Maybe people will listen to David Attenborough about climate change

Right now we are facing a manmade disaster of global scale, our greatest threat in thousands of years: climate change.
If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.
—David Attenborough

Some research has shown (I can’t be arsed to find it) that people tend to most trust the advice and beliefs of those considered members of their “tribe.” Well, who doesn’t see David Attenborough a member of their tribe?  A few days ago, as The Guardian reports, there was a United Nations climate change summit in Poland, and Attenborough was chosen to be the one representative speaking for the world’s people as a whole. That’s a big responsibility! And he’s 92 years old.

As part of that summit, and to inform Sir David’s address, messages from many people were collected. Buttressed by their views, Attenborough delivered the following short but powerful two-minute talk, also presented by The Guardian:

We all know that he’s right, and that without immediate action on the part of industry, government, and the world’s citizens, our future—and that of many species—is bleak. Yet the disaster is far off, and people are too consumed by politics, their tribe, and their business interests to worry about a distant futurity. Steve Pinker holds out hope that technology can solve the problem, but where is the will to do that until the disaster is upon us, at which time it will be too late? The “simple everyday actions” that we can all take, and that Attenborough mentions, pale before what governments can do.

h/t: Michael, Raymond


  1. Posted December 3, 2018 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    It is unfathomable to me how anyone can deny climate change…

    • George
      Posted December 3, 2018 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      If you are in your 50s or older (and do not care about the future) and have made a lot of money off fossil fuels, it is easy to deny climate change.

      • Posted December 3, 2018 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

        Not so. We who are 50 years and older (I am 71) have noticed the change of climate over the past 40 or so years, and we do care about the future – not ours, but that of our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and their descendants (if they live to have any). We are extremely concerned for them and for life on our planet in general.

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 3, 2018 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    People will listen but not republicans. I have not yet understood that species.

  3. David Billingham
    Posted December 3, 2018 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    I think it’s a mistake to use this kind of dramatic language. It’s too much like Paul Ehrlich who’s been warning of catastrophic disaster and collapse of civilisations for about the past fifty years. Most people just don’t take this kind of alarmist language seriously. Climate change is a problem for sure but not an insurmountable one and as the world gets wealthier humanity will be able to protect themselves better from the most serious effects of climate change. It’s important also not to forget that climate change could well bring benefits such as fewer cold related deaths and better plant growth due to more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted December 3, 2018 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      I fail to see how the warmer they are predicting is better. Huge numbers of our population live on the coast all around this country. Going under water is not better. The warming will eliminate large areas of land from agriculture and water will run out eliminating more of it. Better you say?

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted December 3, 2018 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      You are mistaken! This is almost the new line of the climate change deniers – they are shifting the goalposts to say similar things to what you say [I’m not saying that YOU are such a denier David obviously]:

      “Climate change is a problem for sure but not an insurmountable one and as the world gets wealthier humanity will be able to protect themselves better from the most serious effects of climate change. …not to forget that climate change could well bring benefits…”

      Your message is not to reduce CO2, but to use our ingenuity & wealth to ameliorate the effects.

      The effects are going to hit the poorest nations the hardest & we are in for the biggest human migration of all time as water cycles change & traditional agricultural bread baskets turn to dust. We shall be needing some bloody strong walls to keep out the desperate!

      But forget about us – change is going to happen quicker than ecosystems can adjust – the already too rapid extinction rate of entire species is going to increase. We are entering unknown territory & we should be frightened!

    • Desnes Diev
      Posted December 3, 2018 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      ” Climate change is a problem for sure but not an insurmountable one […]”

      Not insurmountable for humanity, perhaps, and for a fraction of the living organisms (invertebrates and unicellular). But for most of the Vertebrate species and numerous plants, it is another stress caused by humans* that may lead to disappearance because everything is changing too fast. Biodiversity is already impoverished without very few chances of recovery.

      Especially since the world economy depends largely on the waste of natural resources.

      * Other kind of pollution but also superstitious traditions (like Chinese traditional “medicines”).

    • Posted December 3, 2018 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      You may be right that using dramatic language is like the Aesop’s fable of the sun & the wind, but – oh dear – that last sentence of yours ruins it.

      You are looking at this from the perspective of someone in a wealthy country that will be, to some extent, rich enough to avoid some of the worst results of climate change. Cold-related deaths are broadly only a northern (= rich) hemisphere problem. They may well be replaced by heat related deaths in the same groups of vulnerable = poor people, plus the very poor in tropical countries will be affected by drought, population pressures, pressure on tropical soils, de-forestation, etc. Hotter soils start releasing CO2 into the atmosphere, plus methane is belching out from the arctic sea-bed & the Siberian tundra.

      Besides you cannot tell a plant or insect or fish that humans being wealthier will protect them.

      Plant growth relies also on water – that makes it a complex relationship of factors –

      We may well have to genetically modify rice & cereals much more to make them more resistant to stress of weather extremes such as drought/flood.

      • Nicolaas Stempels
        Posted December 3, 2018 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

        IIRC, heat related deaths already push cold related deaths close to insignificance.

        I’m also worried about these positive feedback loops with the ‘frozen’ methane hydrate mats on ocean floors and the methane released by the melting of the ‘permafrost’. We have only a vague idea about what’s going to happen, but positive feedback loops, nearly by definition, appear ominous.
        Maybe the climate change is not going to be as severe as the IPCC projects, or that it’s consequences are not as dire as predicted, but it might just as well be much, much worse. We just don’t know, and for once I’m not really eager to find out, and would venture on the side of caution. Especially since the latter does not even need much ‘sacrifice’.

        • Steve Gerrard
          Posted December 3, 2018 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

          “but positive feedback loops, nearly by definition, appear ominous.”

          This is the part that many people don’t get. We like to think the relationship is linear – the more we do, the more it heats up; if we slow down, so will the heating.

          But there are points where the heating can take off by itself. Melt some ice, release some methane, increase the greenhouse effect, melt some more ice, … If that starts, cutting our CO2 output to zero wouldn’t stop it.

          It is very hard to predict if or when it might happen. It is not a fate we should be tempting…

    • Posted December 3, 2018 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

      I still suspect Ehrlich’s many of ultimate predictions are basically sound but he had the time frames wrong.
      His salient message is that unrestrained population growth and depletion of finite resources is unsustainable and can only lead to catastrophe. A no-brainer really.

    • Forse
      Posted December 4, 2018 at 6:06 am | Permalink

      I agree. I’ve accepted the realities of climate science for decades but I find Attenborough’s catastrphisms offputting.
      And so would many still to be convinced.
      The key thing about what he said is this: will it persuade people to action. And I think the answer is “no”。Once you have talk of the *disappearance* of Homo Sapiens and the *total* collapse of natural systems, people are just going to turn off.
      This was a poor – a counterproductive- outing for Sir David. He ought to stick to voiceovers.
      Meantime we have French folks rioting against modest climate abatement measures taken by Macron. That’s Woke Europe! Try it in the USA, see what happens. So anyone thinking it’s just a case of “government actions”, better think again.
      Meantime, again, we have France joining Germany and Japan in shutting down nuclear power stations. WTF??
      Re nuclear: There’s a case to be made that the Greens, especially Greenpeace, have a lot to answer for. Had it not been for their scaremongering in the sixties and seventies, nuclear research and building would have continued apace. That had been the plan. If we had 4,500 Nuke plants today, instead of the ~440 we have now, we’d not have a CO2 problem.
      Anyway, I think Attenborough bottled it. The only people who think “we know he’s right” are those already onside. I doubt he convinced a single sceptic, or any government to take more action.
      Happy to be proved wrong.

    • Posted December 4, 2018 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

      Civilizations, except maybe for some isolated tribes, won’t collapse. But it’s not gonna be good. Plant growth is usually limited by water availability or other nutrients, not carbon dioxide. High CO2 makes some important crops produce reduced-protein seeds (albeit more of them). Heat deaths are a thing, as well as cold deaths. But most importantly, as Randall pointed out, a lot of our best land is coastal, and a lot of our precious infrastructure sits on that land.

    • Posted December 5, 2018 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      The climate as it was is the only one proven to be able to support existing numbers of humans at least short-term.
      (I am maybe the closest to climate change denialist you’ll find on this site.)

  4. Ken Kukec
    Posted December 3, 2018 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Maybe they will, though not the hardcore denialists, including the one in The Oval who recently rejected the findings issued by 13 of his own administration’s agencies and 300 of its own scientists.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted December 3, 2018 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      If we did not know about Mr Trump one would say ‘un-be-lie-vable’, but then, we know Mr Trump, he (and his cultists) will not heed to something as trivial as reality.

  5. Posted December 3, 2018 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    I’m with Pinker and techno-optimism, if for no other reason than the alternatives seem to me improbable without an unacceptable level of coercion.

    I’ll also be interested in the response of the Woke to having an elderly, white male representative of the colonial past and patriarchal present telling those who they see as having been prevented from enjoying the fruits of industrial economies that they now have to make “sacrifices.”

    • Mathew Goldstein
      Posted December 3, 2018 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

      I agree. We should keep insisting that governments everywhere actively intervene to reduce emission, yet it is very likely that we are also going to be dependent on technology to modify the atmosphere.

  6. Posted December 3, 2018 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Well, who doesn’t see David Attenborough a member of their tribe?

    All the Republicans who dont accept climate science.

    There is a white, evangelical christian climate scientist from Texas who tries to persuade her fellow christians on climate change. They see her as a member of the other tribe

  7. Adam M.
    Posted December 3, 2018 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    George Monbiot had a somewhat less hopeful opinion of Attenborough (written a month ago, before this announcement).

    By downplaying and misrepresenting our environmental crisis, David Attenborough and the BBC have generated complacency, confusion and ignorance.

  8. Posted December 3, 2018 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    I do not altogether agree that what individuals can do pales before what governments can. But you need critical masses of people to co-operate, or leadership, & most people & political leaders only look a few years ahead.

    Take the French fuel riots. Macron is doing the right thing in terms of leadership, slapping more duty on fuel to encourage electric vehicles & to make clear to the populace the real cost of fuel environmentally. Yet there is a huge protest from those who need/want cheap fuel, & perhaps that will force him to back down.

    Those of us in rich countries who want to fly or drive, are not willing to reduce our lifestyle – & I am willing to bet if rationing of flying or driving or high carbon goods were introduced, there would be so much of an outcry that the politicians would be lynched for interfering with individual rights.

    Of course poor countries want those same life styles so … we are frankly screwed.

    Those who care don’t matter, & those who matter don’t care.

    See also…

    • Dean Reimer
      Posted December 3, 2018 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      I tend to share your pessimism. The accelerating arc of human progress has largely been driven by motivated self-interest, the same force that makes arresting climate change so difficult.

      My fear is that our procrastination will lead us to desperate geo-engineering, with unintended consequences that will further doom us.

  9. Posted December 3, 2018 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    I see plastics snd other toxic materials as dangerous to our and orher species as carbon dioxide.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted December 3, 2018 at 10:39 am | Permalink


    • James
      Posted December 3, 2018 at 11:05 am | Permalink

      This goes to my point about social justice undermining our attempts to correct climate disruption. Something like 90% of all plastic waste comes from just a handful of rivers in the world, and those rivers aren’t in Europe or North America. Basically, what we do in Europe and North America is negligible; without establishing standards for discharge at those African and Asian rivers, nothing will change. And attempting to institute any controls on those nations is viewed as imperialism (or, in some cases, they agree to sign the treaty and ignore it).

      • Posted December 3, 2018 at 11:44 am | Permalink

        The United Nations would be a place to address those problems. And they may have already been working on the problems but they should be doing more.

        • James
          Posted December 3, 2018 at 11:49 am | Permalink

          You’re far more optimistic than I am about the UN’s capacity to institute real change. I think that any such proposal would be dismissed as imperialism on our part, or agreed to and promptly ignored.

          The individual companies involved should be held libel in some way, I just don’t know enough about the law to know how.

    • Posted December 5, 2018 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      I am much more worried about them than about carbon dioxide.

  10. Posted December 3, 2018 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    “Well, who doesn’t see David Attenborough a member of their tribe?”

    Well, certainly most who frequent this site would agree, as do I, but I have my doubts the general public will see him that way. In the US, Attenborough’s accent alone would label him an ignorable elite. In a very real sense, he comes off as self-serving tree-hugger since he is associated with those wonderful nature shows for which he is undoubtedly paid handsomely. Of course he’s a member of the climate change conspiracy. Duh.

  11. Posted December 3, 2018 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Don’t know about the collapse of civilization part. And if civilization does collapse, might it be good for the natural world? Encroaching civilization is causing a mass extinction of large non-human mammals.

    • James
      Posted December 3, 2018 at 11:02 am | Permalink

      The current mass extinction began 12,000 years ago with the die-off of the mammalian megafauna on most continents. Can’t exactly blame civilization for it. Civilization may have exacerbated the extinction, but it didn’t cause it.

      The real issue is, how do we move forward? We can’t go back–we don’t even have the DNA with which to clone the animals we’ve lost, nor can we assume we know what all of them were even at a Family level–so all we can do is move forward. For my part, I do not believe we know enough about ecology to do so. So what we need to do, and fast, is learn how stable ecosystems function. Not sure how to go about it, but we can at least identify data gaps in our understanding of ecology and work to correct them.

      (FYI, dental osteology in predatory mammals demonstrates quite conclusively [in my opinion, and that of many other researchers] that there hasn’t been an undisrupted ecosystem since the Pleistocene. ALL ecosystems–even “untouched” ones–have been disrupted by humans. So we need to be EXTREMELY cautious in using Holocene/Anthropocene ecological studies here.)

      • ploubere
        Posted December 3, 2018 at 11:09 am | Permalink

        We have seen dramatic population reductions in most vertebrates, along with numerous extinctions of other species, just in the last century or two, but humans aren’t responsible for that? Seriously?

        • James
          Posted December 3, 2018 at 11:21 am | Permalink

          Please read what I wrote. I said CIVILIZATION isn’t responsible for it. Humans certainly are–the fact that African megafauna still exist is evidence of that–but the origins of the extinction are older than civilization. I tend to favor a modified version of the overkill hypothesis, but opinions vary. Civilization certainly affected how this extinction played out, of course.

          It’s important to know the cause in order to figure out how to move forward. We can’t go back to a previous version of the ecosystem because every ecosystem we have ever studied directly–EVER. SINGLE. ONE.–has been drastically altered by human activity. If we went back to “pre-industrial” conditions we’d only be going back to an earlier portion of this transitional period.

          • ploubere
            Posted December 3, 2018 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

            Ok, but it seems the changes in the last two centuries are vastly greater than anything humans have done in the past, and are on track to rival pre-human extinction events if they continue, with the distinction of happening much more quickly than any in the past.

            And we know the cause, it is human activity, everything that alters the environment in substantial ways. Who’s talking about returning to pre-industrial conditions? We can shift to other technologies that don’t alter the environment. Or we could, except we won’t in time.

            • James
              Posted December 3, 2018 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

              “Ok, but it seems the changes in the last two centuries are vastly greater than anything humans have done in the past…”

              Most people have a horrible understanding of the past. Tell folks that there were mechanized manufacturing plants in the Middle Ages and they look at you like you’re insane, despite these being pretty common, to give one example. I think it’s related to the Pull of the Recent: we’re more likely to view modern events as significant–for better or worse–than past events.

              Besides, events today combine effects of today’s activities and those of the past. The existence of avocados demonstrates that the effects of the mammalian megafauna dieoff haven’t been fully realized yet. This means that even if the rate of change is the same, we’d see more profound changes now than in the past.

              Calibrating for these two effects is very difficult.

              “Who’s talking about returning to pre-industrial conditions?”

              This cannot possibly be a serious question. This is a stock phrase in environmentalism.

              “We can shift to other technologies that don’t alter the environment.”

              Sure, but moving all of humanity to Mars or the Moon isn’t really feasible. Anything we do on Earth is going to affect the environment, by definition. Humans are PART OF the environment. If you say “Solar”, I will point you to the debates surrounding Ivanpah. If you say wind, I’m just going to laugh.

              • ploubere
                Posted December 3, 2018 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

                Yes, if you make the claim that the Middle Ages had a lot of industrialization and is comparable to today, I’ll call BS. And anyway, it doesn’t matter when humans started degrading the environment, 200 or 1,000 years ago, the fact remains that we have, and it’s coming to a disastrous climax. I’ll modify that statement, “we can shift to other technologies that don’t DEGRADE the environment” and are sustainable. And the Ivanpah example is also BS because that’s not photovoltaic.
                And who said anything about Mars or the Moon. Your arguments rely on straw men.

              • Posted December 4, 2018 at 12:42 am | Permalink

                Next you are going to say humans have dominion over the planet.

      • Nicolaas Stempels
        Posted December 3, 2018 at 11:36 am | Permalink

        It (Megafauna extinction) did not start 12 000 years ago, maybe in the Americas, but in, say, Australia it was about 50 000 years ago, and in NZ or Madagascar much later. In fact it coincides pretty well with the appearance of modern humans. Which, I’d say, were kinda civilised. It is curious that in Africa, where modern humans evolved, the Megafauna extinction was less pronounced. Could and did they somehow adapt?
        It has accelerated with the advent of agriculture.
        For the rest I can but agree with you.

        • James
          Posted December 3, 2018 at 11:44 am | Permalink

          ” In fact it coincides pretty well with the appearance of modern humans. Which, I’d say, were kinda civilised.”

          I would strongly disagree. Civilization is something very different, ecologically speaking, from hunter-gatherer groups. To give one example: civilization creates new biomes, ones that didn’t exist before (cities); hunter-gatherer lifestyles do not.

          As for Africa, I once asked a senior paleontologist about that. He said “Coevolution”. Basically, animals in Africa learned to avoid the funny-looking hairless apes before humans became very good at hunting said animals. As our technology improved, the animals’ avoidance mechanisms improved. Contrast that with Australia, where humans arrived already fairly good at killing things.

          And remember, it’s not just killing that disrupts ecosystems. Humans are competition for the local predators and herbivores. Africa’s had time to adjust to this disruption in ways that other continents haven’t.

          • Nicolaas Stempels
            Posted December 3, 2018 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

            Well, contrary to you, I don’t think we actually disagree about what happened, only about what the words “civilised” or “civilisation” mean.
            They got fire (a mark of civilisation in my thesaurus), arrival of humans in, say, Madagascar, is marked by a thin but ubiquitous layer of ashes. They did change the biome. They got expert killing methods, such as bow and arrows, atlatl, poison, etc.
            And they often specifically targeted Megafauna, changing the biome even more than by fire alone.

            • James
              Posted December 3, 2018 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

              They changed the ecology, but I’d argue they did not create a novel biome. They altered the one they found. Making a city, where there’s very little life and most of the nutrients are imported from elsewhere, is something else entirely, and is reflected in the types of organisms that thrive therein.

              My contention is that these are fundamentally different processes, from an ecological perspective. An altered biome can reach a new state of equilibrium; a new biome is something we don’t really know much about, because it hasn’t happened in a long, long, long time.

              I think you think I’m downplaying the significance of the arrival of hunter-gatherers. I don’t mean to do that–obviously it was a significant event, because it triggered a mass extinction! My point is that there were multiple processes involved in the establishment of the Anthropocene, and that it’s important, for determining how to establish a new stable ecosystem, to differentiate these various processes.

              • Nicolaas Stempels
                Posted December 3, 2018 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

                Yes, I can agree there are different levels, Hunter gatherers, agriculture, cities and industrial revolution (just as an example of naming them). And no, I don’t think you are downplaying the significance of the impact of hunter gatherers, not at all. You even stated that the megafauna extinction started about 12000 years ago (which is true for the Americas), well before any significant agriculture.
                My point was that we agree there was/is what I call an escalation and you call a fundamentally different process. Again, I think our differences are mainly semantic. Of course there are different processes, but I think they are part of an escalating trend.
                Note, I guess I’m more optimistic than you are, eg. the whole concept of human caused extinction is hardly a century old. The fact there is some awareness (albeit too little) is encouraging IMMO. And the fact that as far as climate change goes we have the technology (solar) to reverse, or at least attenuate it significantly, is encouraging too. If only…

            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted December 3, 2018 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

              Well, contrary to you, I don’t think we actually disagree about what happened, only about what the words “civilised” or “civilisation” mean.

              The archaeological people I spend some time listening to probably have a more precise definition, but working back from how they talk, they seem to define “civilisation” as “able to produce sufficient surplus food to support some members of the population as specialists – be that in weapon-making, pottery making, animal domestication”
              At which point, the pace of development of technologies – and therefore environmental effects and non-renewable resource consumption – rapidly accelerates.

              Just for fun, I was trying to figure out why there was a significant up-tick in the population growth of humans in the mid-1920s. I worked out that it correlates well with the expansion of the Haber-Bosch nitrogen-fixation process, and I infer that the military thirst for explosive nitrates started to be saturated in the mid-1920s, releasing surplus fixed nitrogen for fertilizer use.
              A small piece of technology. A half-billion more consumers per decade in consequence (and a small number more people killed in wars to balance the scales).

  12. James
    Posted December 3, 2018 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    At this point we need to shift the rhetoric from “Did humans cause climate change?” or even “How do we stop climate change?” to “How do we deal with changing climate?”

    The global community has no interest in serious efforts to fight climate change. And I’m not talking about the debate in the USA. The real issue is that the international community wants to give “developing” nations a pass, as reparations for imperialism. (I use scare quotes because some of those “developing” nations are pretty freaking developed.) I get the idea, and have some sympathy for it, but the practical upshot is that as long as we let nations opt out for social justice reasons they will do so; fossil fuels are convenient. And as long as they opt out, there’s little we can do. We can lower our CO2 emissions as much as we want, but if other nations ramp UP their CO2 emissions it’s a wash.

    The other advantage is that it removes the moralizing. It doesn’t matter WHY the world is warming, what matters is THAT it’s warming. Make it clear that we’re ignoring the why and focusing on the what. Sea level rise is an objective, measurable issue; permafrost melting is as well; shifts in rain patterns are as well. How do we address these issues? Even if we assume that this is a natural cycle, those issues remain and must be addressed. And hopefully that will circumvent the tribalism that dominates these discussions.

    Objectivists talk about something called the Divine Right of Stagnation: the idea that we have a right to have things be the way they were in the past, without changing. Typically this is discussed in terms of economy, but it works in ecology as well. There’s no reason to assume that climate is going to be stable (in an ice age it’s better to assume it will NOT be stable). Knowing how to cope with climate changes is as important as knowing how to cope with economic changes.

    • Posted December 3, 2018 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      I don’t agree. It matters that we recognize that climate change is due to mankind’s actions because a large part of the fix is for mankind to stop doing them. Without this, those who do not want to do anything about global warming will simply throw their hands up and say (as they do already), “This warming is part of the natural cycle. How can we dare to stand in the way of Mother Nature!”

      • James
        Posted December 3, 2018 at 11:09 am | Permalink

        “It matters that we recognize that climate change is due to mankind’s actions because a large part of the fix is for mankind to stop doing them.”

        As I stated before, I believe that our current attempts are doomed to failure, for specific reasons. Until those reasons are addressed (and re-stating “Humans are causing it” isn’t addressing the issues I presented), I see no hope for curbing anthropogenic climate change. We will have to live with it, and the only relevant question is how we will do so.

        As for “throwing their hands up”, that’s a possibility, but an unlikely one. Republicans and Libertarians aren’t known for refusing to stand in the way of Mother Nature. And if they do, that’s fine–they have assumed the risk. If their house gets flooded, their crops fail, etc., that’s on them, per their own philosophic framework.

      • Posted December 5, 2018 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

        I think that the only realistic solution is to diminish the population numbers.

  13. CAS
    Posted December 3, 2018 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    Attenborough is a special person calling out our destruction of the natural world and most animal life as well as pressing the climate change issue. Unfortunately, with most humans, greed and reproduction win out almost every tine. No sign of this short term thinking idiocy changing yet!

  14. ploubere
    Posted December 3, 2018 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    It’s already too late, the forces are already in motion and cannot be reversed. And humanity is incapable of acting in coordination, there is no way to reduce, much less stop, the burning of fossil fuels. Too many individuals will act in self-interest rather than change behavior for the greater good.

    Vertebrate populations are already down 60 percent, and it turns out insect populations are in collapse as well, not just due to climate change but to other things humans do.

    Our only choice now is to figure out how to adapt to this looming catastrophe.

  15. Posted December 3, 2018 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    No. No they won’t. People who loved Bill Nye now point out that “he’s not a scientist”. The vast majority of the population’s stance on anything informed by science isn’t informed by science. It’s informed by politics and ideology. And positions like that don’t change easily if at all.

  16. Posted December 3, 2018 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Wish I could be around to see Mar-a-Lago under water. See, climate change can have a good side.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted December 3, 2018 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      I wish Mr Trump would be around to see that. But then, he will probably ascribe it to a lax liberal mopping policy.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted December 3, 2018 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      It would certainly cut into those $200,000 a year entry fees.

  17. Nicolaas Stempels
    Posted December 3, 2018 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    There is more than climate change, but it is definitely the biggest problem we are aware of.
    Although there are many causes, the thing that is really new(-ish) is the burning of fossil fuels for energy. The elephant in the room.
    That can be addressed without too much of a sacrifice: we should go solar.
    The sun (a giant nuclear fusion reactor) delivers virtually unlimited energy, about 23000 Terawatt of energy annually to the Earth. That is about 14 times more than all fossil fuel reserves (coal, oil and gas) + Uranium (fission) combined. At present we use about 19 Terawatt per year.
    That energy can be harvested by photovoltaic cells (PV’s) or CSP (concentrated solar power).
    PV’s have become logarithmically cheaper, more efficient and better looking (solar tiles indistinguishable from real tiles, except for being more solid) over the last decade. Electric cars have proven to be superior to the Ferraris and Porsches by showing them their exhaust pipes if they had them. Batteries have become better, and easier in use, some can be wall-mounted (Tesla). Battery block mega-units can be used to store Megawatts. The latter, linked to a CSP unit, take less space than an open coal mine. I mean, the technology, although it could undoubtedly still be improved, is here.
    Incentives: allowing two-way electricity meters, no VAT on PV’s, batteries and electric cars for, say, a decade.
    Giving some subsidies, a fraction of the subsidies into fossil fuels and nuclear?
    Of course this will not solve all our problems, the manufacture of PV’s, batteries and CSP plants is not really ‘clean’ yet, and we have the petrochemical industry.
    I think the West -and third world countries- could go masinly solar within a decade or two.
    It definitely is the most sensible and careful way to go, by far.

    • Posted December 3, 2018 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      Hiw does compare with wind. I would think wind would be as valuable as solar.

      • Nicolaas Stempels
        Posted December 3, 2018 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

        I disagree, wind can only provide about 25 to 70 Terawatt annually. But at what price? Wind-farms take a humongous amount of space, they are esthetically not really pleasing (I know, that is subjective) and cause a hecatomb among migrating birds.
        So yes, wind can contribute, but compared to solar it is boorish, clumsy, medieval (as it actually is).

        • James
          Posted December 3, 2018 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

          There are ways to mitigate the bird issue with turbines. It’s bats you have to watch out for these days.

          I’d also like to point out that industrial-scale solar production disrupts large tracts of land as well (Ivanpah is what, 5 square miles?), and is disruptive to birds. Being lit on fire is just as deadly as being smacked in the head with a turbine fin.

          • ploubere
            Posted December 3, 2018 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

            If you converted every roof, road and parking lot to solar panels, you would have more than enough energy generation. The tech problems now are storage and distribution, but those can be overcome with a bit of R & D, which is progressing nicely.

            • James
              Posted December 3, 2018 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

              “If you converted every roof, road and parking lot to solar panels, you would have more than enough energy generation.”

              For five minutes. Then you’d have a bunch of defunct, broken solar panels. Ever watch a parking lot over the course of a few years? They degrade pretty quick. Turns out driving on a surface is REALLY hard on it. Tires pick up all sorts of fun odds and ends that beat the tar out of surfaces–in the case of asphalt, quite literally. One reason blacktop stops being black over time is that the bitumen erodes away (there are other reasons as well). Roads are worse, because people drive faster on them, and roads aren’t flat, which creates fun engineering problems to solve. We haven’t solved them with asphalt, we’ve just opted as a society to repair them every few years.

              And that’s giving you the best of it–assuming, in other words, that the cells would function in these conditions. In many cases solar panels simply won’t function. People like to plant trees by the road, for example, and that blocks too much light.

              I’m not saying this can’t work, just that the implementation isn’t going to be easy, straightforward, or viable in all locations.

              • ploubere
                Posted December 3, 2018 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

                All these problems are solvable. We spend huge amounts maintaining and repairing the existing infrastructure, we can just as well maintain a photovotaic one, which technology will improve by many factors as we invest in it.

        • Posted December 3, 2018 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

          Some CSP plants are notorious bird killers as well, and those established in deserts damage fragile ecosystems. Not that I’m not a fan of solar power, I definitely am. But I’d rather see solar panels on every rooftop (or in snow country, in every backyard — ya gotta clean off snow accumulation). That won’t serve all our needs, but distributed solar power can take more forms than we have now. The big problem with distributed solar is that it says into the profits of the electric companies. Electric companies have lobbyists. Most of our congresscritters at both state and federal levels are not immune to the wiles and deep pockets of lobbyists.

          • Posted December 3, 2018 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

            s/b “it eats into the profits”. Effing Kindle autocorrect…

          • James
            Posted December 3, 2018 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

            In Ohio there are legal power monopolies. I know of one wind power outfit that is legally required to buy power from an outside source to run their lights. It may be that similar laws exist in other locations.

            Another big practical problem with distributed solar is efficiency. You mention snow, but that’s only part of it. I have trees on 3/4 of my property, which drastically reduces the efficiency of solar panels, to give one example. To give another: There’s a reason industrial-scale solar production is done in the desert. It works there. Somewhere like Seattle or the Great Black Swamp, on the other hand, doesn’t experience sufficient sunny days to make that generating technology viable.

            Fragility is another issue. Roofs take a beating, more than most people realize. Solar panels aren’t going to survive a hail storm or a Cat 3 hurricane, to say nothing of the miscellaneous animals that perch on roofs. Someone thought they were going to put solar panels in roadways a few years ago, and pretty much every engineer I spoke with (I work in an environmental company, half the people I work with are engineers the other half are geologists) got a good laugh out of the concept.

            These problems aren’t insurmountable, but they are factors that need to be considered when redesigning the power grid.

            For my part, I think we need to look at a wider variety of options for power generation. There’s no reason to think that any one technology is the solution. Unless we build a dyson sphere or get fusion to work out; at that point all other options are too inefficient to be worth considering!

          • Nicolaas Stempels
            Posted December 3, 2018 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

            I was not aware that CSP plants are bird killers. I mean, a solar tower only gets really hot at it’s small concentration point. Do you have some links about that?
            Fragile desert ecosystems, yes, they probably do, but the surface needed is small compared to other sources of energy such as wind (not to mention biofuels, a bad idea if anything*).
            Well yes, electric companies will not be happy with widespread PV’s, and generally oppose two-way meters. I think, however, that fossil fuel companies and associates are a bigger obstacle at present (and, of course electric companies maybe associates), the car industry, will they welcome electrical cars?
            Isn’t the whole climate change fueled by the fossil fuel industry (Like the tobacco companies fueling the denial of ill health effects of smoking)? I mean, if it were not for them, would we not have gone solar decades ago?
            Yes, snow on PV’s. It is undeniable that solar works easier in hot, dry climates. I do not see a contradiction between CSP and PV’s. Many engineers prefer to work on CSP because more challenging, but indeed PV’s on every rooftop, even in sun deprived areas is not a bad idea. How many snowy days we have?

            • Nicolaas Stempels
              Posted December 3, 2018 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

              Isn’t the whole climate change denial fueled by the fossil fuel industry? (sorry about that)

              • Posted December 3, 2018 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

                They heavily fund opposition to climate change theory. But I know a number of people not connected to thst industry who just don’t believe in man made climate change. They are conservatives who don’t trust liberals or liberal ideas. They are the same people who do not wear seat belts and did not believe smoking caused cancer.

              • Posted December 3, 2018 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

                It works both ways! The fossil fuel industry does fuel both climate change and its denial.

            • James
              Posted December 3, 2018 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

              “Do you have some links about that?”

              I’ve spoken with the biologists who work at some of these plants, and I have no reason to assume they’re lying. I acknowledge that this amounts to mere hearsay from your perspective, but this is all I can give you. Unfortunately, this is getting close to some NDAs I’ve signed back when I was doing compliance work for renewable energy construction.

              My recommendation is to look up Ivanpah (a solar power plant in Nevada). There are some resources online–news stories, environmental complaints, and the like–that are relevant to this discussion. It’s the ENVIRONMENTALISTS that object to Ivanpah, not the fossil fuel companies. And they won. They shut down several proposed solar farms–concentration and photovoltaic–in the region.

              As for rooftop photovoltaic cells, you are evading the issue. It’s not snow cover, it’s weather in general, wildlife, and trees. Roofs take a beating and need to be durable–far more durable than PV cells are at this stage. There is a reason we make shingles out of wood, slate, or tar, rather than glass. And people put trees near their homes for the shade, which renders PV cells little more than expensive decorations.

              • Nicolaas Stempels
                Posted December 4, 2018 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

                Yes, I searched myself, and indeed they kill birds in rather scary numbers. You were perfectly right. Note, I did not doubt you, I just didn’t know. (I think very few posters on this website would spread ‘fake info’, different opinions, yes, but not falsehoods).
                The problem appears insects are attracted by the light, and birds attracted to the insects. I do not really understand how that works, one would assume that an insect would be scorched much more easily and quicker than a bird and almost immediately drop out of the sky.
                I think there is no way to obtain large amounts of energy without doing some damage. We just need to minimise the damage as much as possible.
                As for the PV tiles, my apologies if I appeared to evade the issue. Th PV tiles seen at Tesla appear to be much more resistant to impact damage than normal ones. More durable, in other words. It goes without saying that the more sunshine, the better solar works. That is why good batteries and two-way meters are so essential in areas where sunshine is less reliable.
                I do not really buy the ‘shady trees’ argument, when you look at arial photos or even better, Google Earth, you see vast expanses of exposed roofs, in cities, villages or standing alone, all over the planet.

              • Posted December 4, 2018 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

                I agree with you on the “shady trees” argument. As you say, there are plenty of unshady roofs. Furthermore, architecture will increasingly take into account the solar power uses of roofs, just as they do for tree placement. Solar roofs may not be as pretty as trees but they must be more effective at providing shade as any energy they lose to the supporting roof is wasted.

              • Michael Fisher
                Posted December 4, 2018 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

                There’s spray paints being developed for walls that use solar energy to crack moisture in the air to harvest the hydrogen as fuel. Long way to go & I’m unsure how the H2 is collected. I suspect always uneconomic.

                Other spray paints with photovoltaic properties are almost ready, but impractical right now because there’s lead in there, not long life & expensive, but in five years maybe…

                Window film with photovoltaics is here I think

                The big step in the UK is Building Regs requiring certain mandatory levels of insulation, but not often well applied ‘holistically’ so homes are too airtight. Lots of chemicals in new home materials that need a year or two for the airborne poisons to find their way outdoors. Nasty.

                There’s many little positive steps going on that are hard to notice – they just creep up on one…

                ** My new PC’s better electronic architecture, CPU/GPU & SSD requires no cooling fan & waste heat is around 1/3 of my previous one which had similar performance.

                ** I can’t legally buy or sell a NEW very high wattage vacuum cleaner [typically 2,000 to 2,500 Watts] in the EU today. The max was set at 1600 a while back & last year it went down to 900. Lots of complaints about the new vacuums needing to be used for longer, but manufacturers have responded by increasing the efficiencies of motor, air flow & the bag thingy [where needed] – my fairly new vac is quiet & almost as good as the monster jet engine that broke on me.

                ** I’ve replaced all my domestic lights with LED & that’s saving me a fortune on ‘lecky [it’s sunset at around 1550 hrs in late December, but the sun is very low in the sky all December/Jan so home lights needed from around 1500 hrs.

                ** My ‘always on’ wireless HiFi speakers [plug into various elect sockets around the house] switch to a low power mode when there’s no digital audio signal [0.1? Watt on standby]

                ** All white goods are efficiency rated & that’s a selling point – utilities expensive in the EU

              • Posted December 4, 2018 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

                That’s a good list. It is clear that energy technology is progressing nicely. And economies of scale are starting to kick in.

              • Posted December 5, 2018 at 11:47 am | Permalink

                First invented by twin brothers Andreas & Toby Meyer in Switzerland back in the nineties, photovoltaic glass panels covered in artificial photosynthesis dye (their invention) are already commercialized via their company Solaronix.


              • Posted December 5, 2018 at 11:26 am | Permalink

                Photovoltaic roof tiles are quite attractive:



                I could post the urls of hundreds of solar roof tiles websites.

  18. Matt
    Posted December 3, 2018 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    With growing populations and energy demand in India and China I don’t have much hope that enough people are willing to voluntarily limit their energy usage or to elect leaders who will limit it for them. Especially if increased energy usage helps decrease poverty.

    Home here in the U.S. I see so many people giving no thought to wasting energy. Sitting in their parked car texting with engine running. Leaving lights on all night. And it seems increases in efficiency (e.g., LED lights replacing incandescent bulbs) are offset with increased usage. People figure they’re LEDs so why bother turning them off? And then there are all the new battery powered toys marketed in the name of mobility and freedom. Look at the new scooters. Look at the camera drones. It seems somebody is always inventing a new toy that consumes power.

    The Republicans and libertarians hate regulations that help protect the environment, preferring to leave it up to individuals. But as we see too many individuals put self-interest above community or global interests.

    • Posted December 3, 2018 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      I agree. Also, there’s more reason than just individuals’ self-interest to put reduction in the hands of governments. They can fund the research into reducing power usage and how best to make use of new sources of power. I don’t have zero self-interest, of course, but I don’t want to be 100% responsible for doing the research into how to save power. I want regulations to do it for me and for my neighbors.

      Of course, regulations have to be managed well. However, the fix for bad government is good government, not no government.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted December 3, 2018 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      I may be mistaken -I’m not sure where I read this-, but I think around the Paris Agreement, the Indian Government vowed to get half of it’s energy from solar within two decades.
      If true, a clever move, IMMO.

  19. Leigh Jackson
    Posted December 3, 2018 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    A great culling of the species has begun. Ours may perhaps survive – heavily culled like enough.

  20. Jon Gallant
    Posted December 3, 2018 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    Pessimism on this subject is fully warranted but, unfortunately, unhelpful.
    [Although I have to say that the prospect of seeing Mar-a-Lago underwater is delicious.]

    For those who don’t mind reading pessimistic assessments, two stand out in my mind, both published in 2005. James Howard Kunstler’s “The Long Emergency”, although a little dated now in regard to details, is still riveting. Kunstler ascribes the oncoming contraction to “the fossil fuel fiesta” of the last 200 years, i.e., to industrial civilization.

    Industrial technology unquestionably brought us to the present point, but Ronald Wright in “A Short History of Progress” takes a longer view. He calls the human tendency to overshoot whatever any local environment makes possible a “progress trap”; and he suggests that the first such progress trap was the Neolithic Revolution, the transition from hunting/gathering to agriculture and urban settlements. A small start, but now the local environment is the whole planet.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted December 4, 2018 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

      If you want to read a really pessimistic scenario (well, he presents it as one of several scenario’s, a possible worst case, not an inevitable course) you should read Peter Ward’s “Under a Green Sky”. Highly readable and highly recommended, but scary stuff.

  21. Posted December 3, 2018 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    One motivational problem with climate change is that the dire effects are going to happen to people five generations or more from now. There’s strangers that you pass on the street who are more closely related to you than that. So most folks don’t feel the immediate urgency and, if they do, they feel powerless when confronted with the immensity of the problem.


    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted December 4, 2018 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      I doubt that negative effects will take five generations, some island states have already been evacuated, disappeared as it were.
      The Dutch and Bangladeshi’s are likely to feel the effects of sea level rises quite imminently. Bolivians, Swiss and Tibetans are, of course less likely to feel the effects of sea level rise. However, as, say, the South African Cape or California illustrate, there is more to climate change than sea level rise.
      My point: there will not be a certain moment that the Big Disaster strikes five generations from now, but incrementally more and more small disasters accumulating. It has already started.

      • Posted December 4, 2018 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

        Yes, and these disasters will mostly be small events distributed across the planet and not always easy to connect directly to global warming. When someone loses their house to a high storm tide, was it caused by the storm or global warming? The deniers will remind us that we’ve probably had storms for Earth’s entire existence so, no, it isn’t global warming.

        • Posted December 5, 2018 at 11:31 am | Permalink

          Global warming results in climate change, and climate change generates stronger and stronger storms, these increasingly powerful storms are due to climate change (the product of global warming), so yes, houses lost to increasingly powerful and more frequent high storm tides are caused by global warming.

          • Nicolaas Stempels
            Posted December 9, 2018 at 6:29 am | Permalink

            Well, I do think so indeed, but it is a nearly impossible task to prove it.
            My point is that with statistics it can probably be shown that the frequency of severe storms is increasing, and some (most?) models may support that, but it is basically impossible to ascribe one particular storm -and it’s associated damage- to climate change.
            Just like lung cancer. Of course smoking causes lung cancer, but it is impossible to definitely prove that this particular patient got his (her) lung cancer by smoking.

        • Posted December 5, 2018 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

          Exactly! Even if the person who lost his house has done his utmost to prevent global warming, his efforts alone would not make a difference; and the others couldn’t care less that he has lost his home.

    • Posted December 5, 2018 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

      Even if they are happening now, pro-climate action by any individual or country will have as a main result giving this individual / country pariah status compared to the others who continue to destroy the climate.

  22. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted December 3, 2018 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    We all know that he’s right, and that without immediate action on the part of industry, government, and the world’s citizens, our future—and that of many species—is bleak. Yet the disaster is far off, and people are too consumed by politics, their tribe, and their business interests to worry about a distant futurity.

    Only *some* people, if Atttenborough is correct (and he is, IIRC). The majority wants to act *now*.

  23. Posted December 3, 2018 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    At 92 years of age, Sir David Attenborough is wonderfully clear, articulate and with his acumen as sharp as ever. I have long had great admiration for this great man.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted December 9, 2018 at 6:31 am | Permalink

      He he, A nature documentary feels somehow lacking without his voice commenting 🙂

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