Climate change and generations

Ann's baby, Kiran

Arguably, the more personally invested in a problem you become, the more you have to fear from a miracle solution. Say, for instance, you are a recent university graduate intensely concerned with climate change. If, a couple of years from now, someone develops a machine that can turn atmospheric carbon dioxide into oxygen and diamonds for ten dollars a tonne, you will probably be hugely relieved and excited. In one swoop, we would have dealt with climate change, while also providing a lot of very strong building material for ourselves. All hail The Diamond Age.

While I cannot speak from experience, it does seem as though the same development would appear quite different from the perspective of someone who has spent a whole career dealing with climate change, using conventional technologies, and who suddenly finds themselves confronted by this curveball. Certainly, there would be some who rejoiced with all the enthusiasm of the newbies. Others might feel redundant or even cheated, perhaps quite legitimately.

In some ways, this speculation reduces to the fact that humanity rarely, if ever, faces problems that are both multi-generational and wholly deliberate. The development of stone tools was multi-generational, but it wasn’t terribly strategic or deliberate at that timescale. Similarly, post-WWII reconstruction was strategic and directed, but did not really span across multi-dimensional time. At least, not in the same way that climate change probably will. Based on the relatively conservative projection of current trends of technological development, energy use, and human population, it may well be the case that complete and permanent carbon neutrality takes several hundred years to achieve.

Given the risks that exist, we need to commit ourselves to the long haul process of carbon neutrality the difficult way, while retaining the flexibility to adopt a less challenging path, should it be presented to us. That combination of flexibility, determination, and objective evaluation will be a difficult thing to develop and maintain.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

8 thoughts on “Climate change and generations”

  1. Climate Change Economics
    Loweing Carbon Intensities, Not Standards of Living

    “The economics of climate change and responses to it, broadly defined, is the scope of this website.

    Our objective is to offer access to the best available objective analysis of the options facing the United States, fifty individual states and the US territories as we address the carbon intensity of our economy. As more and more Americans are realizing, our nation faces a growing double threat posed by both climate changes in our local communities and the rapidly increasing costs of fossil fuels. Climate Change Economics will equip policymakers and researchers at every level of government with a clearinghouse of resources and tools to tackle these challenges comprehensively.”

  2. What a beautiful baby. He looks so wise in this photo with such big eyes looking into the infinite.

  3. My favourite long-term solution is simply to aim for not just a post-industrial civilization but a post-biological one. We can currently roughly foresee how we could go about it. We would fixate our brains (presumably when near biological death), scan them in detail, reconstruct the functional structure and recreate it as software. The successor version would then go on living in virtual reality, with occasional visits to the physical world using a robot, android or just remote controlled human body.

    How efficient could a postbiological civilization be? The current IBM roadrunner does 376 million calculations per watts. If we take my mid-range estimates of computing needs, 10^22 to 10^25 FLOPS, then a single emulation would need 10^13 to 10^16 watts. The total insolation of Earth is about 10^17 watts, so this won’t do – there would be space for just a few minds on the entire planet. But current research on zettaflops computing suggest we can do much better. A DARPA exascale study suggests we can do 10^12 flops per watt, which means “just” a dozen Hoover dams per mind. Quantum dot cellular automata could give 10^19 flops per watt, putting the energy needs at 200-2000 watts.

  4. Ray Kurzweil is in a snit

    Category: Kooks
    Posted on: May 28, 2009 8:47 PM, by PZ Myers

    I have heard that he is absolutely furious about that Newsweek article on him — he’s harrassing [sic] the editors and staff, is demanding that they print his full rebuttal, and is particularly upset that they would question his amazing powers of prognostication. He has put a letter online, in which he claims that all his wrong predictions were actually correct. Near as I can tell, he likes to make vague claims of the inevitable, and doesn’t like it when it’s pointed out that the details (which are the only testable parts of his predictions) turn out to be false.

  5. Updated: Young Greens Slogan: “Your Parents F*cked Up the Planet” – An Unnecessary Conversation Ender
    Posted on October 11, 2009 by Mark Kersten

    The Young Greens of Canada have a new website. It’s snazzy, fashionable and engaging. It’s a fresh face for a political website, something that reflects the creativity and zeal of Young Greens. However, that being said, the choice of “Your Parents F*cked Up the Planet” as a slogan was a poor judgement call. While it has been debated that the Young Greens should be “edgier” and more “in your face” in order to get attention, is saying that the parents of young Canadians ruined the world really the right way to go?

    It may be a conservative view, but I think that this creativity was misplaced and the message unnecessary for the following reason

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