Living in Liquid Worlds

I spent yesterday at a workshop – organised by Dominic Hinde – at the Institute for Advanced studies in the Humanities. The title of the workshop was Living in Liquid Worlds. The idea was to bring together scholars from different disciplines to discuss the huge environmental and technological changes at the centre of the human-earth relationship. In this context, liquidity (I think) refers to the idea that society continually evolves/flows and the people are somehow embedded in this flow (at least, I think this is what it is – I may well have this wrong).

The morning session revolved around a presentation by Mark Deuze, Professor of Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam, and author of Media Life. His argument was that we essentially live in media; it’s an integral part of our existence. He presented quite a positive view of media, although it might have been more that it was neither good, nor bad, than it specifically being good.

He discussed many things, but the thing that struck me was the concept of transmedia; telling a story across many different platforms. An example would Marvel, which includes many movies, TV shows, comic books, etc. One aspect is thinking big, but starting small. Additionally, every component tries to stick to the same basic story, but what happens in one can then influence how the story on another platform might have to evolve.

I did wonder if this has some applications in science communication. There is definitely a sense that people have strongs views about how we should undertake science communication. It might be better if we accepted that there are many different ways to contribute to telling this story. Sarah Myhre is comfortable telling some personal stories. Katherine Hayhoe often focuses on engaging with those who are most likely to be dismissive about anthropogenically-driven climate change. Others focus more on presenting the scientific evidence. There are also many on Twitter, for example, who engage in various different ways. Maybe we need to do a better job of recognising that we’re all part of the same storyline; we’re just engaging in different, but complementary, ways.

The afternoon session involved a presentation by Philip Garnett who recently published a paper called Total Systemic Failure (which he discusses in this post). Essentially, in complex systems the failure of one part of that system could lead to a significant change in the overall behaviour of that system, or – potentially – to its total collapse. One example would be the banking crisis, that started in 2008 and which required a large injection of money in order to prevent collapse.

Another potential example would be changes to our climate having knock on effects (on ecosystems, for example) which lead to some kind of global collapse/failure. This possibility was discussed in his paper, and I was surprised that there wasn’t a bigger response from the usual suspects. One issue is that we don’t actually know what changes could then trigger some kind of systemic collapse, or even if this is necessarily likely. I guess we have to hope that the potential loss of summer Arctic sea ice and the Great Barrier Reef doesn’t have significant consequences beyond the local ecosystems.

Anyway, I’ve said enough. It was interesting day, which has given me lots of things to think about. It was also fascinating to discover that there are people in many different disciplines who are looking at various aspects of environmental change. It would probably be good if this was better known and if there were more links between the different disciplines. This workshop may have been a step in that direction.

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49 Responses to Living in Liquid Worlds

  1. Russell Seitz (@RussellSeitz) says:

    Katharine Kayhoe can rejoice in losing one part of her audience- The White House has reportedly axed EPA Administrator Pruitt’s long touted Red Team exercise

  2. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Better known by whom? Climate scientists like yourself or the world at large?

  3. Vinny,
    Anyone who is interested.

  4. entropicman says:

    We need a better understanding of the response of how our complex civilization responds to pressure.

    A ropadope is coming as we are hit by overpopulation, resource depletion and climate change. Between them, there may be enough stress to trigger total system failure.

    If there are strategies to avoid or mitigate that collapse, we need to know them.

    We are the first hi-tech civilization on the planet. It would be a shame to be the last.

  5. Everett F Sargent says:

    “I did wonder if this has some applications in science communication. There is definitely a sense that people have strong views about how we should undertake science communication. … Others focus more on presenting the scientific evidence.”
    (note “strongs views” in the main body of your text should be “strong views”)

    Survey: Most people don’t understand science, want their kids to do it
    https://arstechnica.com/science/2018/03/survey-most-people-dont-understand-science-want-their-kids-to-do-it/

    Perhaps the key to understanding science communication, is to understand that most people don’t understand science and that most of human society is innumerate.

    Perhaps regression to the mean is the best way forward?

  6. Steven Mosher says:

    “A ropadope is coming as we are hit by overpopulation, resource depletion and climate change. Between them, there may be enough stress to trigger total system failure.”

    Scary stories do not work for distant issues.

    there are exceptions, of course.

  7. Steven,

    Scary stories do not work for distant issues.

    there are exceptions, of course.

    My impression (without much evidence, I will admit) is that scary stories can work if politicians want to use them. “War on terror”, “war on drugs”, etc. If there is no political will/interest, then they don’t really work.

  8. Steven Mosher says:

    Fear stories work best when.
    1. fear is the only emotion evoked ( not for example sympathy or fear for others)
    2. The threat is immediate
    3. The threat is close

    If X tells me a story that ATTP might be in danger from a bear next next year, I dont actually
    feel the fear. I may feel concern or sympathetic fear, but I dont actually experience fear.

    we can discuss evolution and feelings but they are ‘just so’ stories.

    why does this work?

  9. Steven Mosher says:

    for war on terror and war on drugs write down who is threatened ,when ,by what.
    and then name the emotion evoked. do the same for climate.

    duarte is waging a war on drugs.is his story a fear narrative or anger? if the story has sadness then its close kin with anger.

    the war on terror is a fear/ courage or fear protection narrative.

    climate war is guilt/ sacrifice. thats the real narrative. hard to sell guilt. best take some lessons from religion.

  10. zebra says:

    “A ropadope is coming as we are hit by overpopulation, resource depletion and climate change. Between them, there may be enough stress to trigger total system failure.”

    Scary stories do not work for distant issues.

    Look, no scary story!

    On the previous current post, I said that denying what we know (scientifically) about human behavior, economics, and so on, is denial, just like denying physics.

    The first step in solving a problem (or “design” or “engineering”, if you like) is making a clear statement of goals. The second is to be realistic about what is possible given the characteristics of the system.

    I observe that my estimate of 150 years to reach the median of CO2 emissions has gone unchallenged. So let’s see if another projection works:

    If you cut the population of the USA in half, you would reduce total USA emissions by 75%.

    (This may be unique to the USA, but it is illustrative of the principle.)

  11. Magma says:

    I was expecting something about life on (theoretical) water-covered planets. Grumble.

    Try ‘fluid’ and ‘fluidity’ next time, esteemed colleagues in the humanities. You’re the ones who are supposed to be better with words, remember?

  12. Magma,
    You’re not the only one who thought that. Maybe I should write something about water worlds.

  13. Steven Mosher says:

    entropicman:“A ropadope is coming as we are hit by overpopulation, resource depletion and climate change. Between them, there may be enough stress to trigger total system failure.”

    Scary stories do not work for distant issues.

    there are exceptions, of course.

    Resource depletion, such as in conventional crude oil is a distant issue, as in distant in the past. Of all the countries that have produced oil, the majority of them are well past their most productive years. They’ve moved on and gotten a head start on renewable technologies, and perhaps that’s why they aren’t hung-up on debating climate change.

  14. BBD says:

    Yes, like Magma, was expecting a post on Enceladus and Europa 🙂

    @Zebra

    I observe that my estimate of 150 years to reach the median of CO2 emissions has gone unchallenged.

    What’s the point in challenging hand-waving?

  15. entropicman says:

    I’m afraid I agree with Steve Mosher.

    Intellectually I am aware that as a civilization we will be in serious trouble by the end of the century. Emotionally I find it hard to care because it will be my great-grandchildren’s problem.

    Humanity finds it difficult to get excited about distant problems. We only react when the problem is urgent and immediate.Nobody ever listens to Cassandra.

  16. Dave_Geologist says:

    Perhaps regression to the mean is the best way forward?

    If only. Bearing in mind that in a right-skewed distribution, the mean is larger than the median 😉

  17. Windchaser says:

    Fear stories work best when.
    1. fear is the only emotion evoked ( not for example sympathy or fear for others)
    2. The threat is immediate
    3. The threat is close

    4. The threat is a familiar threat to one’s values. E.g., “Muslims are a threat to the Western way of life” is a familiar line among conservatives, so poking that (established) fear works better for soliciting a response than trying to create a new fear.
    5. The fear response has been recently “sensitized”. E.g., it’ll be easier to use new intel to provoke military action against a terrorist state shortly after a terrorist attack than under normal times. (This is a corollary to #2).

  18. Windchaser says:

    Honestly, half the problem is that many humans need to have an emotional response to an issue before they take action.

    Should be able to logically recognize a problem and deal with it logically, even without actually ever getting fearful. A problem being abstract shouldn’t be a hindrance to mustering the motivation to solve it.

    Yeah, yeah, you can think I’m silly for railing against human nature… but this tendency really is a problem for us as a species.

  19. Steven Mosher says:

    “Intellectually I am aware that as a civilization we will be in serious trouble by the end of the century. Emotionally I find it hard to care because it will be my great-grandchildren’s problem.

    Humanity finds it difficult to get excited about distant problems. We only react when the problem is urgent and immediate.Nobody ever listens to Cassandra.’

    If your ancestors had not been especially tuned into immediate threats… you would not be here.

    interesting sidenote; Long ago we were exploring how to get a pilots attention with a verbal warning system. in flight is basically sensory overload. So if you have an audible warning system people will just ignore it.

    Our research showed that a female voice spatially located behind the pilot was hardest to ignore

    more recent research challenges this (at least the gender part). But at the time we thought it made sense on evolutionary grounds, the threat you could not see directly behind you required immediate attention.

  20. Steven Mosher says:

    Honestly, half the problem is that many humans need to have an emotional response to an issue before they take action.

    Should be able to logically recognize a problem and deal with it logically, even without actually ever getting fearful. A problem being abstract shouldn’t be a hindrance to mustering the motivation to solve it.

    Yeah, yeah, you can think I’m silly for railing against human nature… but this tendency really is a problem for us as a species.
    ##################################

    if you know what you are doing you can make logic emotional

    and now you know how to tell the ‘walk the talk’ story better and why it matters.

  21. zebra says:

    “People don’t respond to distant problems, emotional response, types of fear…yadda yadda.”

    Then, how do you explain those Chinese women?

    There’s something remarkably Puritanical about the mindset of many Climate Hawks:

    They claim to believe that ACC is a serious problem, and say they wish to “solve” it. But apparently, if the solution doesn’t involve a kind of religious conversion, and some kind of suffering and sacrifice… well then, never mind, I guess.

    The Chinese women who chose to have one child, un-coerced, and contrary to pressure from the government, are making a great contribution to reducing CO2 emissions over the next centuries. Again, it is very simple math; the effect is non-linear and synergistic.

    But, it doesn’t count, because they are not doing it “for the cause”?

    If you take the problem seriously, as I do, you need to let go of that investment in righteousness and find ways to shift the paradigm, even if you don’t “get credit” for “winning the argument”.

  22. Dave_Geologist says:

    in flight is basically sensory overload. So if you have an audible warning system people will just ignore it.

    I saw a documentary years ago about the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant where they took the opposite approach. In critical areas they had an alarm beeping all the time. The alarm went silent when there was trouble. The theory was that the absence of something familiar got peoples’ attention more than one more flashing light or beep.

    (Although there was that time I took the batteries out of a Geiger counter because it wouldn’t stop chattering… Not quite as crazy as it sounds. We took it outside and it was still chattering. It was at the height of the Cold War crisis over Poland, so we reckoned that either (a) the Geiger counter was broken or (b) WWIII had started and a bit of laboratory radiation was the least of our worries. We did carry on working for a day or two while waiting for a new Geiger counter, which was not particularly smart…)

    Maybe that can be extended to AGW. People notice more when something is lost, than when an existing phenomenon gets slightly worse. When the Great Barrier Reef is finally declared extinct, and the only polar bears are in zoos, it will have more impact than 30,000 killed in Bangladesh vs. 20,000 a decade ago.

    Hence, perhaps, the avalanche of deniers pushing Crockford earlier in the year.

  23. Dave_Geologist says:

    They claim to believe that ACC is a serious problem, and say they wish to “solve” it. But apparently, if the solution doesn’t involve a kind of religious conversion, and some kind of suffering and sacrifice… well then, never mind, I guess.

    Is that a real Thing, or a straw-man myth invented by lairs and naively bought into by people who like the cut of the liar’s jib? I’m inclined to think it’s the latter, in which case it’s a tough ask to fix an imaginary failing in order to persuade people who believe in imaginary stuff because politics or because religion to believe in real stuff.

  24. Steven Mosher says:

    crockford.hmm

    explain why stories about bears work or dont work. what emotion is used. and who does this apppeal to.

  25. BBD says:

    Then, how do you explain those Chinese women?

    According to the NYT article:

    about 40 percent of respondents who had no children said they did not want to have any, and nearly 63 percent of working mothers with one child said they did not want to have another one. The women surveyed said that the main reasons for these positions were lack of time and energy, the expense of raising children and “concerns over career development.”

    I’m not really sure where you are going with this. In terms of emissions growth the issue isn’t so much total population as increasing consumerism and per capita energy use – something very evident in China.

    The Chinese women who chose to have one child, un-coerced, and contrary to pressure from the government, are making a great contribution to reducing CO2 emissions over the next centuries. Again, it is very simple math; the effect is non-linear and synergistic.

    It really depends on how much energy the children and their descendants use during their lifetimes compared to the per capita energy use of their parents.

  26. Steven Mosher says:

    “If you take the problem seriously, as I do, you need to let go of that investment in righteousness and find ways to shift the paradigm, even if you don’t “get credit” for “winning the argument”.”

    ya. a universal basic income in exchange for sterilization.

    i suppose when the weight of social welfare programs for the elderly crush their grand children financially ,those kids will have two gripes. they will be broke in a hotter world.

  27. zebra says:

    @Steven Mosher,

    No idea what you are talking about there– same as on a previous comment, you don’t answer directly but make some cryptic analogy.

    The women in question do not receive a UBI, and they were obviously not sterilized by the government– rather, the government is actively promoting higher birthrate.

    The business about “social welfare programs for the elderly” is just standard right-wing propaganda– they also argue that “social welfare programs for the young” are “crushing” older people.

  28. zebra says:

    @Dave-Geologist,

    No, I’m making an observation based on various comment threads, obviously anecdotal…as I said, “many”, not all.

    It’s fascinating and fun to learn about all that CO2-in-wells stuff you wrote about, but it is also completely irrelevant if there is no political mechanism to enforce the execution. On the other hand, if we work with human nature– as in the example of the Chinese women– there is a chance to overcome the opposition.

    If you reduced the population of the US by half, emissions would be reduced by 75%. And, contrary to the right-wing propaganda, everyone would be more prosperous, not less. But, this does not require any acknowledgement of ACC, so it is not considered as a “solution” by many who comment on the topic.

  29. BBD says:

    If you reduced the population of the US by half, emissions would be reduced by 75%.

    Citation needed.

  30. Dave_Geologist says:

    If you reduced the population of the US by half, emissions would be reduced by 75%.

    Citation needed.

    Perhaps if you reduced it by the right half. If you reduced it by the wrong half, they’d increase by 50% 😉

  31. Dave_Geologist says:

    @zebra

    On the other hand, if we work with human nature– as in the example of the Chinese women– there is a chance to overcome the opposition.

    But, per BBD, the Chinese women said they were doing it for selfish reasons, not because they’d been persuaded to cut CO2 emissions and save the planet.

    What’s your USP to someone who refuses to believe AGW is real because God promised Noah he’d never send another flood? Or that’s it’s punishment for legalising gay marriage? Or who’s agin anything that makes librulz happy, and is prepared to hurt himself to do so (per “just punishment” studies, in humans and other primates).

    Of course those are mostly a North American, and to a lesser extent wider Anglophone, thing. Still, the RoW is heading for 3 deg C by 2100 on current trajectories so more does need to be done globally. Incremental change can work though, as long as there isn’t a sudden shock that gets voters’ attention. The frog-in-a-saucepan-of-water idea. If the EU suddenly banned all petrol and diesel cars there would be an outcry. But signal it far enough in the future (and allow hybrids as a transition) and people don’t feel the pain. Indeed if the signal is strong enough and early enough, the market may deliver without pain.

    The USA appears intractable from this side of the pond I’m afraid. The kid who’ll kick and scream in the back of the car all the way to the destination, makes life hell for everyone else, slows the journey because we have to stop sometimes or he’ll hurt himself or his sister, but nevertheless gets to the destination with everyone else, and with any luck will have cried himself to exhaustion by then. To retreat from the metaphor, it will be a declining percentage of global emissions as poorer countries raise their living standards, just not declining as fast as it could or should. I’m sure I could track down Game Theory explanations for the persistence of some freeloaders in animal populations or societies. There’s a law of diminishing returns as you work your way through the more and more resistant freeloaders, and at some point it makes sense to let it ride and spend the energy elsewhere. For example, by making solar panels and batteries super-cheap, so the USP to American deniers is to save money and come off coal and oil, even if they have to grit their teeth and buy Chinese.

  32. zebra says:

    @David-G,

    (I’m typing quickly in case the power goes out again. Darn ACC bombogenesis hoaxes!)

    “But, per BBD, the Chinese women said they were doing it for selfish reasons, not because they’d been persuaded to cut CO2 emissions and save the planet.”

    Exactly!! Can you please explain, in the interests of improving my communications skills, why anyone could be confused about my intent? How is “working with human nature” different from “having people act selfishly to advance our agenda of reducing emissions, enabling adaptation, and achieving sustainability”??

    You appear to be on board from your other points; of course; frog-in-the-saucepan is exactly what I’m talking about. Less moralizing, more sly nudging and manipulation.

    The US number is part of a global projection. Hyper-G, in the other thread, used the term “optimization”. Would anyone like to argue that the US geographical distribution and infrastructure is optimized for minimum energy consumption? Rather, the opposite, I think.

    So, looking at various studies, I would conclude that if the population is uniformly reduced, it will abandon all the terribly inefficient “nodes” (smaller urban centers) and concentrate on the coasts. The per-capita consumption would then be more like European levels. If this first approximation doesn’t work for you, I could go on, but the blizzard is howling and I need to get to work on real-world stuff.

  33. BBD says:

    On the other hand, if we work with human nature– as in the example of the Chinese women– there is a chance to overcome the opposition.

    But the Chinese state *didn’t* work ‘with’ the targeted female demographic. And the women did what they wanted, not what the state wanted. Nor is it in any way apparent how appeals to selfishness can be used to reduce emissions.

    So, looking at various studies, I would conclude that if the population is uniformly reduced, it will abandon all the terribly inefficient “nodes” (smaller urban centers) and concentrate on the coasts.

    So just… abandon US agriculture, basically? Right.

  34. Dave_Geologist says:

    Can you please explain, in the interests of improving my communications skills, why anyone could be confused about my intent?

    Same as BBD I think. China forced small families, then when they stopped, women kept having small families for selfish reasons. Other countries reduced children per woman automagically when mothers saw the benefits. Again for selfish reasons. I saw a documentary on Nigeria recently, where village mothers were still having large families because they’d help in the fields and were an insurance against poor healthcare and attrition as they grew up. But Lagos mothers were having small families because living space, food and education were expensive and they’d rather focus their efforts on a few children than have a dozen street beggars as their next generation. Opposite choices, but both self-directed and selfish.

    My difficulty lies in seeing how we can concoct an emissions-reduction case which appeals to the selfishness of the consumer.

  35. zebra says:

    @Dave-G,

    (I’ll assume you found the reasoning on the 75% number reasonable.)

    But on the other thing…

    “…how we can concoct an emissions-reduction case which appeals to the selfishness of the consumer.”

    …you are doing very much what I described earlier, by insisting on some moral case. Why does it have to be “an emissions reduction case” that appeals to the selfishness of the consumer?

    Here’s your suggestion: Make solar panels super cheap so deniers will buy them.

    Well, been done. Lots of Republicans in California have solar panels; Texas has the biggest wind-generation in the US, last I heard, and I’m sure we can find other examples– seen a lot of tungsten incandescent light bulbs lately at the local redneck bar?

    The problem is, you are casting it as a moral question. It’s like saying “how can we get people to buy cellphones so we can get rid of those evil toxic landlines.?” Well, the cheapness and utility did the trick, without any “emotional motivation” or “fear”.

    As to the Nigerian women, again…exactly!! Women in Lagos are better off, they have the opportunity to educate their children, they are not dependent on the children’s manual labor for survival into some old age. I’m really having a hard time understanding what you don’t understand here. This particular phenomenon in the demographic transition has been verified over and over.

  36. BBD says:

    This particular phenomenon in the demographic transition has been verified over and over.

    As has the massive rise in per capita energy consumption as people move from rural villages to the city, start earning more and buying stuff.

    There’s no obvious way in which emissions reduction policy aligns with an appeal to selfishness.

  37. Dave_Geologist says:

    @zebra
    I’m not casting it as a moral question. I’d be quite happy for some sort of carbon tax to internalise the externalities. If people want to drive a giant SUV, let them as long as they pay for it. Use the money raised for mitigation or sequestration, or to subsidise electric cars, battery farms, or whetever. Some people will pay to drive the SUV, others will buy an electric car. Neither need feel morally superior to the other. SUV-man gets to feed his ego, transport his hogs or whatever. Battery-man gets to eat in nice restaurants or buy bling.

    Trouble is, I can see battery-man voting for that world, but not SUV-man. Especially not if (a) he doesn’t believe AGW is real, (b) thinks it’s not our fault, (c) thinks it’s too tough to fix, (d) wouldn’t want to fix it anyway because freedom or (e) trusts God to provide. Probably all at once.

    And if enough people oppose something it’s hard to make it happen, especially if they have ringleaders to organise them. See Trump and the NRA for a real-time example of the process in action.

  38. zebra says:

    @Dave-G

    Dude, how are “internalize the externalities” and “free rider” not moral constructs?

  39. BBD says:

    They’re economic constructs.

  40. Willard says:

    > Dude, how are “internalize the externalities” and “free rider” not moral constructs?

    Do you realize that arguing by rhetorical questions can be boring, zebra?

    Internalizing externalities is not exactly a moral problem:

    In economics, an externality is the cost or benefit that affects a party who did not choose to incur that cost or benefit. Economists often urge governments to adopt policies that “internalize” an externality, so that costs and benefits will affect mainly parties who choose to incur them.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Externality

    While you may argue that solving externality problems involve ethical choices, it doesn’t reduce to them.

    ***

    > I’m really having a hard time understanding what you don’t understand here.

    Which part of “My difficulty lies in seeing how we can concoct an emissions-reduction case which appeals to the selfishness of the consumer” do you not get?

    ***

    Y’all,

    Things were going so smoothly for a long while. I was enjoying my hiatus.

    Please keep at it.

    Best,

    W

  41. Steven Mosher says:

    “@Steven Mosher,

    No idea what you are talking about there– same as on a previous comment, you don’t answer directly but make some cryptic analogy.”

    Sorry, the point of most of the cryptic comments is to see how you read into a text what is not there. think of it as inkblot test in words.

    You made an interesting observation about some supposed women in china ( i’ll ask around , maybe I can find one) who decide to only have one child.
    The key to population growth ( reducing it) is female education. who would of thunk it?
    Anyway, if the idea of reducing population is good why not put it on steriods and offer a UBI for getting a snip job? I mean if you are really serious about limiting population why rely only on the smart women in china who are wising up? why not take the next step and incentivize people?
    why not? dunno.

    The are however some limits or rather consequences to limiting population that must be addressed. our social welfare programs were designed in eras of growing population. dope.
    the math doesnt know right or left, dunce. There will obviously come a point where existing social welfare systems built on certain demographics assumptions would have to confront the iron law of math. Japan is an good example.
    https://www.suntory.com/sfnd/jgc/forum/005/pdf/005_tsuya.pdf

    so in the extreme I imagine my children growing up, deciding not to have any kids and finding themselves living in a world that is too hot and also unable to support them in their old age.

    Think of it as Ironic Climate Science Fiction. Its starts as a silent movement just women foregoing the 2nd child, and then governments think it would be great to reward people for not having kids, and then ECS ends up being 6, so by 2100 we have the worst scenario: a postapocalytic world and not enough people to care. And maybe one fertile character with a telepathic dog . oh wait

  42. Dave_Geologist says:

    Dude, how are “internalize the externalities” and “free rider” not moral constructs?

    What BBD said.

    And in Game Theory terms freeloader is a mathematical construct, devoid of moral or economic meaning. Although I should probably have chosen a less morally freighted word.

    We speak casually of animals such as ants behaving altruistically and sacrificing themselves for the colony, or enslaving other ants. Or of a Nash Equilibrium between cheaters and cooperators in a population. But the moral connotations those words have are irrelevant. There’s no morality involved, just selfish genes perpetuating themselves.

  43. zebra says:

    @Steven Mosher,

    “if the idea of reducing the population is good”

    Reducing the population is a major component of achieving the goals I stated: Reducing emissions, enabling adaptation, and achieving sustainability. For optimizing sustainability, I would characterize reducing population as a necessary and sufficient condition.

    I don’t know if that’s what you mean by “good”?

    As to your “math” on population and social welfare programs, your scenario is both unrealistic on time-frame and completely illogical.

    There is some minimal population that is optimal– zero is not, so what would it be? I say that there are two conditions:

    1. Sufficient numbers to maintain genetic diversity.
    2. Sufficient numbers to maintain specialization– meaning that science and technology, music and art, and so on, would be able to continue and progress if possible.

    If you accept the premise, then we can discuss the transition. You say “social welfare programs were designed in a period of growing population”. Well, duh… so was everything else; as I pointed out about the geographical distribution and infrastructure in in the USA.

    Paradigm change means paradigm change. Lots of things will change. If the question is how to fund Social Security in the USA, well, with a declining population of young people, wages should increase to reflect the scarcity of labor, making the fund solvent. And, obviously, over time, the population of SS recipients will decline as well. Problem solved. On to the next.

  44. zebra says:

    @Dave-G,

    I could probably make a “meta” philosophical case that internalizing externalities can be construed as driven by moral considerations at a social level, and I think Willard would agree to some extent. However, that is a distraction, because consider what you actually said: “If people want to drive a giant SUV, let them as long as they pay for it.”

    Sounds punitive to me. And, as I have said previously, what about Russia? Are you going to tax their Vodka exports to pay for your yet-to-be-demonstrated sequestration process?

    I’m all for something like a carbon tax, where it can be passed and have an effect. But let’s get back to “human nature”. We know that when women are more economically secure, educated, and socially empowered, they choose to have fewer children. We also know that if the population declines, the goals I enumerated become more achievable.

    So when you say “emissions-reduction case that appeals to the selfishness of the consumer”, the problem is that you are stuck on the labeling as “emissions-reduction”. While there is clearly some subset of the set of all women that don’t want to be socially empowered, most would almost certainly selfishly desire economic security and empowerment.

    So, that’s something you can sell without ever mentioning climate change. And, as you seem to agree, there are multiple non-punitive technological changes that people have adopted and will adopt while simultaneously denying the need to reduce emissions.

  45. BBD says:

    We know that when women are more economically secure, educated, and socially empowered, they choose to have fewer children. We also know that if the population declines, the goals I enumerated become more achievable.

    As I keep pointing out and you keep pointedly ignoring, we *also* know that the transition of developing economies from poverty to ‘economic security’ is typically one from rural agrarian to urban consumerism. It is characterised by a significant increase in energy consumption and of course, net per capita emissions even though population as a whole may fall.

    Since the reduction in fertility is countered by an increase in energy use and emissions by the children and subsequent generations, the focus should be on their energy use, not on their mothers’ reproductive choices.

  46. BBD says:

    “the focus should be on their energy use, not on their mothers’ reproductive choices”

    To be clear, we can take it as a given that increasingly educated, urbanised women will limit the size of their families of their own free will.

  47. Dave_Geologist says:

    @zebra

    If people want to drive a giant SUV, let them as long as they pay for it.”
    Sounds punitive to me.

    Not at all. I mean pay the cost of the externality arising from his 10mpg fuel consumption. No more, no less. Not pay for it in the sense of being punished. Battery-man would also pay for it if he chose steak over chicken or chicken over veggie in the expensive restaurant.

    I don’t quite get the prosperity/number of children bit. Are you suggesting that just allowing for natural reduction in childbirth as populations get richer will keep emissions below an RCP6 or RCP 8.5 trajectory? Surely that’s baked into the RPCs already, along with increasing energy use per head and historically observed efficiency improvements?

  48. zebra says:

    @Dave-G,

    I don’t want to quibble over language– do you at least see the difference between how SUV-guy (or gal, to be consistent) sees the tax (a negative) and potential-mother-gal (no guys) sees, say, equal pay for women (a positive)? You say you are concerned about getting votes, right? Human nature, right?

    I don’t know why you keep thinking that by suggesting a helpful policy I am claiming that it is all that is necessary. Here I tend to actually agree with Steve-M; everyone has a favorite thing to talk about, and tends to set it against and exclude other people’s pet “solutions”. It creates a reflexive mind-set.

    I don’t exclude anything. I just point out that none of them, however technically clever, will accomplish anything if they are politically and economically rejected.

    On population, as with all the other ideas, we are talking about government policies to promote what we want to achieve as rapidly as possible. Steve-M is trying to frame it in a negative light by talking about “sterilization”, but that’s just rhetoric. Completely unnecessary.

    RCP: Remember that I consider a realistic time-frame for getting to very low emissions 300, not 30, years. I assume, that because of opposition and “free riders” and so on, humans will live through one of the less-good scenarios, and I am talking about how to minimize suffering and set the stage for a sustainable future. And, while it doesn’t happen immediately, the non-linear benefits of fewer humans on reducing emissions should be an important factor.

  49. Dave_Geologist says:

    Fair enough zebra.

    My personal view would lie in between, hence my typo correction from 21st to 22nd century in a sequestration post. I think it’s unrealistic to assume net negative emissions before 2100. Hence we need to tackle emissions as well as sequestration. The US is the main sticking point – globally parties of all stripes are on board. Even the Australian mainstream right is inching over, albeit with a lot of kicking and screaming on the way.

    Even US concern seems to be rising (Gallup poll). lthough it will probably fall during the next faux pause. Reflecting the selfishness meme which was part of the previous thread, I think the key metric is this:

    Less than half (42%) believe global warming will pose a serious threat to themselves or their way of life in their lifetime. This percentage is the highest Gallup has recorded in over two decades but is essentially unchanged from 2016.

    Sadly, it will take a few more superstorms, megadroughts or wild wildfires or Biblical floods to change that.

    Grounds for optimism in the US is that you son’t have to convert all the deniers. Just enough so that they no longer have a lock on the Republican primaries.

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