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Three friends at Santa Monica beach created two charts to depict humanity's response to climate change. The left-hand chart shows current emissions and the right-hand charts suggest seven policy measures to reduce emissions. Scientists have proposed five major scenarios for reducing emissions, but more action is needed to repair climate change damage. AI disruption may offer potential solutions, but care must be taken to prevent self-serving actions from fossil fuel industries. Solutions may involve sequestering carbon dioxide for restoration and creating a great wave of abundance from automation.
In 2014, three friends sketched graphs on a beach at Santa Monica to depict humanity's response to climate change. The left-hand chart was a reproduction of a paper by two climate scientists at Princeton, which showed the current emissions trajectory. The two right-hand charts were the speaker's own work which showed how emissions should be reduced to avoid catastrophic climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had just published the fifth round of scenarios for climate change, but none of them plausibly depicted what the response should be. Scientists have proposed five major scenarios for how humanity could respond, represented in a diagram with a timeline showing a steadily increasing rate of emissions by mid-2050s. The "stabilization triangle" concept suggests that seven policy measures could be used to reduce emissions and prevent further increases, but this does not end emissions and only has a distant ambition of reducing the rate of emissions in the future.
Climate change requires more than just reducing emissions to net zero. An analogy of a house on fire is used to explain that putting out the fire is not enough, and the house needs to be repaired and upgraded with smoke alarms and fire extinguishers to prevent the problem from happening again. Reaching net zero emissions is not enough to repair the damage done to the planet and further action may be needed to reverse the inertia of the planetary systems. Uncertainty remains about the effects of climate change and the full solution has yet to be presented.
Climate science has revealed that even if we reach net zero emissions and stop emitting more greenhouse gases, the global mean temperature has already risen by 1.1 degrees centigrade in the last 250 years, leading to sea level rise and other climate change impacts. There is a risk that even a small additional warming could cause catastrophic events, yet there is no consensus on a safe amount of long-term warming and the potential severity of the problem is being ignored. Research suggests that the radiative forcing function would only result in modest additional warming, but it is relative to the pre-industrial radiation balance.
The chart in Figure 2 illustrates the current rate of emissions and their projected growth. Area A is the historical emissions, while area B shows the current status quo of accelerating emissions. T Max is the point at which the rate of growth peaks, and area C is the deceleration of emissions growth. T Stable is the point at which the rate of emissions is no longer increasing and is steady. It is believed that technology could accelerate the process of emissions reduction and carbon withdrawal, allowing for the damage done over the past 200 years to be reversed and the atmosphere and oceans to be repaired. Different scenarios exist to decide how to optimize this process.
This chart illustrates different scenarios for reducing carbon emissions in the atmosphere from 400 parts per million to the pre-industrial level of 280 parts per million. Depending on the criteria, it may be more important to prevent exceeding a certain threshold than to restore the atmosphere as soon as possible. Technological investment could drive the S-curve, however, restricting growth could mean restricting emissions and potentially ruining the curve. Limiting economic development can reduce the peak concentration of emissions, but also extend the time it takes to restore the atmosphere. Figure 2 and 3 show the general shape of the impact pulse and the resulting concentration curves for different scenarios. The time it takes to restore the atmosphere and the peak concentration of emissions are both important factors to consider.
The speaker proposed an analogy of a burning house to explain the idea of prioritizing minimizing the peak concentration of damage or minimizing the time the damage is occurring over. They introduced the idea of the derivative in figure two and the integral in figure three, with slightly different units. Active effort is needed to repair and heal systems, both inanimate and biological, and this concept can be applied beyond climate change and environmental issues. Removing the source of damage is not enough; active effort must be made to repair and heal in order to restore.
Climate change is a phenomenon which cannot be assumed to fix itself and requires global management, as zero emissions may not be achievable in the near future. Systems dynamics often result in oscillation around a stable value, and this is likely to be the case with emissions. Natural systems have fluctuated around 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in the past 600,000 years, but burning fossil fuels has caused levels to go outside these bounds. Aiming high is an old wisdom which applies to this situation, as aiming for a lower level than expected may still result in an improved outcome. Restoration efforts and technological advancements may help to achieve oscillation around some value, and a thought experiment is proposed to consider what difference it would have made if people had taken restoration more seriously in 2015.
The scientific community is responsible for conveying the truth about climate change, not for managing public perception for social engineering purposes. This view has changed due to advances in technology and a better understanding of technological progress and disruption. Solutions to climate change seem more plausible and this optimism is likely to continue in the future. However, if geoengineering had been magically cured in 2015, it is unclear if it would have had any effect on climate mitigation, peak emissions date, net zero time or restoration regime, and it may have caused harm by leading people to believe the problem is worse than it actually is.
The speaker suggested that a pathway for restoration regimes is becoming more possible, and that a pulse of harm followed by repair is a general pattern in the natural world and other areas, from which insight can be drawn. He used the example of AI disruption, and how to get people to see the potential benefit. He noted the potential self-serving actions of a think tank in the fossil fuel industry, but that the same technology causing problems could be used to create a great wave of abundance from automation. The speaker concluded that the fossil fuel industry will be involved in sequestering carbon dioxide that is captured.
In 2014, three friends sketched graphs on a beach at Santa Monica which eventually became a paper, but it was not well received. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had just published the fifth round of scenarios for climate change, but the speaker felt that none of them plausibly depicted what humanity's response to climate change should be. The left-hand chart was a reproduction of a paper by popular sokolo, two climate scientists at Princeton, which showed the current emissions trajectory and the two right-hand charts were the speaker's own work which showed how emissions should be reduced to avoid catastrophic climate change.
Climate change is a global issue that needs to be addressed. Scientists have proposed five major scenarios for how humanity could respond. These are represented in a diagram with a timeline showing a steadily increasing rate of emissions by mid-2050s. The "stabilization triangle" concept suggests that seven policy measures could be used to reduce emissions and prevent further increases. However, this does not end emissions and only has a distant ambition of reducing the rate of emissions in the future.
Climate change requires more than just reducing the rate of emissions to a constant level. An analogy is used to explain this: imagine your house is on fire - the first step of a solution is to put the fire out, but it is not enough. The house needs to be repaired, and upgraded with smoke alarms and fire extinguishers to avoid the problem from happening again. The analogy shows that reducing emissions to net zero is not enough, but the ambition must increase to reach a full solution to climate change.
Climate change is a much worse problem than is widely imagined, and reaching net zero emissions is not enough to repair the damage done to the planet. Precautionary principles suggest that restoring the planet to its pre-industrial condition may not be enough, and further action may be required to reverse the inertia of the planetary systems. Uncertainty remains about how long the effects of climate change will last, and the full solution has yet to be presented to the public and policy makers.
Climate science has not been very forthright about the idea of repairing the atmosphere, not just mitigating the damage done. For any given concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, there is an equilibrium between incoming and outgoing radiation, called a radiative forcing function. This causes the planet's mean temperature to shift towards a new equilibrium. Latest climate reports have taken on language that is misleading, as it does not accurately depict the true effects of greenhouse gases.
Research today suggests that if we reach net zero and stop emitting more greenhouse gases, the concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will only result in modest additional warming. However, this warming is relative to the pre-industrial radiation balance, and the global mean temperature has already increased by 1.1 degrees centigrade in the last 250 years, resulting in sea level rise and other climate change impacts. There is a risk that even a small additional warming could cause catastrophic events such as the collapse of major ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland. There is no consensus on a safe amount of long-term warming, and the potential severity of the problem is being recklessly ignored.
Scientific community has been hesitant to sound alarmist about climate change due to technological illiteracy and lack of a solution. However, new climate scenarios now include a pathway to deep negative emissions and carbon withdrawal, making it more plausible. Figure 2 and 3 illustrate the need to put out the fire and then repair the damage done, rather than just walking away after the fire is extinguished.
The chart in Figure 2 shows the rate of emissions over time. Area A is the historical regime of emissions, while area B shows the current status quo of continued acceleration of emissions. T Max is the inflection point at which the rate of growth peaks, and area C is the deceleration of emissions growth. Finally, T Stable is the point at which the rate of emissions is no longer increasing and is steady. This corresponds to the end of the colored area in the original Pokemon Soap Load chart in 2055.
The current thinking is that emissions reduction will be a slow process, taking decades to reach net zero. However, the speaker believes that technology could accelerate this process, allowing carbon to be withdrawn from the atmosphere and oceans faster than it was emitted. This would ultimately reverse the damage done over the last 200 years and repair the atmosphere and oceans. Different scenarios exist to decide what to optimize, such as minimizing the area under the curve or getting the job done as quickly as possible.
The chart on the right illustrates various scenarios for reducing carbon emissions in the atmosphere from 400 parts per million to 280 parts per million, the pre-industrial level. Depending on the criteria, it may be more important to prevent exceeding a certain threshold than to restore the atmosphere as soon as possible. Technological investment may drive this backwards S-curve, however, restricting growth in some way could mean restricting emissions and potentially ruining the curve. This could be a trade-off that needs to be considered.
Different scenarios can affect the amount of time it takes to return the atmosphere to pre-industrial levels of carbon concentration. Limiting economic development can reduce the peak concentration of emissions, but also extend the time it takes to restore the atmosphere. Figure 2 shows the general shape of the impact pulse, which is an S-curve, with a mitigation phase and a restoration phase. Figure 3 shows the resulting concentration curves for different scenarios. The time it takes to restore the atmosphere and the peak concentration of emissions are both important factors to consider when deciding which scenario to use.
The speaker was trying to show that restoration should be part of the thinking when it comes to climate scenarios. They proposed an analogy of a burning house to explain that one could prioritize minimizing the peak concentration of damage or minimizing the time the damage is occurring over. This would involve a trade-off between extinguishing the flames quickly and committing more resources to repair. The speaker also introduced the idea of the derivative in figure two and the integral in figure three, though with slightly different units.
Active effort is needed to repair and heal inanimate systems, such as cars and houses, as opposed to biological systems which have a natural repair capacity. Our intuition may lead us to think that if the source of damage is removed, healing will be spontaneous. However, this is not the case and active effort is necessary to restore. This concept can be applied beyond climate change and environmental issues to social, economic and physical phenomena. It is not enough to just stop doing harm, active effort must be made to repair and heal.
Climate change is an example of a phenomenon which cannot be assumed to fix itself if we stop harming it. This idea can be generalised to other areas, such as the immune system which utilises exponential functions to fight against bacteria. It is difficult to get to zero when dealing with exponentials as it is difficult to time it correctly and sustain it. This implies the need for a world government to effectively manage environmental problems.
Zero emissions may not be achievable in the near future due to the opposing forces of increasing and decreasing emissions. Systems dynamics often result in oscillation around a stable value, and this is likely to be the case with emissions as well. Achieving zero emissions may be difficult due to the complex nature of the system, and instead, it is more realistic to expect oscillation around some value. This could be achieved through restoration efforts, though more distant technological advancements may give us greater control.
Natural systems have fluctuated around 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in the past 600,000 years. Burning fossil fuels has caused levels to go outside these bounds. Aiming high is an old wisdom which applies to this situation, as aiming for a lower level than expected may still result in an improved outcome. A thought experiment is proposed to consider what difference it would have made if people had taken restoration more seriously in 2015.
Geoengineering was a major obstacle in climate science and policy in 2015. If it had been magically cured, it is unclear if it would have made a difference in the trajectory of climate mitigation, peak emissions date, net zero time or restoration regime. It may have caused harm by leading people to believe the problem is worse than what was originally stated by policymakers and the scientific community. A recent publication invited the speaker to write an opinion piece, however it was deemed too radioactive for publication.
The speaker discussed their paper which concluded that the scientific community's responsibility is to the truth and not to manage public perception for social engineering purposes. They faced resistance from reviewers who were concerned about the truth making their jobs harder. The speaker believes the change in the climate science community's view is due to technology advancing and a better understanding of technological progress and disruption. They are optimistic that solutions seem more plausible and will continue to do so in the future.
The speaker suggests that making a pathway for restoration regimes is becoming more possible, and civilization can be optimistic about it. He also suggests that this pulse of harm followed by repair is a general pattern in the natural world, medicine, biology, and other areas, and that insight can be drawn from this pattern to inform social, economic, and other topics. He uses the example of Sam Altman's thoughts on the wealth that may come with AI disruption, and how to get people to see the potential benefit.
The speaker discussed how self-serving it would be for a think tank in the fossil fuel industry to write a paper advocating for the emission of whatever they like, as few people are in a position to confidently predict the effects of such actions. To combat this, the same technology that is causing problems such as surveillance capitalism could be used to create a great wave of abundance from automation. The same people with the expertise to pump billions of tons of carbon dioxide back into the ground are likely to be from the fossil fuel industry. The speaker concluded that the fossil fuel industry will be involved in sequestering carbon dioxide that is captured.
well thank you everybody for coming um what i was hoping to talk about today uh in the uh and we've got some images up on the boards is uh work that some work that i did i gosh it goes back to 2014 so the better part of a decade now um was when i first started working on it um and uh it's funny because these graphs are these these charts show uh graphs at least the the center and the right side one um show we sketched these in the beach at santa monica uh i myself and dan and another friend um all those years ago and then i turned it into a paper and eventually got it published with some resistance it wasn't well received and then in a couple of journals that i submitted it to first oh do tell but they finally get published what's that do tell why didn't they like it well the main thing that they didn't like was that i was i was very critical of the failure of um uh what up until then were the the ibcc so this is the intergovernmental panel on climate change the world um scientific consensus authority on climate science um they that intergovernmental body uh which is comprised of of many hundreds of scientists working together and then several thousand more as as contributors and reviewers the entire consensus is built around a set of scenarios and the scenarios for uh for climate change frame the problem they frame they they are something like an overton window they they provide the context and the the um definition of the problem and the challenge within which the science can ex explore possible responses and solutions so um the trouble with those scenarios however back then in 2014 when when they were um when the previous round of scenarios had just been published these things are done every uh five to eight years a new round of scenarios in a new round of climate science um uh publications are put out the fifth round the fit is called the fifth uh uh climate assessment now it had just been published in 2014 and this came to my attention uh through the work that i was doing at ucla at the time and um i felt that none of those scenarios plausibly depicted uh what our humanity's actual response to to climate change needed to be in order to really get a handle on the problem and the so what i've got what i've uh the charts that i included in that paper the first one which is over on the left hand side is not mine that's a reproduction of a a really quite famous now um uh paper by popular sokolo these are uh climate scientists at princeton and this was the picture of
what humanity's response to climate change was imagined to be so all of the the major scenarios five major scenarios that framed all of the thinking in the scientific community about how humanity could respond to climate change were were framed in the terms of the diagram on the left and what you'll notice is that the diagram on the left is uh the the y-axis is a rate so that is the rate of with in that diagram it's labeled fossil fuel emissions but you can think of them as greenhouse gas or carbon emissions um carbon equivalent emissions and uh the the diagram is a conceptual representation of how to respond to climate change and uh in i'm giving imagine i'm doing air quotes here solve climate change and the the framing of it was that we the that humanity's task was to stop the rate of emissions from increasing that that was the primary framing and you can see by the timeline that this was imagined to be possible by the mid 2050s that that the uh the humanities addition of fossil fuels into the atmosphere that rate is is increasing every year and it has been and it was long before you know the year 2000 which is the first date on the first year on the on the chart but it has been increasing all throughout that time and when this original picture was published popular and sokolo the two authors envisioned a a conceptual schema a way to think about getting from a steadily increasing rate of emissions to a constant rate of emissions and they envision doing so through a not just one policy measure but uh what they described were seven major categories of uh effort or or undertaking supported by policy in order to each take a wedge out of that triangle the total triangular area that you can see under the curve there and they call each of those wedges a stabilization wedge so a climate change stabilization wedge and the entire uh collection of seven wedges is the the stabilization triangle so this is now a key concept taught still in curriculum to environmental students worldwide the idea that we need to respond to climate change with the stabilization triangle and its constituent wedges and um what i saw here uh was just a monumental error in my mind which is that you this does not this does not end humanity's emissions it allows emissions to continue at least into the 2050s um and then only as a distant uh uh thought for the future do we even have the ambition of trying to lower actively reduce the rate of emissions and only sometime far out into the future which is beyond the the time
frame of the graph so if you extend the line perhaps you know the year 2100 um uh maybe that that uh maybe the rate would eventually reach zero does that make sense so uh it seems to me that this was not solving the problem this was uh only the first portion of a full solution to the climate challenge and so i use these the analogy i use an analogy um and i've used it for many many years and that is imagine your house is on fire okay imagine your house is on fire so it's burning and the flames are emissions okay so that's that's what the analogy is so if you have if your house is on fire what do you do what is what is the solution to the problem of your house being on fire well the first solution the first step of a solution logically is put the fire out but not some of it right not don't put out half the flames or reduce the rate of burning by 40 or 60 or something you have to put you have to extinguish the fire okay so that would be the equivalent of reducing the rate of emissions to zero okay that at the very least that is the first step to solving the problem of your house being on fire but are you done then no you're not done your house is not the problem is the problem of a house having uh caught on fire is not resolved until the house is repaired so that so once the fire is out you're not done you're only part of the way there you still have to fix the house and if you're smart that will include upgrading the house so that you know add smoke alarms and fire extinguisher you know fire sprinklers or something like that so that the house can't catch on fire again but they it that's the analogy uh and so what the the the what that is trying to show is that the prevailing conception of just focusing on uh reducing the rate of emissions uh uh to a constant level and rather than an increasing amount every year that is that is not nearly enough of a a of an ambitious goal to justify or to constitute a solution to climate change it's it's it's at best it's halfway to get halfway there um i don't mean literally halfway quantitatively i mean interesting in principle it is it is only the first step it's only half of a solution to to climate change a full solution requires not just reaching net zero emissions which the phrase net zero has become popular since i wrote this paper not because of me but just it's entered the conversation now net zero we need to get to net zero rather than you know um uh ceasing emitting um uh missions we the ambition has increased and we down and
now the conversation globally so we need to get to net zero but even that is not enough even that is not enough we need to have um we need to we need to plunge deep into a regime of uh what are sometimes called negative emissions or alternatively carbon withdrawal and pull carbon out of the atmosphere and oceans in order to repair the damage that we've done to the to the uh to the planet to the atmosphere in the oceans and by analogy that would be the equivalent of repairing the damage that a house on fire caused and what i argued in my paper um is that the evidence at that time about tipping points and uncertainties with climate uh inertia so in other words how long the effects of climate change would last um as a result of inertia within these very large and complex systems the planetary system geology and you know the atmosphere of the oceans um the biosphere and geological systems all of them it's not known to what extent there is inertia in those systems as a result of the the um forcing uh of change that we've that we've imposed by adding carbon to that and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere in the oceans so that's it especially at that time and even still today there's enormous amount of uncertainty so part one of the things that seemed to me was that it was a um the precautionary principle would suggest that um we should not assume that the planet will be fine and and repair itself if only we reached net zero emissions that seemed to me to be an extremely dangerous assumption and that a far more uh reasonable assumption would be to be conservative and say well the only way we can we can have any real confidence um that the planet will not be disrupted uh uh by um climate change in in in ways that are harmful to human interests certainly would be to restore it to its pre-industrial condition and it may be that that's even that's not enough it may be that we we might need to go further than that in order to you know uh create some reversal of inertia in order to claw back some of the um uh some of the changes that have occurred um to some of the planetary systems so all of this is is a way to say that that my suspicion at the time and it continues to be the case is that climate change is in fact a much much worse problem than is widely imagined by the public and by policy makers and perhaps by some fraction of the scientific community as well that and that what we have been presented with so far primarily has been only part of a full solution and i have suspicions about
well some of the psychological and strategic reasons for why the scientific community has not been more forthright about this because some people are certainly aware of this um uh but there just were there were no publications and there were no um scenarios that that uh in in the um climate science discourse that that were serious about uh um repairing the atmosphere not just mitigating the damage that we've done oh and that we are doing so uh that is all sort of context for the thinking behind this uh paper and the charts that are you know the charts that are shown here so um maybe let me pause and see if there are any questions because before i continue talking is is does that context make sense does to me uh there's a basic planetary physics question so the the amount of co2 in the atmosphere you could think of it through very complicated mechanisms perhaps but fundamentally there are some simple ones as as affecting the derivative of the temperature right uh like the if the if the co2 stays at a high concentration in the atmosphere you would expect temperatures to just continue increasing without any i mean all else being equal right it's not or do you expect that at a given concentration it will reach a certain temperature and stabilize the latter that is correct the latter is the expectation for any given amount of concentration of of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere you have a certain amount um you have what would be a a uh radiation balance so a a a an equilibrium become between incoming and outgoing radiation solar radiation and uh of course overwhelmingly a little bit from from stars but overwhelmingly solar radiation coming in and then overwhelmingly um uh visible light and infrared radiation going out from the planet and for any given concentration of greenhouse gases you have a balance there there's some point in which there's equilibrium and um we talk about the change a change in atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases creates a forcing function a radiative forcing function as the planet's um temperature mean temperature shifts towards that whatever that new equilibrium is and there is debate about what that is um but even that is a little bit bit misleading because the um the latest climate reports have taken on language that um is like i believe it's misleading anyway it um uh it uh the the the way that i don't wanna don't wanna misconstrue it but the i don't have a quote so let me paraphrase with the wording but the wording is that um
uh research today is showing that if we if we achieve net zero and stop emitting more greenhouse gases then the concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere today would uh would only result in a modest amount of additional additional warming and that uh that makes it sound like all we need to do is reach net zero not withdraw carbon from the atmosphere however when they when when when this language says that the the temperature will stop increasing that is relative to the current uh the current radiation balance it is not re is not relative to the pre-industrial radiation balance and we have already increased the global mean temperature by 1.1 degrees centigrade in the last 250 years and just that increase has caused i don't have the number on the top off the top of my head but 15 centimeters of sea level rise or something like 12 centimeters anyway some port that some quantity of sea level rise and a variety of other climate change impacts and one of the concerns certainly it's a concern of mine is that the the warming that has already occurred 1.1 degrees celsius even if that were to not increase a whole lot further so let's say let's imagine we stopped emitting greenhouse gases the concentration stated about 400 parts per million which is what wrote about what it is today a little a little more 410 and uh we only say you get 1.3 degrees or 1.5 degrees of warming instead of uh from the historical amount not from today not further from today but but relative to the pre-industrial baseline so that would be about 0.2 or 0.3 or 0.4 degrees further warming from today in my mind there's any there is a substantial risk that that is still plenty of warming to cause some of to to cause uh some of the worst climate change impacts because of the inertia in the system and the threat from tipping points so it may well be that for example the collapse of uh major ice sheets in west antarctica and greenland is um has already been dialed into the system by the amount of warming that has already occurred for example that's a distinct possibility and both of those events would be catastrophic that would that would be a very serious problem if those things happen um and so so uh the as i said this is you know it is an area of contention it's not uh there's no consensus on a safe amount of um warming in the long term and i think we are being as a scientific community being extremely reckless in uh failing to admit the potential severity of the problem that
we face and i believe that the reason why that has not been the standard position why it's it's that has seemed like an alarmist position is because the scientific community has been hesitant to sound alarmist and has also um uh i think probably the bigger problem is that the scientific community has not seen a path to a solution like the trajectory i illustrate in the middle diagram there the scientific community is technologically illiterate this climate science community anyway and because of that illiteracy it seemed unimaginable that we could uh there were that there was any pathway to achieving a a um a deep negative emissions or carbon withdrawal regime that just seemed totally impossible so if that was totally impossible and unthinkable well then we we couldn't look to that as a solution and so then the problem was framed differently so that a solution seemed so that a a more um a mediocre solution seemed plausible uh which is just getting to net zero that's my personal take on it and it continues if it was at that time continues to be today but of course now uh the technological pos uh um options for getting to net zero and then going into a deep carving with your regime uh seem much much much more plausible than they did 10 years ago so um this conversation is starting to change and i'm very pleased to say that the new climate scenarios the new round of five climate scenarios imperfect as they are do now include one of them does anyway actually two of them um do include going into carbon withdrawal uh regimes later in the in in the second half of the centuries and 2060s 2070s 2080s now i still don't think that's enough but um it's the the consensus is shifted in that direction so i'm very pleased to see that but these graphs and figure three are still from your original paper though right these aren't from the ipcc so those are those ones in figure three are from my original paper and so all i was trying to do with figure 2 and figure 3 here was illustrate conceptually how to frame our response to this problem so our house is on fire we have to put the fire out and we got a big you know you know once we so we got to call the fire department we got to put the fire out then once it's out you know we don't just walk into the smoldering ruin and kick our feet up on the burnt out couch and say okay job done all everything's good no then at that point we've got to call the contractors and get you know get all the teams out get repair all the damage that was done and you know
there's a lot of work to do there and i was just trying to mark each of these sort of key um uh notable not they're not strictly inflection points on the curve but um uh conceptually uh regime changes so in in the center diagram in figure two a is the emissions to data and that's the regime that we've been in historically and you can see i was doing it up to 2015 looking prospectively um and then uh b the area b in the chart is that's you know that's the status quo that's today we get continued acceleration of the rate of emissions continued acceleration of the rate so this i should be clear my chart here in the center figure this is not a rate on the y-axis this is a cumulative quantity no no i'm sorry no i apologize i apologize i apologize i apologize i have it completely wrong that is the um rate of emissions it's the one on the right-hand side that is cumulative i'm sorry about that please scratch that that i don't want him i stuck it i'm sorry um the the chart here on the left hand side it is a rate okay so the um area b is where that rate is still increasing year after year we are still accelerating our emissions the boundary t i can't read it uh t max that is the inflection point at which the rate of growth in in a the acceleration peaks at that time and that's that's not a moment it's not a prediction there's no there you know you'll notice that these team acts and so forth they're not predictions they are uh they are uh key milestones on the trajectory and the you know an important milestone will be when the rate of emissions growth peaks and i hope that we might have already achieved that it's hard to tell because of cobin but um it's not impossible uh but probably we're we aren't going to achieve probably realistically we aren't going to know for sure until later in the 2020s that we had the rate of uh emissions increase so the acceleration will have reached its max its peak it will stop accelerating then we will decelerate and so um area c is the deceleration of emissions growth so we're still emitting more each year it's we're just not accelerating the rate of emissions then finally at the you know t [Music] uh stable that is this point where we are no longer where the rate is no longer increasing the rate is no longer increasing it is uh it's steady some we've reached some steady uh uh rate of emissions but it's not increasing every year that would correspond to what in the original pokemon soap load chart was you know the end of the colored area out in 2055. so
pokemon solo imagine the 50 taking 50 years just to stop accelerating the rate of emissions uh so we're not talking about net zero just talking about stopping if you're peaking the rate okay so that's why that's the top of that curve it's the peak of the curve then we enter a regime of declining emissions and so this is where we are still emitting but the rate is lower and lower and lower each year and um the current thinking is that this is going to be very slow and and you know decade-old process where it's getting a very very long time to go from the peak rate of emissions back down to uh towards net zero and um uh what i described in the paper is that i thought that d was going to be very fairly brief uh and driven by technology and e even briefer and and and um uh that we would not asymptotically approach zero emissions net zero but rather we would just you know uh shoot past zero emissions net zero emissions into a deep carbon withdrawal all driven by technology by clean technology to mitigate emissions and then of course uh facility but facilitated by clean technology especially clean energy and um automation that we would um be able to withdraw very very large quantities of uh of carbon from the atmosphere and oceans um and that the what i what i wanted to show was that this the the the the rate of withdrawal in principle facilitated by technology could at its maximum exceed the rate of um the maximum the peak rate of emissions so at some point and i hope i'm right this is how this is idealized and what i hope is that we will throw the whole process into reverse and we will actually be repairing the atmosphere and oceans eventually repairing them faster than we were harming them at our peak rate of causing harm and um so this is a way of saying that you know hopefully it will take less time to re to repair the atmosphere then it took the dam then the 200 years it took to damage it and um so the the entire area above zero net zero on the curve is mitigation so when you hear about climate mitigation that's what it's talking about mitigating emissions trying to get to net zero and what is not part of the global conversation or really hasn't been at all until very recently has been what i call in this restoration this this um this this uh that that concept now the figure three on the right just shows a few different scenarios where we have to decide what we're optimizing are we trying to minimize the area under the curve are we trying to um get the whole job done as
soon as possible are we trying to do you know the best case scenario where we do both of those really aggressively or um do we you know business as usual we just continue growing and shoot off the top of the chart this other figure three on the right is a variety of different scenarios for how that could occur and the area the chart on the right is if you want to imagine it is that is the cumulative um uh the the that is the cumulative the the resulting i shouldn't say cumulative i should say the resulting uh concentration of carbon in the atmosphere and um so what we want there is we want to go from where we are today which is pretty cool you know around 400 uh parts per million co2 in the atmosphere back down to the pre-industrial level of about 280 and um so anyway that just illustrates some different scenarios of what this this uh uh what what we could choose to do and um uh depending on what we were trying to optimize like are we trying to avoid passing some key threshold like if it turns out okay well if 500 parts per million or something like that is a tipping point and you know things really go to hell if we let it tip past there well uh we need to be very careful that doesn't happen and maybe you know um it's more important to to prevent exceeding that amount than it is to get the whole job done as soon as possible um to get back down to uh to restore and complete the restoration of the atmosphere to its pre-industrial levels as soon as possible and so depending on what your criteria are or depending on if you're trying to avoid thresholds and sorry go ahead so one of the trade-offs you might imagine there is you uh i mean the driver of this kind of backwards s-curve that drops down from high emissions to behind low negative emissions or high negative emissions whatever uh one of those would be technological development perhaps driven by well if you look at the the reason for these renewable energy disruptions you've talked about part of it is the fact that well largely you'd have to think it's to do with china and india industrializing and becoming energy intensive and not accepting the current cost of energy so that drives down the the the price um due to technological investment if we restrict technological investment by restricting growth in some way you could imagine that restricting emissions perhaps optimistically in order to avoid some tipping point but perhaps also ruining this s-curve is that the kind of trade-off you maybe have in mind well the the um
yes that is that's a scenario and and uh i think what you would see on in that sort of scenario on the right uh in figure three is you would see something like the in that case the turquoise line where it limits the total concentration in the atmosphere because you're you're sort of preventing economic development from occurring say for example but because of that the lack of economic development might translate into slower technological advancement and less resources to pour into aggressive restoration and carbon withdrawal and therefore it would you would extend the time required to actually completely withdraw a process and get back down to the pre-industrial concentration of carbon in the atmosphere and so what you would be sacrificing there would be um you would be limiting the peak uh concentration in the atmosphere the peak acute impact of emissions um but but you would be forestalling you would be delaying the point at which you achieved restoration to pre-industrial levels and it's and depending on what scientific research shows which this research has not been done you would need to decide which of those is more important to limit the concentration in the atmosphere or to uh return the atmosphere to its its pre-industrial state as quickly as possible and we don't know the answer to that question because this is not part of the res of the framing of the problem and this research has not been done at least to my knowledge now those all of those those different scenarios on the right hand side they would correspond to different um uh steepnesses or sheep shapes of this what you call the backwards s curve you would still get the general shape of what i call the impact pulse here which is you would still have the same um s curve and then eventually a return uh so you still have a mitigation phase and a restoration phase but the the you know the steepness of those the steepness of the curve and the duration of it and so forth again i'm talking about figure 2 here you would get a different pulse shape that would result in a different concentration curve on the right hand side so i didn't show different pulses in figure two different scenarios for pulses i only showed different concentration resulting concentration curves in figure three but you could imagine um there are one two three four five um no they're one two three four curves and then the the red one isn't you know that's just business as usual going to the moon um you can imagine for the four where the scenarios where
the s1 through um what is it i can't i'm sorry i can't read that oh s why did i label it like that that seems dumb i'm sorry um s two three four and five on the curve you could imagine uh each of those having their own corresponding uh impact pulse in other words their own curve of of figure two their own version of figure two uh but and it wouldn't you know it would it would they would differ somewhat but not uh they would all have a mitigation phase and they would all have a restoration phase um and so in other words i was trying to reframe the entire conversation to say restoration has to be part of the thinking and then when once you admit it into the thinking then you have important decisions to make like you know should you prioritize minimizing the peak concentration in order you know in other words the max the maximum extent of the damage or should you try to minimize you know minimize the time that the damage is occurring over so again switch back to the analogy of a burning house what should you try to minimize sort of the the the um extent of the damage or how long the damage occurs for so if you want to maybe extend that you know maybe maybe push the analogy a little bit imagine your house is burning um should you you know um should you try to extinguish the flames uh uh as ah should you try to extinguish the flames as quickly as possible um and then read not worry about rebuilding the house so fast um or should you uh you know focus on putting your resources towards the repair work so you let a little bit more of it burn don't worry too much about the maximum amount of burn damage but then just know that you're gonna have to repair have a bigger repair job but if you've got more repair committed more resources to repair you can you know you can get the whole repair job done faster so you can imagine you would there's some trade off there and that was what i was trying to show in the i guess that analogy doesn't work very well but it um that was what i was trying to show in figure three now the re the the i hope all of this makes sense it's it's it is non-linear it's all sort of unintuitive you have the um you have something like the um derivative in figure two and something like the integral in figure three um although the the units are slightly different um but uh uh what i was hoping to bring to this conversation in addition to introducing this this idea um which is now relevant because the latest climate scenarios is sort of borne out my thinking and back in this paper but what
i was hoping to do was generalize generalize this concept beyond climate change and maybe even beyond environmental problems to sort of general phenomena social phenomena economic phenomena physical phenomena where you need to escape thinking about things just like figure one where you're you know you're just you're where you're you just want the rate to uh peak and then get back to net zero where is that not enough where else in our lives and our world is that not enough where else do we need to think about not just stop doing harm but also actively repairing and healing right so and i think maybe some of this misunderstanding is if you forgive me for conjecturing a little for a moment here i think some of this may just come out of our own intuitive um uh thinking that's rooted in biology so our bodies and uh other organisms and the natural world around us it's it has a repair capacity and that you know our bodies have a natural repair capacity and ecosystem stem repair capacity and all you know so if you do harm to something then it's i think our i think our intuition i think it's not unreasonable to suppose that that our intuition may incline us to think well as long as you stop doing harm then things will just go back to normal eventually they'll just fix themselves if you stop doing harm then you know recovery recovery will happen healing will happen and it's happened you know that's how it works with us with our bodies maybe that's how it works with a lot of our social issues may certainly in the rest of the you know living world that's how things are um at different scales you know in different levels of organization whether it's species or an entire forest or a whole ecosystem you know if if there's if some there's some source of damage and then you remove the source of damage healing seems to be spontaneous now maybe it can take a little while but it's you know seems to be spontaneous but with inanimate systems inanimate objects things that are designed things that are engineered that's not the case right if your car gets damaged if your house gets burned it is not going to fix itself if you put out the fire or you know if it's damaged it's going to stay damaged unless you fix it unless you make an active effort to repair it and so um i think that this is a this this this concept of um uh uh of of needing to do more than just mitigate but actually restore the need to do more than just cease harming but actually actively heal i think that is is an important general concept and
there is something of a of a disconnect um in in um in our general thinking certainly about environmental problems we just we sort of automatically make the assumption that natural systems will repair themselves if we just stop harming them and i think that again especially with climate change i think that's a an erroneous and extremely dangerous false assumption to make um and but i'm interested in how this might generalize to other phenomena so if does anybody have any thoughts of you know is there anything else in life or the you know the wider world or the universe where where we would expect a pulse phenomena instead of a um a bell curve phenomena i just watched a video on youtube with my son about the immune system and uh when a when you get a cut or something that was what the video was about and you get bacteria inside the wound it takes sometimes days for the body to marshal all the different elements of the immune system mostly because they're exponentials involved right to fight an exponential you need another exponential and so the immune system goes around finding various different components i forget all the names but which are targeted to the particular bacteria that you have and then it starts them multiplying it sort of wakes them up and they start multiplying and then when they arrive if it's sort of scaled correctly they exponentially destroy the invasion and it's no fight at all but i think there this does i mean this deep restoration phase reminds me maybe it's fairly typical of systems that are controlled via exponentials i don't know that the atmosphere is really like that though maybe our interaction with the atmosphere is kind of like that given that our economic activity is sort of governed by feedback loops and exponentials um maybe any time i mean it's it's kind of unless there's some reason why zero is a lower bound maybe it's almost impossible for us to really achieve a bell curve right because how do you actually time it so that you really get back to zero you almost don't fix it or you overshoot somehow and get into deep negative territory that's a great point yeah that's a great point like how would you bullseye net zero so what are the chances of actually getting or and even achieving it like or sustaining like how would you sustain do you wear that it's it's it and depending on the precision you want to measure things it's absurd it's impossible well it kind of i mean getting to zero kind of kind of implies some sort of world government and very
strict control of emissions right if you because to get to zero kind of means that you're balancing two opposing forces right one is something that continually wants to increase it and something that continually wants to decrease it and that's inherently a situation that's full of conflict aiming for zero sort of implies a high level of conflict whereas getting deep into negative territory is possible simply because of a fundamental change that doesn't necessarily involve conflict at that level right it's just that you've changed the nature of the system and now you just by its nature don't have that problem anymore or something like that it's sort of uh hard to imagine zero as being a sort of easy way out uh probably what we would see what we would expect to see just thinking just systems dynamics examples where there are feedbacks and and you know there are you know multiple exponential um phenomena are interacting with one another and they produce um a variety of different effects one of which is is oscillation around some some uh value something some not necessarily equilibrium but um it's a stable uh a stable state of a system will often comprise oscillation around um you know a value or mean or something like that and um you know we see this in a variety of you know all sorts of different complex systems ecological ones are ones that come to mind where you know you can for example have pr the populations of predators and prey um uh they do tend to grow exponentially and then collapse exponentially you can't have overshoot and you can have you know um collapse if you're you know talking about things like population which is you know typically what you would look at with predators and prey um but what we what we see is that when things settle into a stable system state a stable configuration it isn't sort of that suddenly the populations of both the predator and the prey species are constant and unchanging it's that they oscillate in a stable way around some values and um uh so i i would imagine that you know at the end of some restoration period we you know unless you're talking about unless you're imagining some distant more distant uh uh technological um uh advancements and you know at some point in the future that a lot give us a great degree of control over the concentration of the atmosphere which i suppose is conceivable um it probably is more realistic to expect sort of oscillation around some uh oscillation around some value as opposed to properly achieving zero and um
uh you know the natural systems i mean the natural levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are like that too you know they fluctuate and and they fluctuate around uh 280 parts per million or at least they have in the holocene in the um six hundred thousand years or so prior uh leading up to that but there have been periods of you know more more sudden change but there's some sort of for lack of a better word some sort of stochastic behavior in the system that where there's ups and downs and ups and downs and basically oscillation um but around some some value and we've obviously you know artificially through burning fossil fuels we've gone way outside the normal bounds of that of that fluctuation of that fluctuation yeah i think that observation helps in the current climate because it it fits with the psychological mechanism which is that if you aim at zero you probably won't hit it but if you aim at negative 500 you you might that's a good point too yes yes yes yes uh i guess another thing that i was i suppose i was thinking is that um with with the if you aim into the negative and you don't hit exactly where you're aiming well uh then you're kind of at least you're on one of these curves off in figure three and being on those is better than not being on them at all and so um i suppose it's the you know aim high is that is the adage right that's the old wisdom is aim high um and you know it's the opposite on this graph but it's the same idea right and we should be we should be aiming and then like you said hopefully we'll you know um we may not hit the mark we're aiming at but we'll at least we'll hit something that's worth hitting as opposed to missing missing the target completely um and uh and not achieving what we want to achieve which is a proper solution to this huge problem you might play devil's advocate a bit and say well so what okay so suppose uh suppose nobody thought about restoration uh okay maybe that made people some a lot of people a lot sadder than they might have otherwise been given the embodied hope in that idea of restoration uh but would it have made a difference i mean you're sort of asking the question maybe this was a mistake to not take adam door more seriously in 2015 but and you can ask that question about many other trends i guess but what do you so let's run the thought experiment if we went back to 2015 and everybody was forced to read your paper and and maybe even more difficult force to believe it and think it was possible which seems to
me like the major obstacle i mean this word geoengineering you have innocuously in figure 2 is like a scary word or was a scary word i don't know if it's still a scary word in your discipline that was one reason why um that was a big boogeyman in the climate in the climate science and policy journal that i originally submitted to right you put your finger right on it yeah i could not surprise um okay so suppose you magically cured that back in 2015 well what would have been different would anything have been different it's not it's not so clear though i mean there's perhaps some some um there's some question uh technologically of to what extent the you know there's the the the trajectory of climate mitigation and then eventually restoration is a uh is inevitable as a function of technological advancement um and and you know what would we really have done any take anything different taking any different steps would we really have you know accelerated the entire pulse trajectory brought the peak emissions date closer you know brought the net zero time closer brought the negative you know the restoration regime closer would that really have happened if we'd been serious about it or uh would this just have frightened and panicked and concerned people and alarmed people and depressed them and made them pessimistic and uh and and you know even more than they already are about uh about the prospect of the future and solving things and and you know would would i think it's a perfectly fair question psychologically and socially would it have made any difference and might have caused harm to um uh believe that or to see the problem for perhaps if i'm right what it really is which is worse than we were you know led to believe by by um policymakers in the scientific community and i suppose that's a good question yeah i guess i just made any difference that wasn't quite my question i suppose i'm too much of a stubborn classical liberal to think that scientists should do anything other than tell the whole truth as they know it and i think it's fairly disgusting that's absolutely an opinion of mine um 100 i don't know sorry to interrupt you dan but you may have seen um uh a recent publication of mine um sorry just a very i they invited me apologi to write an opinion piece and i wrote the opinion piece and then when it went to review it was too radioactive and they the editors liked the piece but they said we're really sorry if we can't publish it oh i remember that you sent
it to me at the time yeah yeah and one of the major things that i i concluded the paper with exactly the point you just made which is that that our responsibility as a scientific community is to the truth not to trying to manage public perception for social engineering purposes to you know maintain whatever whether it's contain panic and concern or maintain alarmism to to keep people motivated to you know to minimize climate uh complacency around climate if people think there's a technological solution they'll stop worrying about trying to change their um their uh uh you know their their personal lifestyle habits which is a major prescription right now is to fix this problem with with um with lifestyle change uh the the reviewers were full of all they were refused all of the reviewers uh that i had who were concerned were concerned for precisely those reasons if we tell the whole truth if you what you're saying gets out there and we publish this in this journal it's gonna it's gonna make our jobs harder of doing the social engineering and i couldn't believe it and i and that's where i ran into real trouble and that's what ended up being so controversial because i basically told the reviewers to get and and the truth is what mattered and they and then the journalists said i'm sorry we you know we can't publish it's too controversial right but anyway so i'm 100 100 with you dan that our job as scientists is the truth and the whole truth and nothing but the truth and and you know that's it basically it's not up for us to decide what is safe for the public to know um we only have a few minutes left we can continue this next week i guess would make sense um sure i mean again as as i uh uh said a few minutes ago i mean again really my goal here was not to sort of um you know wag my finger or or glow or anything like that i'm very pleased that the climate science community has come around to seeing things a little bit more my way and i think they will continue to do so in the future but mostly i'm optimistic about that because i think i think the main reason for that change is not sort of some sort of sudden realization that the problem is is is worse than we thought there's maybe a little bit of that but i think more likely that explanation is that solutions seem more plausible than we originally believed because the technology state of technology is advancing and the our understanding of this of technological um progress and disruption you know the work that i'm
doing and others are doing is making it making a a plausible pathway for actually going into a restoration regime um is making that clearer it's making that uh uh um seem less like science fiction and more like a real possibility that we could achieve and we could afford and and that you know civilization can start to get excited and be optimistic about that and i think that that's fantastic what i do hope though maybe we can talk about this next time is i i do think this is an important phenomenon as a general pattern the idea of of uh of a pulse of impact a pulse of harm followed by uh um repair so or i guess the whole whole pattern is a is like a heartbeat it's like a pulse and then you know you have some surge of harm and then ace an equal an equally strong surge of repair and i would like to to see if there are other ways other environmental issues certainly because of course that's my focus but um elsewhere in the natural world but in medicine and biology elsewhere where this same pattern the same phenomenon applies and where we might draw insight from that how can that inform our thinking on other topics social topics economic topics i think i think i think there's i think if we look we will probably find this pattern elsewhere and um it may be interesting the crux seems to me oh so i'll tell any before i get the general point i'll give another example so i follow sam altman on twitter sam altman is the ceo of he's a kind of well-known yeah yeah he's you know ran y combinator for a while very known figure well-known figure in silicon valley circles um so he's often saying things like uh we should start thinking about what to do with all the wealth we're going to have soon he's referring to what he thinks is coming with regards to disruption in artificial intelligence and you know partly people are very scathing about that at least some subset of the community you know there's people that are just always upset at anybody who runs a company for various reasons especially a rich person especially a rich person in silicon valley or in san francisco where there's you know homelessness the epidemic and many other you know problems and to see a rich person sitting there talking about how much cake everybody will be able to eat soon seems offensive to the nth degree yes however he's i think he's right right and it's it's a very interesting problem how to get people to see that so i think it's not uns it's not dissimilar to the problem you had with this paper perhaps
because well you don't work in the fossil fuel industry but you could right suppose you were working in a think tank in the fossil industry and you wrote this paper well it would seem extremely self-serving right it's kind of like you're saying who cares about part c let's emit whatever we like because d e and f are coming and whatever will be fine yes that's a very good point yeah however the people i mean in many issues say with sam altman's case there are very few people in a position to confidently predict f especially if the technology required to make f look plausible comes from exactly the same technology or circle of technology that is making c d and e possible right so yeah it happens to be that removing carbon from the atmosphere is a very very different problem to refining petroleum at least as far as i understand it so it isn't there isn't so much overlap but in many disciplines there is and ai is one of them right it takes the same i mean the same forces that are making our social fabric disintegrate from twitter and facebook and you know have all sorts of problems surveillance capitalism and many other things we're concerned about the same engineering technology required to make that work is what's going to unleash uh potentially a great wave of abundance from automation so the same people who are in a position to predict i think i think you're more right about the fossil fuel industry than maybe you you realize the one of the one of the not the only one maybe not the best one but a major form of carbon withdrawal uh is to capture the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and then pump it back down into old oil and gas wells and you can guess exactly who the people are with the expertise that's going to be required to pump uh billions of tons of co2 back into the ground from where back to where it came from in the first place it's going to be those same the same industry or either reform but certainly the same expertise and skill sets and probably a lot of the same individual people so i think i think you're absolutely right and more right than you even realized because the fossil fuel industry or the remnants of it will be involved in sequestering uh carbon dioxide that is captured absolutely okay maybe that's a good place to stop i gotta head off to the next session but thanks a lot adam that was that was great and we'll pick it up let's let's pick this up again next week thank you yeah this is really really interesting great thanks everyone for attending