Climate Change

Foundations of Logic Group – Michael Ward asked – With so many doomsday scenarios being propagated about the consequences of global warning I am curious as to precisely what will actually happen and when.

The assumption I am making is that the train wreck will actually happen but how bad will it really be and what does humanity need to do afterwards for its survival.

Why assume the train wreck will happen?

Why not make the assumption that individuals can and do make a difference if they are sufficiently dedicated and lucky.

Smallpox was eradicated by a very small team.

Solutions are possible, but the dimensionality of the problem must be appreciated – it is largely a result of the system of values embodied in using markets to measure value, but the depth of complexity in that relationship seems too deep for many to appreciate, and the consequences challenging too many beliefs for the idea to take hold in many minds.

On the plus side, there can be some useful simplifications that seem to work well enough to be appreciated by most.

[followed by ]

One needs a perspective over deep time.

Over the time that humans have existed, the average sea level change has been about 1m per century.
Over the time that humans have had writing (about 40 centuries) sea level has been relatively stable – that is not a typical period in geological time.
In order to be able to build a sea trading civilization, we needed stable sea level, to be able to build ports and all the associated infrastructure and not have them useless in a single generation,

In relatively recent geological time sea level has been 140m below where it is now and up to 40m above where it is now.
If we do nothing more to alter things (highly improbable), then current changes to atmospheric CO2 will eventually result in about 17m of sea level rise.

Given that our computational ability has been exponentially expanding for over 100 years (at least since 1890 and probably well before that), and seems likely to continue for at least the next 30 years if we manage to keep the system together, then it seems probable that we will be able to fully automate all essential processes of manufacture and distribution of all essential functions (food, water, housing, energy, healthcare, etc and all the production and maintenance of the machinery associated therewith) by about 2032. Once a single such fully automated system is produced, if it takes it 2 weeks to copy itself, then we can have enough for every person on the planet to have one within 2 years.

For reasons of heat associated with the final stages of such a rapid growth, the process needs to happen off planet, and the resulting products can then be bought back to earth.

Having such productive capacity in space will then give us the ability to manage the amount of solar energy reaching the earth, and thus maintain sea levels at recent levels.

A lot of large scale infrastructure can be rapidly deployed in this fashion, with the high temps required for manufacturing done off planet, then the final product bought back to earth for final assembly. Plenty of mass on the far side of the moon to do all we reasonably need to be done for security.

The hard bit is human behaviour, particularly population control. Indefinite growth is not an option. Family sizes need to come down to one child per family reasonably quickly.

If one thinks exponentially, then the problem space is very different.

Indefinite life extension, and close to perfect health is reasonably simple to deliver to everyone, once fully automated production is available.

It is a world unlike anything in history.
Real choice.
Real responsibility.

Consequences are real.

Choice is not about freedom from consequences, it is about the ability to bring about change in reality by selecting one set of consequences over other potential candidates.

[followed by]

All those things are true enough Mark, but all are only probabilistic links to solar energy. If we actively manage the solar energy reaching the earth at a reasonably fine scale, then all such things become merely matters of historical interest.

The sun does lots of scary things, like Carrington events. We need to design systems to survive and recover from such things, we are unlikely to have any significant probability of influencing their occurrence any time soon (too many unknowns and unknowables present). All that is doable, and needs to be done – sooner rather than later.

[followed by Michael wrote “Sorry Ted but for the time being if you don’t mind I’ll ignore off-world solutions which I think are most unlikely and just kicks this can down the road.”]

Hi Michael,

Off world solutions are the only sort possible.

They are simple in a sense, once we achieve fully automated production – but impossible without it.

Once we produce a set of fully automated systems capable of mining and manufacturing all of their components, including solar cells – we are in business. If that set of systems weighs 2T, and it takes 2 weeks to do a replication (marine algae can do it in a day), then all we need to do is soft land one of those systems on the moon, and get it going.
In a little under 2 years it has covered the surface of the moon with solar cells.
The moon has no atmosphere, so mass can be accelerated to escape velocity by linear motors on the surface. Put mass back into earth orbit. In a little over three years the problem is managed.

It takes exponential thinking.

The power of something doubling in a short period is great.

It is not an end to all problems, there will always be problems – that is the nature of an infinite space of possible systems; and it is an end to most of the old problems that have plagued humanity and life more generally since both began.

There is no security without going into space.

Look at Toba, Yellowstone, Taupo or Chicxulub, Hudson Bay, etc.

When the possibility of indefinite biological life is present, then one starts to consider all of the threats to living a very long time, and all of the mitigation strategies possible. I have been doing that since 1974. Not sure how many sets of candidate strategies considered, well into the thousands, probably short of a million.

Fully automated systems change everything.
Just think about our atmosphere.
It contains free oxygen.
It isn’t methane and ammonia any longer.
A bacterium did that, as a mechanism to gain advantage over its anaerobic competitors. A tiny little fully automated replicator – changed the entire atmosphere and geology of a planet. We are just a byproduct of that in a sense.

There is no security without establishing technology in space.
There is no security without global level cooperation that acknowledges the value of individual life and individual freedom at the same time as it acknowledges social and ecological responsibility (and those are dynamic evolving concepts – not things that can be codified by fixed rules).
There is no security without the dynamic of the eternal exploration of the unexplored – the known vs the unknown, order vs chaos.
There is no security in a system based on a scarcity based measure of value (markets and money) when fully automated production is available. Scarcity based values can only value universal abundance at zero or less; and thus demand poverty for the masses. If this doesn’t change – there is no survival – extinction is a given.

So yeah – we have issues, we need to do stuff, and we can do stuff.

One conversation at a time.

[followed by Michael asked to go back to the narrow topic of Climate Change.]

The defining characteristic of humans is that we can change behaviour when we see a need.

Positing that we will not change technology, when the defining attribute of our age is exponentially changing technology, is not at all reasonable or useful.

Might as well discuss how many angels can dance on the head of a pin for all the use it does.

[followed by]

Hi Michael,

The problem with any modeling is the number of dimensions one adds to the model, and the degrees of freedom one allows in any dimension. Things rapidly get to very large numbers, and the probability landscapes become too highly dimensional for many to have much idea, and too difficult to compute in any reasonable time.

I’ve had quite a bit to do with MCMC (Monte Carlo Markov Chain) simulations in fisheries modelling, and even tiny changes in the constraints one places on different dimensions can massively change the final probability distributions. It is yet another of those “seriously, non-trivial” problems.

Just how many threats are you willing to consider?
How seriously are you willing to look at the probabilities?
How resistant are you to severe anxiety attacks?
How much are you prepared to have the foundational security of your world view undermined by consideration of interpretations you had not previously encountered?

A few years ago my wife had an extreme anxiety attack that rendered her incapable of action in reality for an extended period (many days). I suspect that her knowledge of the threat sets and mitigation strategies that I was working on were a big part of that. She is still dealing with the consequences.

I don’t know how far you want to go into the threats facing us, or the opportunities – both are exponentially expanding. Both are far larger than I could communicate in books or videos, let alone this short post.

Many of the classical assumptions of our social organisation and the conceptual frameworks in common use are now not just simply wrong, but themselves posing real risk.

Anything published by the IPCC is at the lowest impact end of the scale of probable consequences – in a continue as we are type set of projections. It will almost certainly be much worse if we do not act.

The big question is not about the need to act differently (that is beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt in my mind – has been for a long time – I bought land and planted 35 acres of trees 23 years ago – to offset my carbon emissions – a small but real gesture).
The big question is the sorts of conceptual and strategic frameworks that actually deliver the greatest probability of survival and the greatest degrees of freedom and empowerment individually. That is a very deep set of conjectures and involves the reinterpretation of many sets of evidence.

If the northern waters start to warm at depth, and the methane on the sea floor starts to release, then it could quite literally be like popping the top on a champagne bottle, with a quite literal explosive release of massive amounts of methane, and things get very much hotter very quickly for the planet, but could get much colder for some parts of the US and Europe if the thermal haline circulation that maintains the Gulf Stream is interrupted.

How would things go if all shipping and port infrastructure, world wide, became unusable over a 5 year period due to 3m sea level rise? That could happen with a worst case rapid increase in speed of movement of Antarctic glaciers due to lubrication by the penetration of surface melt-water – but that is a very low probability scenario at present.

But sea level rise really isn’t the problem, its only a symptom.
The problem is energy.

Oil is cheap.
Saudi oil is almost free to produce. Fully capitalized cost of production is under 1c per liter FOB the port.
In an internal combustion engine 1 liter of oil can do the same amount of physical work that a man can do in a day.

Most other sources of oil are much more expensive – hence the huge profits available to those involved in Saudi Oil (mostly American companies).

Even at $2 a liter, you cannot feed a hard working man on $2 a day, let alone grow and train him.

The productivity of our western lifestyle is built on this “cheap energy”.

The people making the huge profit from Saudi oil don’t want it to go away, and have a great deal of economic and political clout from all that money. That is all perfectly understandable self interest in a sense.

The problem is, what are the long term consequences?

Those making the most profit are most interested in delaying any transition to alternative energy sources, and have the most resources to promote that outcome.

Looked at from the larger scale, it takes a lot of energy to transition the energy infrastructure.
If you wait until energy shortages start forcing ecological or social collapse, before making significant efforts to transition, then there will not be enough time or energy to achieve transition, and we get systemic collapse.

Looked at strategically, all expansion in the complexity of systems is predicated on cooperative behaviour, and cooperation has several necessary preconditions, one of which is sufficient resources for all. If we do genuinely get into a situation where there is not enough for all, and humanity generally goes from cooperative to competitive mode, then not many people will survive that (worst case, none). We just have too much technology which is too good at killing things, weapons, automation, biotech, AI, etc.

So global warming is a side issue to the real issue which is global energy strategy, and the maintenance of globally cooperative behavioural modalities (and the bureaucratic systems we all live in are predicated on fundamentally cooperative behaviour – that is beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt), and the delivery of a reasonably high standard of living to every person on the planet.

And underlying the problem with global energy strategy is the value structure within which decisions are made. The numbers in those equations tend to come from market measures of value, and market value is predicated on scarcity, and cannot give a positive value to universal abundance of anything.

Thus the system of exchange values (markets and money and all their very complex and important distributed derivative functions) that has arguably served us reasonably well for the last few centuries is now, in the presence of technology that allows the production of universal abundance, the single greatest source of threat to the survival and freedom of individuals.

So yes – global warming is real.
Yes – energy problems are real.
Both are relatively trivial to solve with fully automated production.
Fully automated production breaks the market/money system, and many people are very resistant to that idea.

So global warming is real, and a side show.

The real issue is what do we value.

Is it:

1/ individual life and individual liberty – responsibly exercised in social and ecological contexts – [Has my vote]; or
2/ continue basing key decisions on money as a prime value measure – [with a very high probability of extinction as a result]; or
3/ centralised control and 1984 style serfdom for the masses [survivable biologically but not intellectually – except for a very tiny few who actually know what is going on].

Those seem to be the major modalities available to us.

Everything else is essentially distraction and side show, however real it may be.

[followed by]

That is a question well worth looking at.

That is a far more useful set of variables than a simple linear climate projection.

Why would we need resource based wars?
What are the conditions?
At the simplest level, it would be a lack that could be addressed by war. That would mean a reasonable assessment that it was possible to win a war, or that without a war death was probable.
What sort of resources might we fight over?
Food?
If one is living on a plant based diet, then it takes about 500m2 of surface area to feed a person on a plant based diet (I have been vegan for 9 years now – it does work). Using existing crops, intensive micromanaged farming we could feed 30 billion on half the habitable land (leaving the other half in natural condition. If we also occupy ocean on a similar basis, then it is a limiting case of about 100 billion. That does require change of diet for most. That is based on existing photosynthesis which is about 1.5% efficiency of energy conversion. With a little genetic engineering we could easily push photosynthesis to about 7% efficiency in controlled conditions with existing plants. If we push for fully engineered plants, then we can probably achieve 20% efficiency of solar energy to carbon bonds. That would up the limit of humans to about 600 billion.

Materials.
In terms of metals, structural stuff like iron and aluminum are plentiful, and the rare earths are by definition rare, but we haven’t actually evolved to need much of them (funny that ).
If we were to take just 1m (3ft) depth from 10% of the land area, that would give 500T of iron and 3T of aluminum per person. We are not short of useful mass.

So why else might we fight resource wars?

Oh yeah – money based thinking requires scarcity. Make it more scarce to drive the price up (what else are IP laws). That might get some people really pissed off. That could do it!!!

You see where that is going – I trust. ….

Borders.
Interesting and essential idea, if used appropriately.

Let’s look at a human body.
We are each a single entity in a recognizable sense, but we are each made of about 10,000 times as many cells as there are people on the planet. Each of those cells is an independent entity with its own cell wall and metabolic system, yet they are all cooperating, and sharing resources, to create the entity we recognize as us.

Within us, we have many levels of borders. We have organs, we have blood vessels, we have nerves.
Those are also essential sub collections with their own sets of specialized activities, and they are part of the cooperative whole.
Yes they have boundaries.
Yes those boundaries, and their degrees of flexibility and permeability are important.
Hard boundaries don’t work in complex systems, they become brittle and break. In complex systems boundaries need to be flexible in many different dimensions simultaneously.
Getting overly simplistic and rigid about boundaries is a recipe for systemic failure.

Human beings are the most cooperative species on the planet.

Our success is based on cooperation.

The myth that success is achieved by competition is just that – pure myth.
It has no basis in science, if you actually look deeply at the science.

All new levels of complexity in evolved systems is the result of new levels of cooperation.

The idea that evolution is all about competition is pure myth.

Sure, evolution has its competitive side, that is true.
What most don’t get is that competitive evolution always reduces complexity, and drives systems to simplicity.

Competition is the exact opposite of freedom or creativity.

But people have been blinded by an overly simplistic understanding of an extremely complex set of systems (that evolution actually is). It can start simple, but it rapidly gets very complex.

Probably enough for one post, and I am aware that I have only skimmed the surface of small subset of the issues you raised.

[followed by]

Hi Michael,

We agree that climate is a very complex system, with many different drivers, some of which are not predictable.
We agree that the human contribution to change in climate is only one part of that very complex system.
Where we seem to disagree is on the degree of contribution the human part makes.

What is beyond any argument is that human impacts have nearly doubled the CO2 content of the atmosphere. CO2 is the longest lived of the greenhouse gasses, and can make a significant contribution to the overall system.
It seems to me very probable, having looked at multiple scenarios, and many sets of evidence, that the human contribution is significant, and we need to take rather urgent action to mitigate the effects.
Where you and I probably agree is that the action currently being proposed by many is not appropriate. Using market forces to reduce standards of living is not a great way to approach this problem – it will fail for a large collection of very complex reasons – many of which I have touched upon in this thread.

Your claim that “everyone fights over resources” is clearly wrong.

I have never fought over resources.
I live in a country where we have agreements about how we manage resources, and people work within those agreements or face various levels of social sanctions.
No fights.
That difference is crucial.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki are an interesting case.
The work that produced the bombs that were used on those cities was done by a group of people cooperating at very high levels.

Sure there was a threat – a set of fascist regimes threatening the very idea of freedom of individuals, that many levels of awareness could agree was a common problem. And the strategies that were used post WW1 that created that situation need to be examined in depth to understand the dynamics of that situation.

And actually – No – wars do not accelerate innovation, they merely change the focus of what is being innovated.
When you do a broad spectrum analysis, the rate of innovation does not vary with wars (except as a function of scarcity).

We agree that population control is required – I have stated that many times. But going vegetarian buys us time to make the necessary changes. That is the point.

And one more thing to seriously consider.
If we create conditions that drive any of the major countries to all out war, just think about the consequences.
It doesn’t take many Nucs in the ionosphere to destroy all electrical and electronic infrastructure. No electrical grid, no transformers, no vehicles, no refrigeration, no starter motors, no electronic ignition, no radios, no computers, no satellites, etc.
Any of the major nuclear powers can do that to everyone.

If the biotech weapons get released, then there may be a few thousand people left alive, world wide.
All out war is not something that is survivable.
Back to the stone age – overnight.

Your economy leading to war if food prices rise I agree with.
That is why we need to keep food prices down.

Your claim that nations can exist independently I question.
In a sense yes, but with what level of technology?
Is there any nation that could maintain its current systems if all international trade was stopped?
I think not.
None!

We are one big interconnected whole.

That is the physical/cultural reality right now.

If we break that, we drop back to being something much less than we are right now. Can you imagine life without technology.

If you want to see where we will be in 50 years, then you need to look at the most important trends.

Without doubt, the most important trend is the exponential increase in technological capability.

Ignore that, and everything else is pure fantasy.

[followed by]

Hi Michael,

CO2 – about 280 ppm pre industrial, now about 410 – not quite double but close.

I was skeptical, but not any more. I’m 90%+ confident that CO2 from fossil fuels is an issue in several different ways – including ocean acidity and atmospheric warming and sea level rise – the science on all three is robust, and sure there is no shortage of zealots in the arena who want to use it as an excuse for central control of everything – I’m not one of those.

On warfare – sure, no shortage of limited scale conflicts, but all out open warfare – no – not that. Everyone is keeping the gloves on.
If the gloves come off, there wont be many left.

Buying time is part of the solution.
Sure, yes – none of the “Green Energy” is yet mature – it needs further development. And we need that development. I put solar cells on the roof of my house in the full knowledge of that.
I don’t get any incentives. I buy power at 24c/KWHr and sell excess to the grid at 6c/KWHr – not a great deal.
Not a lot of subsidy in this country.

We need better batteries, based on cheap chemistry – probably sodium based. Lithium might be generally useful if we can figure out a way to mine it from the ocean effectively, but there isn’t enough in the ground to do what we need.
Need a chemistry that is more abundant. Several possibilities with sodium – the liquid metal version is interesting – but not yet scaled to full commercial reality, and there are still some issues with aspects of the electrode chemistry.
And they are being worked on.

And my point remains, that there is no way to create replacements in a pure market situation. Oil is just too cheap, and the profits too high, for anything else to be a threat, unless there is real public demand that it be done.

In this context, market forces will lead to destruction if allowed to prevail.

[followed by]

Yeah – I even went so far as to put a little money into LPPFusion – because it may have some realistic hope.

Would be nice if it can work.

Solar is easier to scale, and it keeps the reactor at a safe distance 😉

[followed by]

The ocean can hold a lot more thermal energy than the atmosphere.

The amount of thermal energy in the ocean is going up significantly (and in the atmosphere).

The amount of CO2 in both ocean and atmosphere is going up.

We are making significant changes to the system.
We (you, me everyone) need to look at lots of datasets, establish lots of trust relationships with lots of communities, and each come to our own estimations of the likely probabilities of the importance and implications of what we observe and judge.

For me, having been doing that actively for the last 45 years, I am clear beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, that human activity in the use of fossil fuels is having significant effects on the ocean and atmosphere that we need to start actively doing something about if we want to have a reasonable probability of living a reasonably long time with reasonable degrees of freedom. (And for me a long time is 1,000 years plus.)

In that scenario, in the presence of exponentially expanding automation and AI, reliance on linear trends from the past is not a useful or appropriate response.

It is a very complex issue, and is tightly coupled to other very complex issues around values, valences, politics and culture.

Over simplification of that complexity might “feel good”, but is unlikely to assist in generating reasonable survival probabilities.

[followed by Richard asked “Would anybody who is not a trained climatologist be able to evaluate the models that they use?”]

Just because someone is unfamiliar with any particular language or syntax does not mean that the person is unfamiliar with any particular set of relationships or constructs embodied in any particular set of symbols. They may be very familiar with the concepts, but not that specific expression of them. Holding that distinction clearly is advisable in any conversation where one suspects that other parties to the conversation may have reasonable intelligence and experience.

[followed by]

Hi Richard,

Depends how you define “trained”.

I don’t do formal training well (my learning styles aren’t a good fit to most formal systems).

I am mostly self trained in this sense, in most things. Self trained in the sense that I explore the work and lessons of others in my own way, following my particular interests in my own time.

So certainly, people who want to make much sense of these models need to have put several thousand hours work into understanding systems, models, complexity, highly dimensional systems, chemistry, physics, meteorology. And in all of these things, there is no real substitute for experience.

I ran a commercial fishing vessel for 17 years (which gives a reasonable experience set and interest in weather), and I was also a keen pilot for 20 years – which is a different set of practical perspectives on weather.

So yes – difficult.

Few people in the business have enough experience in practice – they tend to be too tightly focused on their area of specialist interest.

So – not at all simple – at any level.

Most often one encounters far too much hubris and far too little humility in such discussions.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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