68 thoughts on “No Planet B

  1. Yes, earth is the only one we really need. Pity that we are trying to destroy it. But it wont let us do that, it will fight back. It will control us and keep us in our place. Just a few thoughts.

  2. I just re-watched the movie “Interstellar” which I enjoyed as a visual spectacular. The first time I watched it five years ago I was mainly struck by two things – the erasing of climate change and the need for the US to recapture the optimism of the space race.
    This time with COVID-19 providing an alternative threat the film seemed to be an argument against the futility of dreaming of travelling alternative planets. Apart from the fantastical nature of the technology and the necessity of a time looping creation of a worm hole the idea that everyone would be evacuated is just demonstrably and absurdly false (see QALY calculations and arguments against lockdowns).

  3. Pr. Q above – I agree. Too much hype, not enough substance. The “Planet B” notion is not well grounded; it would be dependent on Earth remaining a healthy, wealthy world that can afford to give long term support, without expectation of any economic benefit or even repaying of costs, possibly in perpetuity just to survive. And still be at far greater risk of extinction events than here.

    Footprints and flag planting on Mars for national pride – with some aerospace R&D on the side, to keep ahead of military rivals in near Earth space, where space DOES count as something tangible, maybe.

    SpaceX won’t get contracts for Mars colonies and won’t do it “privately” but it will get big rockets that can service ongoing near Earth activities – taxpayer funded Earth focused activities mostly. So, is an industry really “private, commercial” if it depends absolutely on servicing taxpayer funded projects? Can it stand on it’s own feet without hyping out-there ambitions like Mars that have no reasonable prospects and no tangible economic value, just to keep public and taxpayer support ongoing? Aiming high is a good business strategy and Tesla’s ambitions for battery giga factories makes sense, but Elon Musk’s Mars ambitions are not well grounded; EV’s and batteries were close enough to a tipping point to get significant results. We are not even close – by a big handful of orders of magnitude – to making Mars colonies viable.

    Nothing short of a substantial, advanced industrial economy (and population) – more advanced than most nations – could ever do self reliance on Mars or in space. I’m not sure any advanced nation on Earth can really do true self sufficiency; they are dependent on global trade, and more dependent the more technologically advanced. They might be able to make the tech needed for Mars, because they are on Earth, with it’s vast resources, and are globally connected and are large enough and wealthy enough to throw substantial resources at it; a bunch of colonists in the remotest of remote wastelands making all that tech independently? No. I try and imagine some engineers building new nuclear power stations (assuming the mines, the refineries, the transport infrastructure, the advanced materials manufacturing can be established first) in a colony workshop? In their spare time between tasks essential to a Mars colony’s near term survival? No.

  4. A piece by David Spratt, Research Coordinator for the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration, was posted yesterday, that included:

    “There is no risk-management framework anywhere in the modern world — vaccine testing, construction, transport systems, or digital infrastructure — that would accept a 10% chance of failure, or one percent, or even a tenth of one percent.”

    Yet it seems our political and business leaders are risking a 50% chance (and more) of failure for the future of human civilisation.

  5. John, you may not think interplanetary colonization is likely, but one thing is certain — humanity has to head into space if we are to have any hope of wiping ourselves out with asteroid strikes within a reasonable period of time.

  6. I am in agreement with J.Q., mrkenfabian and Geoff Miell above. I mean about planets B, C, D etc. and about climate risks here on planet A. Plus, I like Ronald’s joke.

    Moon travel/habitation, Mars travel/habitation etc. is boondoggle. I am 99% sure Elon Musk knows it is boondoggle along with any and all of his supporters. Billionaires and politicians combine to fleece rubes. That’s how things work. It’s a “grift”, a form of a confidence trick. The government has a spare pot of money which it does not want to give to social welfare causes (like universal public health care). That would reduce the profits of privatized health care. But the spare pot of money has to go somewhere, right? Despite their best efforts they can’t give it ALL to the military-industrial complex and to the security-industrial state. Those “optics” would not be good. The space-industrial sector is a good side sluice to channel spare money to what is just another billionaire factory. Those who make billionaires get to make at least millions for themselves. That’s how it works.

  7. Just to clarify, when I say moon, mars etc. travel/habitation is a boondoggle, I mean it is/would be a financial boondoggle and a waste of earthly resources. This is except for science gains and technology spin-offs which almost certainly could be developed more cheaply in other ways anyway. Also, opportunity costs mean that other science and technology gains were/are probably foregone to run space programs. Of course, the six moon landings of Apollo 11 to Apollo 17, excluding Apollo 13, did actually happen. I did not mean to imply they were faked.

  8. I don’t know what people will do in the future. Past predictions about what they would do generally haven’t been very accurate. But I see plenty of rich people jumping out of airplanes for fun and doing things with high death rates such as climbing Everest. So I have no problem believing people will head off to the moon or mars or the atmosphere of venus and set up self sustaining colonies, or rather, resorts. Sure, the tents at Everest base camp make it look like they are brave explorers, but they got champagne and caviar inside.

    As for there being no locations beyond mars, that’s a weird way of looking at it. Basically anywhere is just as useless as mars is.

  9. Iko, that is so dumb. The cost of a roof is so much cheaper than terraforming there is no contest between the two. They say there’s a limit to how far you can walk under the roof but not if the roof is really big! Looking at it in terms of energy, putting a roof over the whole planet is way cheaper. Or since mars has a nice, thick, stable crust you could just go down and make multiple habitable layers. You don’t want to get too carried away because even though you can build big on mars because of the low gravity, that stuff they teach in civil engineering still kind of applies.

    And can someone please give Grassy Tyson a few bucks a month so he can afford to put out videos without shilling for a stock image company? It’s just looks bad when respected public figures behave that way. Imagine how people would respond if the US President did something crass like that?

  10. Ikonoclast, thanks for the YouTube video.

    Interesting comments from Neil deGrasse Tyson, that if we were to have the capacity to terraform Mars, then we would certainly have the capacity to terraform Earth, and probably also have the capacity to deflect ‘Earth-killer’ asteroids.

    Mars has more hazards including, lower gravity field (38% of Earth’s) and lower light levels (about 59% of Earth’s), and there’s a lack of a magnetic field that allows solar winds to steadily strip away Mars’ wispy atmosphere (1% of Earth’s, well below the Armstrong limit where water boils at normal body temperature). Any Mars colony would need to be shielded against the hazards of ionizing solar and cosmic radiation – probably necessitating underground habitation.

    Eventually, the Earth will become uninhabitable due to the increasing luminosity of the Sun (rising 1% every 110 million years) leading to runaway evaporation of the oceans by about 1.1 billion years, and silicate materials decreasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations within 600 million years to levels below the threshold to sustain photosynthesis. Also, there’s not much that can be done about “near Earth supernova” within 100 light years, that produce gamma ray bursts that can deplete Earth’s ozone layer lasting several centuries.

    The urgency at present is it would be most prudent to make sure the fossil fuel industry is rapidly dismantled to ensure we don’t make most of this planet we are living on uninhabitable before the end of this century.

  11. “Dere’s more dan enuff ohxygen in de crust of mars for everyone! I’ll blow it owt and be bahck in time for corn flakes.”

  12. Not at all fun fact: While the air pressure on mars is only 0.65% that of earth, the low gravity means the mass of atmosphere is considerably greater than 0.65% of earth. I want to say about three times more since the gravity is about one-third of earth’s, but that seems too sensible to be correct.

  13. A wealthy and healthy planet Earth that endures is the essential ingredient for those grand space ambitions. Visits to other planets are a demonstration of how wealthy and resource rich Earth is rather than demonstrating how fabulous those destinations are. Earth would have to be a lot more messed up before Mars would look a better place to live. I think the super wealthy who would opt for space as their safe bolt hole are few – most will continue to prefer well equipped bunkers.

    I see Near Earth space as having real importance – and presents genuine commercial opportunity, mostly in communications and Earth observation, actual benefits, although still largely taxpayer supported. But there is little real role for live astronauts or colonies in those. Beyond Near Earth has no demonstrable commercial opportunities – I don’t count servicing government contracts for exploration or astronomy as space based commercial opportunities; those are still effectively Earth based industrial/R&D activities.

    If asteroid resources could be exploited cost effectively they could deliver tangible benefits. Those precious metals, sure – nickel-iron has 10’s of ppm of mixed platinum group metals (no pure nuggets, sorry, it is all well mixed in) – but I think asteroid mining really requires the ability to exploit the bulk commodities that really are hugely abundant, like Iron and Nickel, back to Earth at low cost – but the space optimists I’ve encountered don’t really want trade with Earth, they want independence in space; they seem to find it easier to apply a sleight of accounting and simply bypass the requirement for a long period of being dependent by treating activities in space as an independent economy from the start. We who pay for it all are supposed to get enough vicarious satisfaction from knowing people are in space (planet B/lifeboat) that we won’t expect them to have to pay their way.

    Military? Long term, meteor defense would present an uncontroversial cause for improving space capability, but more nationalistic military considerations are, I think, the real reason nations support ambitious space goals that have no genuine commercial prospects. Even if agreements to keep weapons out of space are mostly abided by, the prospect of them breaking down and a space arms race happening has to be part of strategic thinking.

  14. Mr Ken, humans are definitely a dead weight loss in space. Currently huge expenditures on the ISS (International Space Station) are being justified on the grounds of examining the effects of space on humans which are something we know is definitely useless. It’s like we were spending billions of dollars to determine the effects of space on vacuum tubes because we used to shoot them into space 60 years ago.

    Fortunately, we know no dinosaur killer asteroids are hanging around the solar system on a path to hit earth for a very long time, since they are big enough to see. City killers don’t need anything militaristic to stop them. Provided they are noticed in time, they can be diverted with a few solar panels, a capacitor, and an ablative laser. The hard part is getting these things to the asteroid.

  15. “Basically anywhere is just as useless as mars is.’

    Mars is totally useless, so you’re correct in that sense. But it’s least possible to conceive of landing there and getting back to earth alive, if some major country is willing to contribute a few trillion to such a vanity project. Everywhere else you get vaporized, crushed to death, killed by poisonous gases or some combination of the three.

  16. John, you’re not suggesting that a balloon city suspended in the sulphuric acid clouds of Venus isn’t very practical, are you? In that case there’s Titan, where the air pressure is exactly the same as on earth at the bottom of an extremely deep hole. Sure, it’s BYOO — Bring Your Own Oxygen — but it has open lakes of liquid natural gas. According to our government, that’s pure economic recovery right there. Sure, there’s a lack of demand, but our government doesn’t seem to think that’s a problem and when have they ever been wrong? And finally, there’s the asteroid Vesta that could literally contain as much platinum as any other similarly sized chunk of rock.

  17. I don’t think we can destroy the planet. We’d need to lift most of it past lunar orbit and that would take a phenomenal amount of energy. Once in orbit though it would just fall back down (over millions of years). But if we could do that …we could instead move Venus into one of our Lagrange points… maybe L4 and Mars into L5? Terraforming them would be much easier once they were closer and also getting more convenient amounts of radiation.

    But destructively, even making the planet lifeless would take a lot more planning and preparation over a much longer timeframe than we’ve ever managed before. I’m guessing Aborigines terraforming Australia type timeframes, if not longer. Life is *everywhere* on this planet, you’d need to go several kilometres down into the crust over the whole thing, oceans included, because there’s wee beasties living inside rocks down there.

    What we could do pretty easily is make ourselves extinct (we’re good at extinctions). Eventually that will happen no matter what, but I reckon we could get there this century if we try.

  18. Moz, we could move Venus further out from the sun. Or we could just turn the sun off. All we need to do is remove enough mass and it will go out. After all, at the moment it’s rather wasteful, radiating energy in all directions. I’m very conservative, so I think we should conserve as much of our solar system’s original supply of hydrogen as we can. By putting a roof over the earth we can regulate heat and lighting much more efficiently. In fact, we could send probes out to collect interstellar objects and divert them back to our solar system. Then, on one bright day — I mean dark and gloomy day — there will be a glorious generation that will be the first to leave their children with more hydrogen than their parents had.

  19. Ronald, removing mass from the sun has the same problem as removing it from earth, but bigger. Albeit plasma might be easier to shift in the quantities we’re talking about than rock. Hmm. Maybe the way to destroy the Earth is the shift its orbit so it passes close to the sun every now and then and on every pass a few kilometres of rock evaporate off.

    But we’re way past the technology level of just shifting the climate by a couple of degrees now. Kardashev Type 2 or 3, not the “almost 1” where we currently are. OTOH, this stuff is proper domain of economics 🙂

  20. Yes, but removing mass from the sun pays for itself by increasing the usable amount of energy available to us — for certain values of the word “us”. It’s just sensible accounting, really. Those “hot Jupiters” astronomers have detected orbiting close to their stars may only be natural in the sense that it’s what naturally happens when the local aliens have a sufficiently low discount rate and remove mass from their sun and dump it somewhere nearby.

    “Since the dawn of time, man has yearned to destroy the sun.”
    — The Simpsons

  21. Moz,

    I don’t mean to be pedantic or personal about a throw-away line on your part but the bigger picture is that existential danger (extinction risk) is NOT the proper domain of money and market economics. I think this is precisely why we are in so much trouble. We are letting, or utilizing, “conventional” economics to tell us what we should and should not do to avert disaster. We are using money values to attempt to manipulate real values. Money values are wholly spurious in relation to real, objective values for stuff (matter and energy) which said objective values can only be measured in SI units; that is to say in units of the scientific dimensions covered by the International System of Units.

    Currently, we are using money equations to determine how much GHG emissions, reductions and amelioration activities we can “afford” to do. We are trying to make it “economic”, meaning affordable in money, to save the climate. This is nonsense. The scientific determinations should be made (and they pretty much have been made say stop emitting net CO2 altogether by 2035 at the latest). Then we must do whatever it takes to stop the emissions. If the cruise ship and tourist airline industries have to be totally shut down in perpetuity to do it then that is the action to take. If our (Western) meat intake has to be halved then that is the action to take. If personal internal combustion automobiles have to be obsoleted post haste then that is the action to take.

    These actions have to be mandated in total and rapidly by government and social decree and without regard for capitalist money and market considerations. Everyone has to do these things or everyone goes extinct. That’s the real bottom line. Money losses mean nothing provided the necessities of life can be provided (food, water, shelter) and provided each person is given sufficient “permissions to consume”, standardly called “money” and that this is done in an equitable way without fear, favor privilege.

    J.Q.’s emphasis on opportunity cost is the right way of looking at it. If the opportunity cost of our current way of life is the complete destruction of a biosphere livable for multi-cellular animals more complex than jelly-fish, and it is, then it’s a complete no-brainer. The scientists in the know already know to a high degree of certainty that civilization is a gone by 2050 and homo sapiens by 2100 if we continue on our current money and market determined trajectory.

    There are three beliefs we need to counter. One, that tomorrow will be like today. Two, that exponential growth can go on forever. Three, that money measures anything. Money does not measure anything. It does not measure value, it does not measure life, it does not measure future probabilities. Money cannot equate things meaningfully. Only science can do that for objective values and only moral philosophy (ethics) can do that for subjective values. Money is turning out to be the most spurious, destructive and misused human invention of all time.

    Money does or would have a valid purpose if properly re-construed and reconstructed. Science could arrive at per capita consumption and waste stream permissions for all things measurable by science. “Money” as permissions to consume and generate waste could then be printed, allocated, circulated and controlled. Strictly speaking it would be a eco-socialist, scientific, command economy rationing system. We cannot get away from the fact that we should now be rationing to save the planet, as in save the livable biosphere.

    Don’t know about you but I would rather be socialist than dead.

  22. Recent results from the Scenario Model Intercomparison Project (ScenarioMIP), dated Sep 16:

    “Central estimates of the time at which the ensemble means of the different scenarios reach a given warming level show all scenarios reaching 1.5 °C of warming compared to the 1850–1900 baseline in the second half of the current decade, with the time span between slow and fast warming covering 20–28 years from present. 2 °C of warming is reached as early as the late ’30s by the ensemble mean under SSP5-8.5, but as late as the late ’50s under SSP1-2.6. The highest warming level considered, 5 °C, is reached only by the ensemble mean under SSP5-8.5, and not until the mid-90s.”

    The 2030s will not be like now.

  23. Ikonclast, there’s a difference between economics and current post-capitalism/neo-feudalism. At a sensible level, resource allocation and management is key to any level of civilisation, but especially small closed systems like space stations or spacecraft. And that’s… economics.

    But somewhat agreeing with you, I think we’d be better off if more economists focussed on writing science fiction rather than on planning and implementing dystopias the way they do now. That said, I would be very happy indeed if one or more economists (or anyone) did manage to drag us into full Kardashev type 1 or even type 2, because I don’t think those can be done under a feudal system, neo or otherwise. I could be proved wrong, of course, just like all the deluded idiots who thought that no-one like them could become president of the USA.

    But on the general topic, I agree with Prof Quiggin and vehemently disagree with the vast majority of economists: there is no planet B, the Earth is not a substitutable good, there is no conceivable market in which sufficient money would incentivise the production of a planet B, and so on through any combination of homo economicus type drivel that they care to come up with. They have no more chance of producing a rational consumer than physicists have of a spherical cow… but the latter know that their concept is fictional *and* act accordingly.

    OTOH, one plausible theory I’ve seen is, loosely, that economists are more likely to be motivated by money than the average monkey, and thus more likely to produce goods for which there is a ready market. Very rich people are exploiting this to provide philosophical cover for their actions, much as the Christian Church did for the last millennia in Europe. Viz, it doesn’t matter whether economics is true or scientific, it matters whether it persuades the proletariat to accept their meagre status. In that sense it is a very successful discipline…

  24. Moz

    Re your first paragraph ending in “And that’s… economics.” Whether it is “economics” depends on one’s precise definition of economics. For sure, etymologically, economics is oeconomia (Latin) meaning “household management”, In that sense resource allocation and management in a given system is economics. Also, if economics is “resource allocation and management” simpliciter then running national and world economies is economics.

    However, if the Rube Goldberg machine of using money/finance management to achieve “resource allocation and management” is the guiding principle of economics, as in capitalist economics, then we are all “fooked” as an Irishman would say. (Rhyme it with “booked”) . My contention is proven by the empirical results in the system thus far. We are headed for collapse and extinction.

    I call money-finance economic management of the economy a Rube Goldberg machine because of its predilection for indirect levers. These indirect levers are inaccurate, inefficient and slow-acting. They are also usually inequitable and eminently gameable so that instead of a game of thrones we have a game of games (that game the system).

    The only way to cut the Gordian knot of capitalism now is a direct statist command system, using regulation and rationing to stop all of us over-consuming, over-polluting and destroying the biosphere. Everything else has been tried and nothing has worked.

  25. Iknonoclast – I’m not sure statist command systems have worked that well either. I’m inclined towards strengthening existing legal frameworks and the independence and integrity of courts as most influential, achievable and desirable, but wealth and power seeks – almost always – to be unaccountable and I suspect that holds true whatever the form of government. Statist systems that put loyalty to regime above competence – and regime above independent rule of law – are doing much what wealth and power does within supposed democratic systems, just more directly. And I think revolutionary change may not be possible or likely to achieve better outcomes even if it is, even were compelling and inspiring leadership to emerge.

    Some court rulings that make climate/emissions accountability explicit looks needed – rulings that are not undermined by well honed tools of undue influence – advertising, PR, lobbying, strategic donating, post politics payoffs, tactical lawfare, tankthink – inducing politician commitment to stack courts and enacting counter legislation and influencing popular opinion in support despite it not being in voter’s best interests. Media power and the pretense of being the noble watchdogs and “independent” check on the rest of the power structure probably makes that kind of change unlikely.

  26. Iknonoclast – I’m not sure statist command systems have worked that well either. I’m inclined towards strengthening existing legal frameworks and the independence and integrity of courts as most influential, achievable and desirable, but wealth and power seeks – almost always – to be unaccountable and I suspect that holds true whatever the form of government.

    I’m interested in knowing more about the kinds of changes you would favour to enhance the independence and integrity of courts and also whether you have given any thought to the relationship between the independence of judges and the unaccountability of judges.

  27. Ruminations on my old blog on the infeasibility of interstellar travel: https://www.samefacts.com/the-odds-are-approximately-3720-to-1/
    The basic thesis is an extension of the solution to the Olbers paradox: why is the night sky dark? The answer is that space is dilute smog, blocking the blinding light from distant stars. My argument is that the smog is studded with trillions upon trillions of rocks, like a currant bun. Our Oort cloud extends halfway to Alpha Centauri, so to a first approximation the whole neighbourhood in any direction is a giant Oort cloud. Go slow enough to be safe, and the trip takes millennia. Go fast to cut the travel time, and you hit dust for sure (which does real damage at relativistic velocities), and an unacceptably high risk of collisions with rocks too small to detect but big enough to kill you.

  28. mrkenfabian,

    Statist commands and actions are working right now as the markets fail. Markets began to fail, even worse than their usual levels of failure, as soon as the covid-19 pandemic hit. It seems even a Financial Review opinion writer agreed about this as early as Feb 28, 2020.

    “Coronavirus is a classic case of market failure – Central banks and treasuries will need to provide a liquidity bridge to keep markets alive until the crisis is resolved.” – Christopher Joye.

    Markets could not and cannot deal with this crisis or any other major crisis for that matter. More state intervention in the economy become necessary in Australia (for example) and continues to this day. We can name Jobseeker and Jobkeeper as key interventions.

    “The measures announced on 22 March 2020 amount to a further AUS $66.1 billion in federal government support, bringing the total over the last two weeks to approximately AUS $189 billion, including the fiscal measures announced on 12 March 2020 and various financial liquidity support measures (including those of the Reserve Bank of Australia)—about 10% of GDP. As of 4 June, the Australian Government’s economic response to the Coronavirus crisis is providing $259 billion or 13.3 per cent of GDP in support for workers, households and business.” – KPMG.

    Of course, all of this raises the issue of the definition of a statist measure. If the state nationalizes or renationalizes the electricity system, we would all call this a statist measure. If the state pumps money in to help unemployed people (Jobseeker) this might be called a statist measure by some. If the state pumps money in to help businesses or to prop up stock market values, then this is rarely called a statist measure and certainly not by the business people and share holders who love state assistance to make or keep their fortune. But these are all statist measures, statist interventions, in strict terms of the state seeking to manage and even command an economy as opposed to permitting pure laissez-faire which has always been a total disaster.

    China is much more of a command economy than the USA and the EU. Look at the USA and EU right now. They are a “hot mess, inside a dumpster fire, inside a train wreck”. [1] Meanwhile, China is sailing through the COVID-19 crisis with flying colors. The Western so-called “free market” system (really the Western mega-subsidy system for oligarchs) is a disgraceful and collapsing mess. If we don’t increase statist measures targeted at co-ordinating our economy properly, helping ordinary people and making production / consumptions decisions to save us from crises and market failures from COVID-19 to climate change, we are dead meat.

    [1] I heard this expression on TV recently but it isn’t quite right. A “hot mess” is a mess that paradoxically looks good, maybe like “Blue Poles”. The mess in the USA and the EU does not look good.

  29. Below is a YouTube video of an intriguing perspective presented by Dr. Ye Tao, Fellow at the Rowland Institute at Harvard, at a NanoScientific Symposium on 19 Nov 2019. Can an oyster and mirror led recovery divert humanity away from civilisation collapse, or even perhaps prevent the total extinction of Earth’s biosphere? Does humanity still have a chance?

    From time interval 45:50, Dr Tao said to the audience (some who apparently can be seen with white hair): “Everybody here in this room will witness the end if we don’t do anything.”

  30. We don’t have to do geoengineering. We just have to stop doing eco-vandalism. It is all but guaranteed that geoengineering will have dreadful unforeseen consequences. The way forward is far more straightforward than he propounds.

    1. Stop burning all fossil fuels post-haste and convert to renewable energy.
    2. Reduce markedly the activity of all non-essential consumption activities.
    3. Reduce fugitive methane emissions including those from agriculture.

    Point 1 will lead to lowered atmospheric aerosols and the extra global warming he talks about. Points 2 and 3 will counter the effects of lowered aerosols and prevent the extra global warming.

    The problem with all geoengineering solutions is that they start with three untenable assumptions. These are;

    (a) That economic growth must continue;
    (b) That we cannot simply be frugal; and
    (c) That geoengineeering on the required scale will not create massive disruptions in its own right.

    Beware of geoengineers bearing gifts. Geoengineering is the Trojan horse of business-as-usual squared. It will exponetialize our problems further and wreck the world even faster. High impact geoengineering will be highly dangerous.

  31. J-D – there’s no insightful suggestions based on deep knowledge at this address, just my conviction that the legal system plays a crucial role in a multifaceted problem where accountability is being broadly resisted. But actions to seek legal remedies aren’t helping with respect to climate change as much as I might have anticipated. I, perhaps naively think Common Law offers potential to make climate responsibility more tangible – perhaps not through direct culpability for climate harms, but around duties of care, conflicts of interest and due diligence. The apparent political significance of choosing a US Supreme Court Justice makes me concerned for our own High Court, as well as more conscious of the significance of the Judiciary.

    Our civil institutions and practices have plenty wrong with them, but our institutions have served us well, or served mostly okay or maybe just better than if we didn’t have them but seeking to get them better to do what they are there for makes sense to me – and ought not be a point of partisan contention. Strengthening accountability and oversight – I’d like to think better minds than mine do apply themselves to such things, that they are supported to do so.

    I think we no option but to try for orderly change; revolutionary change seems to involve way too much collateral damage and uncontrolled outcomes even where, in theory, it leads to some better equilibrium.

  32. A long enough string of orderly changes can equate to revolutionary change in the long run. The key is to have a revolutionary vision with a plan for orderly changes leading to the projected goal-horizon. It’s probably better to talk about a goal-horizon rather than a goal. We are explorers of time-space manifold possibilities. The Langoliers [1] eating the past impel us forward. There is a huge range ahead barring our way. We know what the range is called. It’s The Ubiquitous of the Peaks of Everything. Most of the passes over the Ubiquitous Range of the Peaks of Everything lead to the Sloughs of Collapse [2].

    There is the Pass of The Renewables, the only pass which theoretically and possibly leads anywhere but to the Sloughs of Collapse. The issue is time critical. The Langoliers rapidly impel us to the peaks. Market look-ahead heuristics are essentially a search for what is money valued, money affordable and money commanded. Scientific look-ahead algorithms are a search for real system variables and what will be real-system functional (real economy / real biosphere). There is a big difference. It’s time for scientifically planned, democratically agreed, statist commanded path-finding.

    Money properly constructed is a formal tool for implementing decisions made on non-monetary grounds. This is proven by the sudden “newly discovered” ability to print as much money as necessary and allocate it on grounds other than market trade and reward principles. Markets should not be the guidance system for the allocation of scarce resources. Markets are properly a tool of the real guidance system. The real guidance system is ethics plus science plus democracy.

    Ethics construct markets in the first instance. Do we allow legal trades in human slaves, threatened species etc.? Clearly, we do not. Ethics are contested for sure, within and between the consequenitalist and deontoolgical camps. Democracy decides the outcome of the moral philosophy contest in our system and in preference to open violence. Science informs decision making and adoption of solutions. Democratically mandated statism implements decisions and solutions. In pragmatic reality this is how matters work in our system if the shanghaiing of public policy by the monied class can be overcome.

    Again, we see this proven in the pandemic. A minority of sectional monied interests, science-denying galoots, conspiracy theorists, selfish rat-bags and criminals contest the scientific and democratic consensus here in Australia to lock-down to effective elimination. So far, the enlightened majority are prevailing, amazingly even against monied interests and all their propaganda. Statism is happening right now and it is working well.

    To use a medical analog, human physiology is akin to the economy in the sense that both are highly complex and often idiosyncratic systems which cannot be fully, successfully modeled. In crisis situations, the question can and does arise. “What dose of medicine is the right dose?” Sometimes, the correct and perfectly empirical answer is “Enough!” This indicates that must you keep titrating, as it were. the medicine into the system until the system stabilizes or achieves the correct state. Broad safe paramters are known but the right patient-specific, condition-specific dose is only found by empirical titration. Statism, socialism and nationalisation now fit this bill. We need to titrate more of these, carefully but systematically, into the system. Neoliberalism did not titrate the system but “massively hit it up” in overdose fashion, hitting our system with more and more market fundamentalism and privatization (really meaning rich person control) even when warning signs already abounded. We now see the disastrous results when confronted with a real crisis. Of the developed nations, the USA and UK, as the most neoliberal, are having the biggest disasters.

    All I am essentially asking for is a reversal of neoliberalism and a considered progressive titration of elements of socialism, nationalization and statism back into the Australian system. I am predicting that “enough” will be a surprisingly large amount (surprising to many people) but my predicting this does not preclude that the need for the titration experiment will be found to end earlier than I predict. Given that democratic politics tends to move slowly (these days) in the anti-neoliberal direction, it seems unlikely that we will overshoot by turning the titration spigot on too much.

    [1] Stephen King novella.
    [2] “The Sloughs of Despond” in Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress”.

  33. @Geoff Miell

    Dr Tao presents some compelling arguments and who am I to ignore those arguments?

  34. Ikonoclast,
    You state: “We don’t have to do geoengineering.”

    What leads you to that conclusion, Ikonclast?

    Former Australian Chief Scientist (2008 – 2011) Professor Penny Sackett with a PhD in Physics, said at the Independent Planning Commission NSW (IPCN) Narrabri CSG Project public hearing on Day 4 (Jul 23), per transcript page 47, lines 18–22:

    “As you know, human activities are adding energy to the earth’s system through greenhouse gases that’s driving climate change, and the primary greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. So far, this warming has resulted in 1.1 degrees above pre-industrial levels. That’s globally.”

    Click to access 200723-day-4-narrabri-gas-project-public-hearing.pdf

    Even if humanity stopped burning all fossil fuels tomorrow, and that certainly won’t happen, but even if it did happen, then the atmospheric smog and aerosols from the combustion of fossil fuels that provide some cooling effects would dissipate from the skies over days to weeks to months, providing a likely rapid global warming impulse. I’ve been under the impression that the warming impulse would be of the order of 0.3–0.5 °C. See the YouTube video from time interval 1:38:33 to 1:38:48 here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QK2XLeGmHtE

    Dr. Ye Tao’s presentation (which I only became aware of in the last few days) suggests the latest data for a warming impulse from the dissipation of atmospheric aerosols would be higher, with a forcing of 1.6 ± 0.2 W m-², and climate sensitivity around 0.84 °C / (W m-²), that translates to something of the order of 1 °C. See Dr. Ye Tao’s presentation in the YouTube video in my previous comment from time interval 27:06 to 29:44.

    If Dr Tao’s evidence is correct, then it seems to me unless humanity includes some geoengineering, we are already ‘locked-in’ to more than 2 °C temperature rise. If Dr Tao’s evidence is correct, the question then is: What and how much geoengineering? As Dr Tao says: “Scientists and engineers have not been honest in discussing … We need to be open and honest if we’re really going to solve this.”

    David Spratt and Ian Dunlop discuss in their Aug 2018 report titled “What Lies Beneath: The Understatement of Existential Climate Risk” the “scientific reticence” of downplaying the risks, and highlight that an irreversible, adverse climate change on the global scale now occurring is already an existential risk to human civilisation.

    You also state: “It is all but guaranteed that geoengineering will have dreadful unforeseen consequences.”

    Perhaps we need to start to think the unthinkable? To be sure, geoengineering is high risk, but to avoid civilisation collapse, do we have the luxury to dismiss it outright now? This is not about endless growth – which is impossible on a finite planet. It’s about mitigating the extensive damage that’s already been done (by predominantly our, and to some extent earlier generations) and maintaining a habitable planet for future generations.

    The challenging question I see is: Would we be writing-off future generations by dismissing geoengineering? Something to ponder…

    Meanwhile, last week the IPCN approved (with conditions) the $3.6 billion Narrabri CSG Project and the Queensland government approved $1 billion Olive Downs met coal mine. Go figure!

  35. Real John Bull,
    You’ve resurfaced? Has JQ given you another chance? Are you going to play nice, or are you going to quickly descend into more personal abuse?

    “This young Japanese man.”
    Who, Dr. Ye Tao? Per Harvard profile, Chinese Canadian.
    Does it matter what his ancestry is? Is his age important? IMO, what’s important are the arguments presented.

    “He’s new to the field of climate science right?”
    It seems his background is in physics, if you’d bothered to check the Harvard Rowland Institute Fellow profile, eh RJB?
    What’s your background, RJB – science or non-science?

    “He got his graphs from Google right?”
    Did you actually watch the YouTube video, RJB? Given your question, highly unlikely. The citations are on the presentation slides, where it seems they are apparently all from science papers/journals.

    “Did he check them? Did he check if he was using honest data sets?”
    Have you asked him? No, of course not!
    Did you check the cited papers, RJB? No, of course not.
    Would you have the capacity to understand them?
    Your ongoing climate science denial is getting tiresome.

    “Now can you give me the take home story about the oysters?”
    Too lazy to watch the video yourself, RJB?

  36. FWIW, my understanding is a sudden cessation of fossil fuel burning might bring a short-lived warming spike from reduced aerosols, but ocean CO2 uptake would result in a significant drop in CO2 concentrations until Ocean-CO2 exchange approaches a new equilibrium, resulting in reduced ongoing global warming potential. The temperature would come back down, ending up close to the global mean when the FF use stopped. (From RealClimate.org and discussion at andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com )

  37. Worth reading:


    Geoengineering means more super-projects from the capitalist-industrial complex which brought us climate change in the first place. Why would anyone in their right mind trust those guys?

    David Attenbrough’s latest movie “A life on our planet” makes the appropriate suggestions. [1] Re-wild the planet, re-green the planet and consume less. That is to say, step one, leave the wilderness alone to recover. This means ceasing expansion and exploitation on the earth’s surface and in the oceans. Man needs to retreat from much wilderness and leave it alone to regenerate. We also need to retreat from the heights of consumer production, consume less, including less meat, and live on the earth with a smaller ecological footprint. At least 50% of every environment type, terrain type and Köppen climate type needs to be returned to the wild. These overlap but could mean returning up to to 60% of world environment to nature.

    The boundaries between tamed spaces and truly wild spaces will need to set up in a near hermetic manner. That is, entry into such wild spaces would off-limits to tourists and holidaymakers. Clearly, buffer zones and places of special interest would be exempt but entry would be controlled, limited and effected by low impact methods.

    Equally important is the issue of curtailing excess consumption. To curtail excess consumption, a system of consumption allowances would need to be set up. This would literally be a rationing system which limited environmental footprint allowances per person. Within that ration a person could choose what to use his or her allowance on. For example, I imagine the allowance would need to be strict enough to force a person to make a decision between owning an a medium-sized SUV and owning a medium-sized dog, since these each have about the same ecological footprint and owning both plus other more-necessaries would take a person, on a planet of eight to ten billion persons, well over the sustainable limit.

    Such draconian measures will prove necessary before long. It’s no use pretending they won’t. It’s time to face up to the facts now. A year ago nobody would have believed that the Australian budget would look like tonight’s budget (massive deficits a.k.a. money printing and fiscal stimulus). Equally, few yet believe that ecological footprint rationing will need to be implemented. It will and soon it will be received wisdom for a whole new generation, who won’t want to live on they dying planet the endless-growthers and geo-engineering spruikers are trying to bequeath on them.


    1. I would have liked an admission, a mea culpa, from David Attenbrough that his privileged jet-setting lifetyle and research / filming ventures meant that his own lifetime carbon emissions and ecological footprint had been way too high. Yes, there are mitigating circumstances and real positives from his work. Nevertheless, he ought to have addressed it. By contrast, Greta Thunberg realizes that an eco-campainger can no longer jet-set.

  38. If I plant one tree for the purpose of absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere it’s not geoengineering. But if I plant a million trees it is. If geoengineering is bad then either my planting one tree is bad or something magical happens at a certain number of trees which makes it somehow become bad. If ti is the latter then all we have to do is find out what that number is and never exceed it. That way we can have good sub-geoengineering instead of bad full blown geoengineering.

  39. AFAIK the use of oyster shells for liming the oceans is counter intuitive.

    These shells are essentially limestone and to convert limestone to lime you need to collect them, bake them in a very hot oven to convert to lime and then distribute the product. Throughout the process energy is required and carbon dioxide is released

    CaCO3 + heat = CaO + CO2

    Back to the drawing board.

  40. Ronald,

    Planting one tree is not geoengineering in the standard meaning of the term. Geoengineering is deliberate and large-scale intervention in the Earth’s climate system. One tree, or even a hundred trees, is not large scale, except in relation to local micro-climate. Reafforestation is the natural or intentional restocking of existing forests and woodlands (forestation) that have been depleted or cleared. Intentional reafforestation needs to be done on a large scale to qualify for the terms (reafforestation and geoengineering).

    Reafforestation can be a very positive process but only if handled correctly. Planting plantation mono-cultures, for example, is not ecologically sound reafforestation. Ecological reafforestation requires a lot of knowledge, planning and, quite literally, generational care. It means planting zone-appropriate species on the fringes of natural forest, doing so in a succession-gauged manner (plant succession), keeping pest species out, sometimes keeping unnatural fire events out if possible, sometimes keeping natural species out (to some extent) until an ecological balance is achieved, using indigenous knowledge plus scientific knowledge etc. etc. Reafforestation can also mean simply withdrawing human use and permitting an area to re-wild itself.

    Geoengineering is a term I would reserve for non-natural, technological approaches on a wide scale. But yes, wide-scale deliberate reafforestation by human action can be regarded as geoengineering or assisting healing, depending on the terminology one adopts. Done properly I would regard it as assisted natural ecological healing.

    So by all mean plant trees. I have planted dozens of trees on my one and a half acres, all Australian natives and most native to my local area. Some were planted 20 years ago and are already 30 meters high, at least. Soon, I intend to plant hundreds more plants including ground-covers, bushes and trees on my plot, also all S.E. Qld. natives. At the same time, I worry every summer now that one large bush-fire (perhaps unnaturally large and intense from climate change) will destroy everything. But presumably if I left all charcoal and reduced natural litter on site, as I would, and started re-planting I could keep sequestering carbon. Thus I could continue my self-congratulatory, Walter Mitty level climate-savior fantasies, along with my tiny real contribution (I hope) in the scheme of things.

    Note: I cribbed a few definitions from Wikipedia in paragraph one of this text.

  41. mrkenfabian,
    You state: “…a sudden cessation of fossil fuel burning might bring a short-lived warming spike from reduced aerosols…”

    The question I posit: How much of a “short-lived warming spike”? Could it be of sufficient duration to trigger other positive feed-back tipping points to kick-in and take over, on a path to a “Hothouse Earth”?

    A PNAS article titled “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene”, first published 6 Aug 2018, begins with:

    “We explore the risk that self-reinforcing feedbacks could push the Earth System toward a planetary
    threshold that, if crossed, could prevent stabilization of the climate at intermediate temperature rises and cause continued warming on a “Hothouse Earth” pathway even as human emissions are reduced. Crossing the threshold would lead to a much higher global average temperature than any interglacial in the past 1.2 million years and to sea levels significantly higher than at any time in the Holocene. We examine the evidence that such a threshold might exist and where it might be. If the threshold is crossed, the resulting trajectory would likely cause serious disruptions to ecosystems, society, and economies. Collective human action is required to steer the Earth System away from a potential threshold and stabilize it in a habitable interglacial-like state. Such action entails stewardship of the entire Earth System—biosphere, climate, and societies—and could include decarbonization of the global economy, enhancement of biosphere carbon sinks, behavioral changes, technological innovations, new governance arrangements, and transformed social values.”
    See: https://www.pnas.org/content/115/33/8252

    The authors suggest the planetary threshold could be 2°C, and beyond that “could activate important tipping elements (12, 17), raising the temperature further to activate other tipping elements in a domino-like cascade that could take the Earth System to even higher temperatures (Tipping Cascades).”

    The ‘take home’ message I take from that is: Keep well below a planetary 2°C mean temperature rise.

    You also state: “…ocean CO2 uptake would result in a significant drop in CO2 concentrations until Ocean-CO2 exchange approaches a new equilibrium…”

    How do you deal with the increasing ocean acidity and the effects it has on marine life?

    The report “What Lies Beneath: The Understatement of Existential Climate Risk” (referred in my previous comment) includes:

    “A prudent risk-management approach means a tough and objective look at the real risks to which we are exposed, especially those high-end events whose consequences may be damaging beyond quantification, and which human civilization as we know it would be lucky to survive. It is important to understand the potential of, and plan for, the worst that can happen, and be pleasantly surprised if it doesn’t. Focusing on middle-of-the-road outcomes, and ignoring the high-end possibilities, may result in an unexpected catastrophic event that we could, and should, have seen coming.”

  42. Our civil institutions and practices have plenty wrong with them, but our institutions have served us well, or served mostly okay or maybe just better than if we didn’t have them but seeking to get them better to do what they are there for makes sense to me – and ought not be a point of partisan contention. Strengthening accountability and oversight – I’d like to think better minds than mine do apply themselves to such things, that they are supported to do so.

    I don’t know of any evidence that our institutions have (in general) served us well, or mostly okay, or better than if we didn’t have them. (I’m confident it would be easy to find individual examples in which our institutions have produced good results, but I’m also confident it would be easy to find individual examples in which they have produced bad results: more than individual examples would be needed to justify drawing general conclusions.)

    I doubt it would be possible to find partisan disagreement with the idea that it would be good to improve our institutions: what there is partisan disagreement about is about which changes would count as improvements, and it’s not sensible to expect otherwise.

    The key to all forms of accountability and oversight is the power of dismissal. The easier it is to remove people from positions of power, the easier it is to oversee them and hold them accountable; the harder it is to remove them, the harder it is to oversee them and hold them accountable.

  43. Geoff Miell,

    The problem is that geoengineering on a large scale, other than careful but relatively rapid reafforestation (hat-tip to Ronald), is a Pandora’s box of unforeseen consequences. The chance that the final opening of the box will release “Hope” rather than a new catastrophe is vanishingly small.

    I hear “geoengineering” and I hear the sub-text of “We can keep over-consuming and trashing the planet because we will find a techno-fix sooner or later.” Well CCS failed abysmally to name one. Behind all that I hear a second sub-text, “Keep capitalism running no matter what. Heck, we the elite, can even make money trashing and then (supposedly) fixing the planet.”

    I see little from the careless use of technology to convince me to be a techno-optimist and make me feel confident about techno-fixing the planet, especially while capitalists still run everything. The best approaches are judicious use of scientific and technological knowledge for renewable energy, re-wilding, down-sizing carbon-footprint emissions and deliberately reducing wasteful consumption.

    The professional techno-fix advocacy crowd are mostly shills for the anti-ecological, capitalist-industrial and military-industrial complex. It seems hard for people as consumers to accept that they must simply consume less things and reduce carbon footprint. Very soon we will have to do that. Either we do it by democratic decision making, reflected back as socially-agreed, socially-enforced rationing or we do it by unleashing one catastrophe after another until we are dieing like flies.

    The Greek Myth term usually translated as Hope can also have the meaning of “deceptive expectation”. Geoengineering, of most types, is largely a deceptive hope.

  44. Geoff – I’m not sure I understand it all well enough to address your questions – for more detailed discussion you might need to take it to RealClimate and people more informed than me. I don’t claim it is “settled science”, but some well informed experts are saying temperatures should settle around the global temperature at the time emissions cease.

    That said it seems clear there isn’t any increase in rate of ocean take up of CO2 under such a scenario – what was occurring continues, initially at the same rate, decreasing over time (as atmospheric concentrations decline) instead of continuing undiminished or increasing over time with continuing emissions. The acidification problem will be solved, as much as it can be, by the cessation of emissions.

    How much of a warming spike? Can that take us past tipping points? I don’t really know. We are more likely to pass foreseeable tipping points by failing to bring down emissions; relying on a permanent state of air pollution produced by burning fossil fuels, to prevent warming, seems especially counterproductive. A bit like turning to gas over coal as a primary emissions reduction option, that locks in substantial future emissions. A rapid cessation that occurs later, in a world with higher CO2 levels and temperatures, would make such a triggering of trouble from tipping points more likely.

    Yes there are consequences to too rapid change – the basis of much denier promoted economic alarmist fear and opposition to displacing fossil fuels – but such a sudden cessation of their use is not going to happen and even most climate “activists” are not calling for rapid reductions in the absence of ongoing build of low emissions energy to replace it.

  45. There’s another angle to Dr Taos presentation, he uses Dr Google to locate any number of supporting peer reviewed studies and then says that on our current trajectory we will all see the end of life on this earth.

    However, those reviewing Roger Hallam’s claim that 6B people will die this century were unable to find any peer reviewed studies to support this claim.

    “I know of no climate model simulation or analysis in the quality peer-reviewed literature that provides any indication that there is a substantially non-zero probability of “starvation of 6 billion people this century” as a result of climate change.”


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