Ponsi scheme where we all die when it collapses.

    We cannot escape the fact that the earth is a closed system, and it has limits, and if we are to survive as a civilized society for the next thousand years, we need to rapidly change the way we run the planet, and live lightly on this planet, a feather touch, and stay within the limits of this closed system. If we don’t we will be the reindeer of St Mathew’s Island.

    Phil is the optimist, but I don’t think we’re going to make it. I don’t think we can muster enough collective intelligence around the globe to overcome our primitive stone age brain. If we can’t even convince the world to stop burning carbon, how the hell are we going to convince them to stop breeding. Look at what we are doing with these fractured nationalistic countries pushing and shoving.

    Global warming is not caused by burning too much carbon. It is caused by too many people, burning some carbon. Too many reindeer.

    Almost makes me want the second coming. Jesus II.

    “Now listening up all you Homo Sapiens. You’ve made a right cock up of this place. You either start being smart playmates in the sand pit or I’m going to send in another asteroid and reset this evolutionary clock, and see if we can do better next time. Maybe the dolphins will evolve.”



    Report abuse

  • David R Allen #18
    Apr 1, 2016 at 6:39 am

    You cannot escape a fundamental rule of nature, so graphically illustrated by Alan’s two examples, that Close Systems Have Limits. This rule is unbreakable.

    Everyone arguing about population growth, especially deniers, should read the whole of the link I put @#17.

    It is simple ecology without the complexities of multitudes of new added inputs, populations migrating out of exhausted environments, or monetary economic arguments.

    BTW: The monitoring of growth of yeast cultures and contained deer populations is not new! I first studied these back in the 1960s!

    Mouse populations are also enlightening!



    Report abuse

  • And Phil. While I admire your optimism, it sounds a bit like the band playing on the Titanic.

    Nope. I’m not blythely whistling. I’m organising the lifeboats. How many will survive? Our problem is headless chicken syndrome. Solutions are conceived and less painful than many would imagine. “Too late” is fatuous. Everything has to change. The current ship is going down. Make plans to mitigate and for what follows. I need helpers not hand wringers.

    Of course it would be handy to vanish old money conservatism. We have prodigious foe to tackle here. We must find every way to block or re-write their ability to atrophy.



    Report abuse

  • I’ve been saying all this for decades but in my description I included things like ground water & water table issues, caldera issues both existing calderas & ones we are creating by removing fossil “fuel”, tectonic plate issues, shifting weights of masses of water from the depleted polar ice, shifted masses of water impacting pressure in new locations while diminished in others. Continental plate shifts resulting from ice sheet depletion. Good luck surviving the 21st century much less enter the 22nd. Humanity has devolved too many things while impacting the natural balance of living organisms. The waves of damage we have done will be our own punishment. It can be directly connected to our pervasive global selfishness. We arent getting through this, we are going under because of what we have done. Earth will only survive us if it is no longer encumbered by allowing us to exist. If we hadnt eliminated thousands of species, poisoned our air, water & land, if we hadnt looked for indulgences and distractions to keep from thinking about the planets survival we would deserve to exist. However we did do all these things so we dont deserve to survive when we have eliminated so many that were keeping us all alive..



    Report abuse

  • 22
    fadeordraw says:

    Comments on the comments on my comment (#12).
    – We’ll need new governance structures to manage our population and effluence. These structures can no longer be based, as with current economic systems, upon continued population (market) growth. Indeed, we have to figure out enjoying life on the planet based upon decreasing our population; what has been called “negative growth scenarios”.
    – While we are naturally living on the planet, like other plants and animals, we have overcome natural constraints; e.g., with our food production, combating diseases, etc. We are very, very good at living on the planet. While our instincts tell us otherwise, contemplating and taking action out of fear of extinction (even though we’re bent that way), is not helpful; indeed, it’s beside the point. If we continue blindly following our natural instincts, like all plants and animals, but without the natural constraints, then our trajectory is indeed to cover every inch of the planet and use what’s on it while we’re at it.
    – A huge problem, currently seemingly insurmountable, is to arrive at a significant enough collective understanding (that we’re living on the planet the same as plants and animals) that we can adapt appropriate governance structures to manage that reality. How could this possibly happen when huge populations have mythical understandings of planet living and, moreover, have mythical understandings of post-planet existence? It seems, today, that we’ll never arrive at that tipping point and our trajectory will not change.
    – Yuval Noah Harari, concludes his book, Sapiens (A Brief History of Humankind), with an Afterword: The Animal That Became a God. “Self-made gods with only the laws of physics to keep us company, we are accountable to no one. We are consequently wreaking havoc on our fellow animals and on the surrounding ecosystem, seeking little more than our own comfort and amusement, yet never finding satisfaction. Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?”



    Report abuse

  • 23
    fadeordraw says:

    BTW: The comments on my comment are interesting. Just to say that I prefer the previous ability we had to reply directly to some one’s comment or statement, allowing for a subject chain. Also, I liked it when you were notified by e-mail when some one commented on your comment.



    Report abuse

  • Hi @fadeordraw. Regarding your last sentiment about email notifications, there was a flaw in the system having to do with common user names. The Mods alluded to this yesterday and the email provision has been removed until a solution can be found.

    As for the comment chain, the new way was deliberate for reasons also communicated by the Mods in earlier threads.



    Report abuse

  • We’ll need new governance structures to manage our population and effluence.

    I’ve pondered this problem long and often and I can’t come up with any civilized model.

    Have you ever been to functions where there is a broad cross section of society, strangers to you, and listened to what they talk about. What’s important in their lives. They have no idea that there is even an issue in a subject like this. I sometimes ask a question of a group along the lines of this topic, or some other issue that requires a bit of thought, and they look at you like you’ve let out a long smelly fart. And slowly move away. Football. Politics Lite. Employment. Family. Suburban wars comparing what consumer goods you possess.

    Lots of studies, but it appears that if we are to survive sustainably for the next 1000 years, we would have to have a world where most of us live a modest first world middle class existence, but with strong environmental ethics, we could support around 1 billion people in this closed system called planet earth. Even if this was 2 billion, we still have a critical problem. We’ve reached 7.5 billion, heading rapidly to 9-12 billion reindeer. We’re just another animal and the rules of population apply to us as well. When we “yeast” reach the 43rd hour, our population will crash, just like every other plague population that has ever peaked throughout history. And that will not be civilized.

    How can you apply a governance model, that rapidly reduces the population of the planet back to 1 or 2 billion, in a time frame that avoids the yeast crash. What governance could impose this. Even China’s one child policy if applied to the entire world, and it could be enforced, still has the planet go way over the sustainable population for the closed system of this planet. I’ve seen some numbers along the lines of:- If only one female in 12 could have one child, we may avoid the uncivilized crash. What governance could possibly achieve this, short of living under a North Korean type regime. It would have to be voluntary, but that means that every person on the planet would need to know there is an issue, so serious, that they all should self sacrifice for the greater good. Refer back to my conversations with random strangers. We act in self interest. Tragedy of the Commons. We are incapable of this solution.

    I think Bertrand Russell had penned the epitaph for mankind.

    “Most people would rather die than think. And most people do.”

    Phil. I don’t sit here doing nothing to solve the problem. I do everything I can. I donate what I can from my pension to organizations that see the problem. I vote for rational evidence based politicians. I lobby. I write. I march. I live the meagre sustainable lifestyle. I promote technological solutions. I slay the irrational on social media. But I am one, in a room full of strangers talking about football and what is the best SUV.

    What Governance model can solve this problem?



    Report abuse

  • Phil. I don’t sit here doing nothing to solve the problem

    My house is 6 star energy rating. The highest. I have solar PV, over producing by 40% at my cost. I harvest all rainwater that falls on my roof and run the house on it. I ride my bike to all suburban locations.

    Solutions are conceived and less painful than many would imagine.

    I am always uplifted by the boundless optimism and enthusiasm in your posts across a lot of topics. But I can’t see a “Less Painful” solution to 9-12 billion people that doesn’t involve a massive uncivilized crash in human population, with the massive extinction rate inflicted on the rest of the innocent species of our planet. Help me get to 1 billion people, quickly enough to remain civilized in a painless way. Target 2100 is the best estimate for survival.



    Report abuse

  • 28
    fadeordraw says:

    Hi David,

    Re: in a time frame that avoids the yeast crash

    As Harari’s must-read book demonstrates, we sapiens aint yeast; and that’s the problem and the challenge.

    My “in my dreams” dream is that, through education and the continued spreading of the benefits of reason and skeptical scientism, a general appreciation that we’re living on the planet the same as plants and animals will produce the conditions for that governance mutation for a governance evolution. T

    o repeat, if we stay with mythological interpretations of planet existence (maybe including nationalism, our constant military bent), then the trajectory doesn’t look good – too many people and other species not having a good experience on the planet.

    Maybe we should cross our fingers for your yeast-like prediction.



    Report abuse

  • This is a plot of my novel.

    A kid comes home in some alternative existence after being on holidays for four weeks. Turns on his computer. Loads up his Sim Universe game to see what’s happened to his creations. In that four weeks, 100,000 years have elapsed. He looks at 2016 on earth, and realizes its going way out of control. What TF happened. A massive number of his creations have either gone extinct or are in critical danger of extinction.

    He and his mates go back through the game logs, and realize that he had accidentally set the Intelligence Evolutionary Control setting for one species way up the scale to 10. Homo Sapiens had been given extraordinary intelligence, but hadn’t been given the other necessary other factors to cope with this massive intelligence. The Instruction manual says after a lengthy warning, that if you set the Intelligence Evolutionary Control (ELC) too high, you can ruin your game, unless you are prepared to monitoring the game constantly, and you’ve also given your creation Commonsense, maximum altruism, zero religion, and maxed out the Ethics and Morality slide controls. Too hard.

    This kids realizes his game is beyond repair. He hits the reset button and starts another game of Sim Universe.



    Report abuse

  • David, it doesn’t matter what you do (so much) as what you propagandise for. Until we can live comprehensively sustainably across all resources there will be a crash. Until we can lift people out of poverty they will behave defensively and mostly selfishly…. blamelessly. We need to persuade a vast number of poor people to do the bidding of rich people. So far I only see sticks in people’s hands.

    This is the ultimate Tragedy of the Commons and as it gets worse the behaviours will get worse. We can delay this issue no longer

    There will be a crash, but you can never start too early nor too comprehensively in your mitigations. Low fertility correlates with wealth, health and equality. We need to start growing a lot of carrotts, remove the divide between us and all without trampling our common reources. Give folk a reliable personal future and they will snatch those condoms and pills out of your hand.



    Report abuse

  • Dr John Cocker #27
    Apr 1, 2016 at 7:49 pm

    We should bear in mind that every single prediction of the IPCC has been wrong.

    Actually most of them were right, and many predictions which were wrong were UNDERESTIMATES of the heating, the pollution, and its effects, -but conspiracy theorists don’t let facts get in the way of their delusions!

    http://www.climate2013.org/spm



    Report abuse

  • Agree with Phil on #30. The social pressure to have children could change as well. Plenty of people who dont want children are looked at with suspicion. Give them an ‘excuse’ like saving the planet and have society accept that.



    Report abuse

  • I concur with Phil’s thinking. If we started after WW2, it would have been great, but in my humble opinion, we don’t have the time, and we’re the wrong species. I know that the moment you educate and raise most of the population in a country to middle class, population growth drops quickly, but the people who are breeding rapidly now, are not the problem.

    400 sub Saharan Africa can live on what one Australian (2nd worst) or one America (worst) consumes in one day. It is the consumption that is killing us. Sub Saharan Africans could live forever at their current subsistence levels. Australians and Americans can’t because their consumption is using tomorrows resources to run the world today. Ponsi Scheme. If we are to have any chance, you must convince the G20 to abandon free market capitalism, combine together to bring the 2nd and 3rd world rapidly up to standard, at zero cost. This is impossible. Russia. China. America. India. The EU, all sit down and completely rub out the white board on how the world runs???

    I suspect there will be a rapid crash of civilization sometime before 2100, in the lives of my grand children, brought on by the catalyst of global warming, but caused by over population. Our normal method of solving issues is to bomb someone. America will never abandon the “American Dream”. We can’t go from 7.5 billion, 9 billion or even 12 billion back to 1 billion by 2100. We’re the wrong species. We’ve evolved to be brilliant stone age hunter gatherers, but we’ve created a world we can no longer control. The evolution that got us here will be the evolution that brings us down. I could run up a 100 really positive things we should do, now, but it won’t be enough.

    We don’t have the time.



    Report abuse

  • David.

    America can dream on. It can do this whilst consuming dramatically less. (The problem is….will it realise this in time.)

    A billion in 2100 is a ridiculous target, especially given that many 0 to 14 year olds will most likely live until then and currently number 1.9bn. Even if every male on the planet were given a vasectomy today the target would be missed with one of the most horrendous demographic profiles conceivable. Population growth and decline rates must be Titanic like in their course corrections.

    I’m with Hans Rosling that the huge numbers aren’t the key problem, especially as the bulk of them tread very lightly upon the planet. The problem is managing climate change and living sustainably and sufficiently.

    It is too late not to give ourselves over to going for a sustainable lifestyle, comprehensively and immediately.

    That twelve (now even 12.5bn) peak projected for 2100 by the UN (with catastrophes in Africa and the upper Indian sub continent) needs to be managed down to less than 9bn and mostly in those areas. The People Peak needs to be brought forward to 2050 from 2100 as much as possible and the massive polluters (not those in Africa etc.) brought under control. Over the hump and with a new way of utilising resources in circular economies we can enjoy our naturally and slowly depleting population.



    Report abuse

  • It is too late not to give ourselves over to going for a sustainable lifestyle, comprehensively and immediately.

    I know that it is possible to do all the things necessary to prevent a population crash. We know what to do, but how do we do it. How do we convince the world that firstly, there is a problem. Secondly, they must act rapidly. And thirdly, the world as they know it can no longer continue. We can’t even get people to accept a pathetic carbon taxing regime because the poor darlings might have to pay a little bit more for the fossil fueled products.

    I know we can do, but how do we manage the politics of getting it done, quickly enough to avoid a crash. I know that catastrophe will force us to act, but how do we act to avoid the catastrophe. That I can’t see. That’s where I invoke Bertrand Russell’s epithet.

    Circular economy should be mandated. You can’t enforce depopulation without getting into ZPG scenarios. If we weren’t such a stupid species, we would voluntarily limit our reproduction if we weren’t a top quality specimen. Set some voluntary benchmarks to achieve before you can reproduce. But even this would fail because of our species defects. I can’t come up with a political solution short of a Second Coming that forces constraint.



    Report abuse

  • David R Allen #35
    Apr 2, 2016 at 6:05 pm

    I know that it is possible to do all the things necessary to prevent a population crash.

    In species which indulge in population explosions of numbers, nature has its own ways of reducing populations –

    Starvation from habitat destruction and the break-down of food chains.

    Proliferation of disease from over crowding.

    Death and destruction in the course of competition for resources.

    Climate changes producing environments hostile to particular species or groups. – desertification, flooding, wide-fires, powerful storms, extreme seasonal changes.

    Mass fatalities during forced migrations seeking new habitats and food sources.

    Of course these are rather brutal, but they do quickly reduce populations which do not adapt in other ways!



    Report abuse

  • David #35

    We know what to do, but how do we do it.

    WE have to work quickly and consistently to invent ways that doing the right thing is attractive to the most people by whatever means possible. We must not hinge success on some political breakthrough, but in lifting all aspects of dealing with the problem, until folks see that the five or ten percent hit now is what we have already lived through four or five times last century and at least once this century…that a viable plan forward exists that doesn’t really impact quality of life but rather will improve matters and bring calm and stability after the many decades of a billion strong diaspora (those dispossessed by climate and religio-political exploitation) and can be supported by the majority…even by the selfish.

    We have to invent a future sustainable and attractive to most that gives people hope and cohesion of purpose. We cannot paint a common enemy to draw us together, because we have to live with all of us and the guiltiest parties are the ones that have to be in the vanguard of action. We can only succeed by building a common vision of how living mutually and sustainably and stably might be possible. Political discohesion (?) needs to be cured going forward to manage these risks. Lifting folk up to a common level will become essential.



    Report abuse

  • Thank Phil and Alan.

    If I had to vote, I suspect Alan’s solutions are more likely than Phil’s. But if “Hope” was the criteria, I would vote for Phil. Only time will tell. I will do what I can. I terrified for what my grandchildren MAY, may have to face. Phil for UN Secretary General and Alan for Chief Scientific Advisor.



    Report abuse

  • 39
    fadeordraw says:

    For me, two points from this discussion:
    – Scientific evidence that economic growth is ultimately dependent upon population growth?
    – Marketing strategies for “we are living on the planet the same as plants and animals”?

    ps: With this week’s DR exchanges, I used the term “mythological” rather than “religious”. I think it’s more accurate.



    Report abuse

  • Perhaps there are signs here of the future for carbon polluters!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-36033360

    Peabody Energy, the world’s largest privately-owned coal miner, has filed for bankruptcy protection in the US after a sharp fall in coal prices left it unable to repay its debts.

    The firm said the move was aimed at reducing debt and that all its mines and offices would continue to operate.

    “This was a difficult decision, but it is the right path forward for Peabody,” said chief executive Glenn Kellow.

    Peabody’s debt problems stem from its takeover of Australian rival Macarthur.

    The firm paid about 5bn Australian dollars (£2.5bn) to buy the coalminer in 2011, but lower coal prices amid falling demand means it has struggled to repay its resulting debts.

    The move is the latest in a series of bankruptcies in the industry, with miners hit by a combination of low energy prices, tougher environmental regulations and a shift to natural gas.



    Report abuse

  • Bankers funding them are also feeling the pinch!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-36033113

    JP Morgan Chase has reported a 6.7% drop in quarterly profits as it set aside more funds to cover potential losses at oil and gas companies.

    US shale oil companies have come under increasing pressure in the past year as the price of oil has plummeted.

    That has forced banks to raise the money they set aside to cover the possible failure of energy firms.

    In February, JP Morgan said it would set aside an additional $500m (£357m) to cover potential losses from its exposure to the oil and gas sector.

    The bank has now set aside a further $713m to cover potential losses from oil and gas and commodities firms.

    Of that total, $529m covers loans to oil and gas firms and $162m is allocated for loans to metals and mining firms.



    Report abuse

Leave a Reply

View our comment policy.