Maybe we should demand a higher level of scientific certainty (rather than political consensus disguised as science) before we destroy civilization as we know it to save society as we know it.

Rather than put this in comments, I am making it part of the post:

Our society and many of the industrialized societies run on fossil fuels. Fossil fuel combustion creates CO2 and adds to the earth’s temperature according to the climate change theory.  

I have read that transition needn’t be painful. That depends on what numbers you use for estimating (kind of like climate change itself) and what methods you adopt for achieving CO2 reduction. According to, 33/4 billion tons of CO2 comes from fossil fuels and cement, 3.3 billion from land use changes across the globe each year. We are at 395 ppm approximately on CO2. Some articles said if we pass 350 ppm, we have passed the tipping point and changes will be irreversible for 1000 years.

Most sources I checked said a 2 degree increase is the maximum increase before climate change is “irreversible”. What CO2 concentration yields that? 450 ppm was the highest concentration I found as the limit before catastrophe strikes. At 395 ppm, we can only add 55 more ppm before it’s too late. The world adds over 2 billion tons of CO2 per year, so at current rates, we have maybe 25 years to get emissions in check.

If we were to replace fossil fuel generated electricity with nuclear plants, that would be a significant reduction. Unfortunately, it would also be very expensive and rabidly opposed in many places. The smaller thorium plants may provide a way around the “fear factor” but I am not sure at what cost. If currently approved nuclear plants can be modified to use thorium, that would help hold down the expenses.

Replacing coal with natural gas significantly reduces emissions. If we replace older coal plants with natural gas plants, this would be a way to decrease CO2 without extreme expense. People’s fear of fracking will have to be overcome for this to work. Plus, according to Michael Mann, “We may be reducing our CO2 emissions, but it is possible that we’re actually increasing the greenhouse gas problem with methane emissions.”

Another idea is to increase automobile mileage. Cars getting 60 mpg does not appear feasible unless safety is seriously compromised or a very clever engineer finds a way to make a light-weight car that doesn’t crunch. Trucks cannot be made to get that kind of mileage. As far as I can tell, the only lower carbon option is railroads. To switch to rail would be expensive and material intensive. One would also lose the truck driving jobs, which rail would only replace a few of. All changes can cause job loss, but on the scale of changing from trucking to rails, it would be a very large number of losses. It would make those 37,000 jobs the US was going to lose in wind energy if the PTC did not pass look like nothing at all.

Renewables” like wind and solar are too variable to replace fossil fuels, not to mention expensive. People could use these on their homes with battery backup and not tied to the grid, but there would be a training curve as people learned how these work. (That I know from experience.) If one wants to run expensive electronics using wind, a very high quality sine wave inverter is needed. I do not know if your 60” HD television can run off battery-backed wind power.

The only true solution to climate change seems to be zero carbon usage. This will require the globe to rework every aspect of modern life. WE will need new electricity generation methods, new transportation methods new home heating methods. We will need new construction techniques that avoid cement (a source of CO2), planned communities, nature preserves, new ways to farm (electric tractors anyone?) and on and on. This is the only way to stop the change permanently.

Even if we don’t do zero emissions, to stop the rise in 25 years seems impossible without draconian government intervention on a global scale. Turning off my lights when I am not using them does virtually nothing. One country alone does virtually nothing. Worldwide cooperation or worldwide forced compliance? The former has not been successful to date.

To maintain pre-industrial CO2 levels of around 300 ppm, we would have to cut CO2 output by a minimum of 1/3, not counting any previous build-up, half-life or other similar factors. Some countries might be able to cut somewhere in this range without serious economic damage if allowed a long enough period.

However, we are constantly told this is a crisis—the oceans will boil if we don’t do something. Al Gore had a child burn a Barbie doll in a science fair to illustrate how serious the threat is. If climate change is that serious, we will need to make changes in our lifestyles that go beyond the easy and convenient. Nuclear power will be foisted upon people, bicycles for transportation, or buses, not personal cars, etc, etc. The EPA declared CO2 damaging to human health. That is serious. It calls for drastic measures and drastic measures translate into a major overhaul of the lifestyles we live now.

If China and India and other developing nations continue to spew CO2 into the air, then what? China pollutes more than the USA. How do we stop the climate change then?

Most of the difficulty in this whole climate change debate is the multiple versions of how serious it is, how much we have to cut CO2 and how fast. When we figure this out and come down to one number, then perhaps a better estimate can be made. We must also deal with the reality that many countries are not going to go along with this without the infusion of large quantities of cash or forceful intervention. How much can the “rich”countries pay the poor countries to stop polluting? Who are the rich countries? What kind of price tag to get India to stop burning coal—or Germany, for that matter? What about Greece, where cutting forests is rampant because people cannot afford fuel? This is a massive undertaking, massive.

Note: James Hansen states ZERO carbon is the solution, so that is what I went with in saying we would have to destroy the lives we have to avoid destroying the lives we have. Zero carbon is a total global revamping.



11 comments on “Think

  1. I am heretofore deleting entire comments you, Tony, or anyone else makes using the word “deniers”. It is rude and no longer allowed. This is science, not name calling. You have been warned.

    I am longer responding to your diatribes that are nothing but insults. I have plenty of evidence that renewable energy CANNOT work without major overhauls from real scientists and engineers.

    Yes, I am fully aware of the MARKETING campaign that makes the ludicrous idea that “lifetime” sustainability has any meaning whatsoever. In a world that went from horse and buggy to landing on the moon in one lifetime, psychics with crystal balls have the same chance of being right as any in understanding 70-100 years down the road.

    My response to your post here: ”
    “Yet you again refuse to acknowledge that human ingenuity is completey unpredictable and that the sotutions will come in many forms.”
    That is 100% true in our dealing with ANY changes in the climate. We can adapt to whatever the climate changes to. We do not have to dispense with our lifestyles or make changes demanded by the climate change individuals. It is totally unnecessary.

  2. The opposition to renewable energy is based on sound science that environmentalists refuse to look at. Thirty years and BILLIONS of dollars and still virtually no return. Most of the money comes from stealing money from taxpayers and giving it to rich corporations in the form of subsidies and tax breaks. No where in the world has renewable energy (which is a complete misnomer–it’s not renewable. It requires massive amounts of manufacturing, mining, transportation and maintenance, all of which requires gasoline, iron ore, cement, aluminum, and on and on. The rare earth magnet manufacture in China caused massive environmental damage.) The “fuel” is free and only available when nature wants it to be. Maybe if we pour a few more BILLION dollars into this, we can store a few watts here and there. Then we can build massive bat-killing, bird chomping spinning towers of death everywhere and save the planet. It’s not renewable, it’s not clean and that’s why scientists, real ones, oppose it.

    • Tony Duncan says:

      Reality, once again you post one sided assertions as if they absolutely true and there is no other perspective. Yes, everyone knows that it takes natural resources to provide the components for collecting renewable resources. the DIFFERENCE is that once they are produced the SOURCE of the energy is renewable. You of course know this yet you rant on as if there are evil people trying to hide this from the public and GETTING RICH Doing it. I am always fascinatd when deniers latch onto how horible capitalism is when it is related to environmental concerns, especially when it is the height of human endeavor when it is realted to the insanely huge profits being made by the fossil fuel industry, absolutely dwarfing the profits of almost every other industry in the world.

      You are of course, (as pretty much all deniers do) ignroing the substance of my comments, and making assertions about what “real scientists” believe with absolutely no support for those assertions.
      I don;t know if you are aware of this , but there is a growing movement to assess the “lifetime” sustainability of all production in order to determine the economically and environmenatlly feasible methods of production. A friend of mine is actually involved in making an app that addresses this issue directly.

      I can imagine your screed being written 120 years ago, just replacing “renewable” with “automobile”. of curse there HAS been a “return” with renewables, in SPITE of the huge infrastructure advantages, economieds of scale and economic and political advantages fossil fuels have developed over the last hundred years. That is quite impresssive because fossil fuesl are such a hugely dense reservoir of energy created over millions of years, compared to renewabls sources which are almost all pretty much real time utilizition.
      It is NOT an easy problem becuase, as I said, we are used to being energy gluttons. And if climate change was not an issue, then the transition to renewables would likely have a different trajectory, based on the increasing difficulty of EIEO as it becomes harder and more costly to remove and refine petroleum based energy sources over the next few decades.
      Yet you again refuse to acknowledge that human ingenuity is completey unpredictable and that the sotutions will come in many forms and help solve the issues you are ranting about, just as ingenuity has increased the economic viability of difficult sources of Fossil fuels.

  3. Tony Duncan says:


    your addition to this post is much more reasonable. not a lot in it that i think is not based on some sort of credible position.
    I don’t necesarily agree that we need to destroy ther lives we have now. I think you underestimate the ability of rapid change under the right conditions. It really only took about 40 years to replace the horse with the internal combustion engine in much of the world.
    and I am 90% sure that the US is the major barrier toward achieving wolrd complience.. With the US doing nothing on a national governmental level, there is absolutely NO pressure n China, India Indonesia or other large 3rd world polluters to tdo anything. Yet both Choian and india are actually doing more, on a policy level than the US anyway.Once the US commits to decreaing CO2 usage, international agreements will come very quickly.
    Also I disagree both with deniers and with some climate alarmists about the exonomic and environmental consequences of future actions. Some on both sides ignore human social and technological ingenuity. there will be large social changes especially concerning conservation that will have a huge impact of CO2 emmissons. You are right turning off a light does little. But alternatives to cement, heat storage for wnd and solar, recycling energy that is currently wasted from many sources. many other types of implementation and copnservation will become increasinly utilized, and i think those changes will happen very fast one there is a real understanding of the problem.
    I think people will look back on the 20th and early 21st century as insanely wasteful of energy. that there will be serious consequences from either implementation of some aspects of CO2 mitigation or cliamte change itself, i have no doubt.
    Which is really too bad and in my view exclusively of thsoe that have consitatnly opposed action starting in the late 80’s. If government and social policy had been reasonable then. the difficulties would be much much less on all fronts

    • I would note that horses were replaced by horseless carriages quickly because the horseless carriage was a quantum leap above the horse and was ready for consumers. Currently, the only quantum leap available for clean energy is nuclear and people fear that so much it is unlikely to make a difference. Wind and solar, even with storage, will destroy much of the planet with their size and footprint. The government mandated “renewables” (which there are no renewable energy sources, just the cost and availability of each type of energy varies. Wind and solar rely on immense amounts of material and transportation to be built and maintained.)
      The change to the horseless carriage was also not part of a government mandate. It was private enterprise. If someone comes up with a superior way of making electricity and of running cars, it will sell. Free enterprise is what helped keep unworkable ideas out of the marketplace–witness the Edsel.

      Perhaps the reason people opposed these ideas in the 80’s was the crying out that we needed to revamp the whole planet, rather than starting small and building. Crying wolf frightens people instead of calling them to action. Instead of mandating carbon credits, etc, the government should have encouraged manufacturers to improve their products and given praise those who demonstrated a WORKABLE new product with fewer environmental impacts. Private industry should have done the same, providing capital for the development of these products. The cry to punish industry left the same stain on environmentalists as selling flowers at the airport did to religious groups.

      Clean air and water are pretty much what everyone wants. It’s the path to this that causes all the arguments.

      • Tony Duncan says:


        you certainly make good points about the transition to the internal copmbustion engine. But that is looking from hindsight. Initially they were highly unrelaible, very expensive. It was not easy to get fuel. there was no infrastructure. they did not go fast, they broke down easily, and were very innefficient. Horses were so maneuverable. they did not need roads, their fuekl was easily available and there was no particualr infrastructure necesary for maintaining horses.
        It is ignroing the creativity and ingenuity of human invention that allows deniers to maintain oppostition to renewable energy.. just as alarmists ignore human ingenuity in dealing with climate change issues that will liklely be faced

  4. PeterB in Indianapolis says:

    Right now, other than traditional nuclear or Thorium reactors, there are NO (none, zip, nada) economically viable ways to replace fossil fuels. Even though LFTRs are MUCH safer (and smaller) than Uranium Nuclear, it is still “nuclear” so the same zealots who are complete anti-CO2 are also anti-nuclear of any kind it seems.

    Natural gas does emit far less CO2 per Kw/hr than coal, and with the recent abundance of natural gas worldwide, many countries are indeed switching from coal to Natural Gas, but once again, the same zealots that are anti-CO2 and anti-nuclear are also anti-fracking. The only thing they seem to be for are large solar arrays and large wind-farms. Neither of these produce statistically significant, useable energy, but both threaten a large number of species and blight a large area of landscape, which you would THINK that the anti-nuclear anti-CO2 anti-fracking crowd would also be against, but they seem to be able to somehow ignore the fact that large solar arrays and large wind farms produce very little energy, take up a tremendous amount of space, and are, in fact, environmentally damaging in many ways.

  5. Lazarus says:

    What level of scientific certainty do you think exists among the scientists and what level would you suggest before we save society?

    What level of certainty is there that your home will be damaged or destroyed by fire, flood or natural disaster in the coming year? Have you paid any insurance premium on it?

    • PeterB in Indianapolis says:

      You have to at least have the scientific certainty to demonstrate a credible threat to society before you bother attempting to save it. This is the problem with the “precautionary principle”. It assumes that anything done by man is somehow “outside of nature and harmful to the world” and something automatically must be done to stop it. This is, largely, ludicrous.

      “You cannot go against nature, because when you do… go against nature, that’s a part of nature too!” – Love & Rockets.

      When a beaver builds a dam across a stream in order to have a place to live, it alters nature, but isn’t against nature, it is totally natural. In much the same way, when humans build a dam across a river to generate power, that doesn’t suddenly become somehow UNNATURAL just because we did it instead of a beaver, and we did it using concrete and steel instead of felled trees….

      Last I checked, the #1 cause of death to humans was being born in the first place. Being born is a guaranteed death sentence as life has a 100% mortality rate. Anything and everything we do has risk associated with it, and we should certainly do everything we can to PROPERLY characterize risk and mitigate it, while realizing that risk CAN NEVER BE ELIMINATED.

      The mistake many so-called scientists make is to ASSUME catastrophic risk in the absence of any real evidence, and then call for EXTREME risk mitigation for a risk that isn’t even well-characterized as of yet. Some even attempt to distort science in order to try to skew things to make it appear that the risk is indeed catastrophic, while real scientists are saying, “Wait, hold on, we don’t understand this nearly as well as some of you are claiming, and a lot of real, evidential data are showing that maybe the risk here isn’t very extreme at all.”

  6. Tony–I will get back to this tomorrow. I will be away from the computer for the rest of the day.

  7. Tony Duncan says:


    what scientific or economic basis do you have for your contention that we are going to destroy civilization as we know it, by (I assume you mean) implementing actions to greatly reduce GHG concentrations in the atmosphere? Do you have any current or historical sources, that indicate proposed actions to do so would destroy civilization?
    I find it odd that I find so many people who complain loudly about “alarminst” climate scientists, so often make alarmist economic and social predictions that, as far as I can see are based on little more than opinion.
    Are there economic studies that show the destruction of civilization if we reduce CO2 emmissions? The ones I am aware of show maybe a 1-2% decrease in world GDP, and that is assuming there is little economic growth from implementing renewable sources of energy and conservation. If you know of ones that show devastating consequences, I would be very interested to know of them.

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