Greening of the Earth Mitigates Surface Warming (2020)

435 points300 comments13 days
by DoreenMichele13 days ago

Before life got in the way, I wanted a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Resource Management as a foundation for a Master's in Urban Planning. I currently run r/UrbanForestry for the same reason:

I don't think it makes sense to see human settlements as separate from nature. I think of nature as the fabric within which such configurations occur.

It isn't inevitable that human development must be a concrete jungle. You can include plants, permeable surfaces, etc in your plans so people can live more lightly and less intrusively on the land.

I also think America has a lot of room for adding back walkable mixed-use neighborhoods where at least some people can live, work and shop in the same neighborhood. Or at least live and shop if they are retirees, teens, or similar groups who aren't seeking a job or who already work at home or from home in some capacity.

Studies suggest this leads to greater wealth in such neighborhoods (such as more sales) and we know vehicle traffic is a significant burden wrt human-caused climate change. Making it possible to skip the long commute makes for a better quality of life and less pollution adding to this issue.

We currently frame this issue as a painful choice between short-term gratification and current high quality of life with a long-term cost of global disaster versus short-term sacrifice for slim hope of assuaging our guilt with no guarantee of real improvement in the future. I don't think that's necessary.

I've lived without a car in the US for more than a decade. I think you can live that way and live well. I think we can design and build a world that provides a high quality of life for people and doesn't destroy the environment in the process.

by Iv13 days ago

I live in the Japanese countryside and I absolutely need a car for living, but it makes me sad to realize that it would take almost nothing for me to get rid of the car. I spend my driving time 90% on a single road where all the places I need are. I spend 9% on another similar big axis. I occasionally go to Tokyo but to do so I park my car at the free parking on the highway bus station.

A regular bus on the two axis I use would allow me to totally get rig of a car. I am pretty sure we could automate such a bus given today's tech.

by presentation12 days ago

How far apart are the places you typically go to? Sounds like an e-bike might do the trick for most days.

by Iv12 days ago

e-bikes dont drive by themselves, are slow, dangerous (the roads are very narrow with no sidewalk) open to the rain and have shit carrying capacity. And I say that as a fan of e-bikes.

by presentation12 days ago

I mean, are you intending to carry a ton of stuff on the bus? If cargo is that big a deal you can also look for a cargo bike. And buses aren't exactly known for being super duper speedy, when I ride my normal bike around Tokyo I'm generally faster from point A to B than actual personal cars (to be fair its super dense and slow here for cars). Agreed that it does suck in the rain though, and maybe people drive faster out where you live (I personally prefer biking on the road here in Tokyo, way more hazardous weaving through people on the sidewalks).

by chapium13 days ago

You might want to check out a pedelelec to see if it fits your need.

by lovemenot12 days ago

Your experience is relevant to me.

I cannot drive but am about to move from Tokyo to Nagano. It's close to a local station, so I may be able to manage. Until I try though I won't know.

by ekianjo12 days ago

> A regular bus on the two axis I use would allow me to totally get rig of a car.

Not if you need to carry a lot of stuff like groceries for a whole family. Unless you decide to do a bus trip every single day, losing time while waiting for the next bus the arrive.

by SECProto12 days ago

Lots of people all over the world do shopping for multiple days of groceries without having a car. It's not that hard - a large bag for veg, a somewhat smaller bag for protein, maybe a third bag for miscellaneous. Especially if you eat a reasonably traditional Japanese diet, it'd be easy - rice and miso you only buy once a month or so depending.

Groceries in the West take up so much space because they are all prepackaged. A couple boxes of cereal and a loaf of bread takes up as much space as a week worth of veg. Using dishclothes and a washlet instead of paper towels or (most) toilet paper and you've got another couple volumetrically huge items off your shopping list

by DoreenMichele12 days ago

The other thing that happens is that as you walk more and get healthier, it gets easier over time to carry the groceries and you tend to eat less. I experienced this firsthand when I gave up my car: Over time, I had more strength and stamina and also less appetite.

America has an epidemic of obesity and I think for some people that fact makes it unimaginable to live without a car. But I think cause and effect run the other way: So many Americans are overweight and frustrated with their lives in part because we have made it so hard in this country to run errands on foot.

It has become a vicious cycle.

You reverse it by just starting. Let some people run errands on foot and by car. Target the low-hanging fruit, the people (like lv) who say "I could do that if I only had this small bit of help."

Let them take the leap. Take the gains you can access instead of quibbling about "But that doesn't work for everyone!"

Nothing works for everyone and ruining our planet is working for no one.

by riffraff12 days ago

I shop more than once a week (it's part of my morning walk/routine), and I concur that it's perfectly doable without a car, so I agree with you on the general point.

But: why would a loaf of bread take up much space? The "packaging" there is just a bit of paper, and it has much higher density than most vegetables, I think?

I.e. a loaf is enough bread for 4 people for a couple days, the equivalent amount of "non-compressed" vegetables like fennel/lettuce/zucchini would be much larger. Only some crucifers or large pumpkins would be comparable, and potatoes/yams.

Maybe it's a US thing about packaged bread? I live in the EU, so I might be thinkinf of something else.

by readflaggedcomm12 days ago

For me, size of American groceries isn't a problem. Heat is the main problem.

But when rarely it's cool, stores along heavy foot-trafficked routes are extremely hostile to carrying bags, which makes it inefficient to bother.

by naravara12 days ago

When you live in a walkable area your grocery bags become smaller and your trips more frequent. You go to smaller neighborhood markets for your day to day things like milk, meat, and produce. You get dry goods a little at a time during your other more frequent trips.

You make bus trips to get to work or do stuff anyway so it’s just a stop on your way home, not a big deal.

by n8cpdx12 days ago

Grocery delivery has been a great help, and I think probably makes more sense in general, but definitely so in cities/downtowns.

Still, I can get most, if not all, shopping for one done with a backpack and two feet. I don’t think it would be that different with a small family, and you can reasonably recruit family members to help. Growing up, my mom would take me shopping and I was always desperate to help (or “help” in the case of wanting to push the carriage). I think most kids at least start out this way and would be happy to carry a few bags assuming the journey isn’t too arduous, and it will make them healthier than spending that time with the PlayStation.

by dylan60412 days ago

For me, the closest retail of any value is right around 3 miles each way. Not a convenient walk if wanting to buy more than a backpack's worth. I picked up an eBike, and now I can get there just as fast as if I had a car. I tried the grocery delivery for awhile. It was great at first until they all switched to Instacart, and now it's more expensive and less quality service. This was the main factor in deciding on getting an eBike to just stop using Instacart.

by hazza_n_dazza10 days ago

its a backpack and two feet everyday for a family :)

by nativeit12 days ago

I admit that your point is valid in the scope of modern living. I do think this is reflective of some of what has been lost in the last century, however. With greater routine access to artisans, shops and grocers, the ability to obtain fresher, healthier ingredients in smaller quantities more frequently is a natural consequence. The sort of diets and lifestyles that we (American culture specifically) still sort of fetishizes through Food Network, A&E, and YouTube food entertainment series are enabled through the greater availability and access to Main Street shops that cater to narrower markets like bakers, delicatessens, butchers, farmers' markets, and general stores. Granted this isn't automatically a panacea, and may not necessarily scale to modern populaces effectively, but I am of the opinion that it's a component of a healthier and more sustainable way of living in areas that could support it.

by krageon12 days ago

I've always been able to buy groceries for a whole family while walking (back when going to a supermarket was still normal), what exactly do you see as the major roadblock for something like that? Bring bags or maybe a (large) backpack and some packing skills, you will be fine. You can even take one of those bag on wheels type things if you cannot or will not carry heavy weights - I certainly have if I knew I needed a lot of drinks for a party or something similar.

by Agingcoder12 days ago

Where I live (Paris) , people use 'bag on wheels'. I'm able to do almost all my grocery shopping with it.

by nativeit12 days ago

Plus, we could go back to having our milk delivered! What a weird notion that is in these modern times.

by puchatek12 days ago

Getting your groceries delivered is quite normal here in NL. We like to order larger quantities of things in cans or dry stuff like legumes delivered, then still go to the neighborhood supermarket for fresh produce, either on foot or by bike. I never owned a car and always saw it as a tremendous waste of money. But it can be handy sometimes and in such occasions i use car sharing services which have a similar level it convenience: i can reach 2 cars on foot and two more by bike within 5-7 minutes and while i need to reserve upfront, 99% of the time i decide i need one there will be one available. Worst case is i have to ride my bike a little further.

by n4r912 days ago

You just need better equipment. In the UK you often see older people going around the shops with their own trolley-bag like this:

by Scarblac12 days ago

This is why it's so nice to have supermarkets at walking or at least short cycling distance from where people live. You don't need to get groceries for a week at a time then.

by WalterBright12 days ago

> permeable surfaces

To minimize the size of the driveway at my house, but provide overflow parking, I decided to try "grasscrete". Grasscrete is essentially concrete blocks with holes in them so the grass can grow through. The concrete will support cars so they don't sink into the muck. After a while, enough grass grows through it to hide the whole thing and it looks like more lawn instead of more concrete.

The results are very good.

by nickpp12 days ago

I did something similar for my driveway, using some thin plastic honeycomb-shaped pavers in which I put dirt and grass seed. Unfortunately, for car traffic, they still needed a strong support underneath: crushed rock stabilized with concrete. This is not very permeable for either water or roots, so the grass is limited to the little dirt inside those honeycombs. That dirt dries out very fast too, so I have to water a lot in the summer.

It does look much better and is feels much cooler than pavement though.

by npsomaratna12 days ago

Thank you for bringing this up. I didn't realize that an option like this existed; and I'll be considering it the next time I have to redo a parking area.

by afandian12 days ago

Also voided concrete. Same idea with rebar.

by altcognito12 days ago

This is a curious idea, I’m wondering how that holds up since it would retain so much water. In cold areas, any water caught in the gaps would break up the concrete when it gets cold enough to ice over.

by modo_mario12 days ago

the blocks creating the gaps generally aren't connected to eachother so they can't really be broken open like that

by WalterBright12 days ago

Right. They're put down like paving stones are. How much support they need underneath depends on the weight put on it, and the frequency of use. Mine is used for occasional parking of random cars, which isn't hard on the blocks.

by necovek11 days ago

It has been used in parking spaces for apartment blocks since at least 1970s in former Yugoslavia:

There is nothing particularly worrisome about them, except that it doesn't really grow much grass if frequently used.

by ricardobeat12 days ago

Just don’t let unsuspecting kids play on it :)

by presentation12 days ago

I personally think that it's OK to view human development as separate from nature. I don't really care if the land within city limits is polluted or overexploited, so long as it's just the that city and the area outside of it is well preserved, and the city doesn't sprawl out like they do in the USA (suburbs...). Ultra dense city centers like Hong Kong are far more preferable to preserving the environment to sparse, but enormous settlements like Los Angeles, which are far more wasteful and harmful to the environment per-capita. While I agree it would be nice to have greener cities as a resident of a major city (Tokyo), it's not a requirement for a high quality of urban life, nor is it a requirement for preserving the environment.

by saeranv11 days ago

I agree. I am also concerned about the way surbanism, and sprawl is conflated with being "eco-friendly", when it's the exact opposite: much more per-capita waste associated with suburban living then ultra-dense urban space.

by abledon12 days ago

I can't fathom how people grow up in cities with no access to nature, (the only nature available is hyper populated parks with dogshit and cigarette butts routinely cleaned up when the sanitation workers comb over the grounds). When the mind is developing, to have no access to real nature outside of cities,... how does it affect the mind, adhd, anxiety etc... seems like a no brainer to design heavy nature exposure into the cities of the future

by jerrysievert12 days ago

> the only nature available is hyper populated parks with dogshit and cigarette butts

wow, that's a hyper negative view of cities. am I spoiled by knowing that there are large "parks" around me, ranging from 200 acres to 1300+ acres that are within walking or bus distance? hardly the dogshit and cigarette butt filled parks that some others are describing.

by hunter-gatherer12 days ago

I grew up in SE Utah and have lived in DC/Maryland for some years of my adult life. To people like me, the 1300 acre parks a a very far cry from "nature". Probably just that perspective.

by presentation12 days ago

I grew up in the Midwest, experienced a lot of great nature and hiking around the US and Asia, but live in Tokyo and enjoy big cities. From my perspective—if the city is clean and quiet (my Apple watch says 95% of my neighborhood has an ambient noise level of 35dB, and I live near a popular central Tokyo station), and has enough nice parks near me (definitely don't need anywhere close to 1300 acres for that), that does the job—I don't feel any need whatsoever to live in immediate proximity to amazing natural amenities, and when I do go to them, a couple days is more than I need.

Personally I think that Americans just don't realize that it's not cities that suck, it's American cities that suck. Plenty of pleasant cities to live in in the world.

by dylan60412 days ago

I don't think that's negative at all. I find it pretty accurate. Cities are so desperate for parks, that they call concrete paved areas named as parks with a minimum amount of green. Parks !== nature. If your only experience with nature is a city park, then you haven't really experienced nature.

by hazza_n_dazza10 days ago

i've been to many cites, and many suburbs. in my city, we have suburbs that are full of trees and parks. i've even seen a kangaroo and a koala nesar the city. then we in the same city have these car bound arid wastelands. both are true. australia and america have cities like this, all their cities have this wasteland. travelling in europe, you see the medium cities. many trams, bike lanes and trains to get between the wastelands which still exist and the nice parks in the nice places. the european model ( i say this as a cyclist) is so much preferable.

by dragonwriter12 days ago

> I can't fathom how people grow up in cities with no access to nature,

They don't, in general. compared to suburban or even heavily utilized rural areas. Neither farms nor manicured suburban parks are any more nature than cities are.

And cities can be as proximate to natural preserves as anything else can be.

If you don't mean actual nature, just green outdoor spaces, cities often incorporate and provide access to them.

by de_keyboard12 days ago

Cities are great for preserving nature because the alternative is suburban sprawl. However, we definitely need greener cities and better car-free access to nature. Good train links with local buses are a proven solution.

by dragonwriter12 days ago

> However, we definitely need greener cities and better car-free access to nature.

Access to nature and preserving nature are opposed goals. Access to nature is destruction facilitating further destruction.

by de_keyboard12 days ago

Sort of... ultimately you can't provide access to nature and destroy nature. However, policy in most developed countries is exactly this. I am advocating a balanced approach where people have access to nature in a way that is less damaging.


by euroderf12 days ago

I agree, and I think part of the answer is to have access to unmanaged (or very lightly managed) land. For a kid, a wildflower meadow is a thing of wonder. Related, how many US states have a "right to roam" ?

by SyzygistSix11 days ago

I don't think right to roam is encoded in law like it is in some European countries but it was common behavior in the 1970s growing up. Much less so in the 21st century.

by john_moscow12 days ago

Why oh why has it become some sort of a religion to deny yourself the comfort of having your own private space? The joy of taking care of your own garden. The discipline of maintaining your roof, driveway and a million other small things. The peacefulness of not hearing your neighbors talk when you are trying to fall asleep...

Humanity has found a way to split atom, to defeat the plague, to send people to the Moon, and now we cheerfully celebrate turning ourselves into caged animals.

I just don't get it, really. We have the smarts and the technology to make comfortable living eco-friendly. We see the birth rates decline, implying that people's satisfaction with their life quality is not worth sharing it with the next generation. And we stubbornly do everything we can to lower it further.

For common sense's sake, please look at the big picture. Your guilt is someone else's profit margin. You are being taught to hate yourself because this way you will settle for a lower salary and won't have a family to distract you from your work. Please, don't get yourself manipulated.

by saeranv11 days ago

There's plenty of objective, and subjective reasons why people would prefer higher-density living. Higher density means easy access to higher-quality resourcs like jobs, diversity, jobs, public transportation, restaurants/other amenities; which just can't be achieved with low-density occupancy. Finally, it's important to recognize how harmful sprawl is to the environment. The high-occupancy dwellers are using a fraction of energy a typical surbanite is.

by john_moscow11 days ago

Well, it would work if the same rules applied to everyone.

But instead, we have a ruling class that owns the companies, lives in detached houses in gated communities, has multiple cars, flies first class to vacations. And we have the serfs working "jobs" in these companies, treated like shit by egomaniac bosses, and are constantly told to adopt the continuously lowering living standard in the name of rather abstract and unquantifiable goals. That also, coincidentally, prevents them from competing with the ruling class. Am I really the only one seeing massive hypocrisy here?

by BrianHenryIE12 days ago

A man after my own heart!

I've been living in California (Sac) for five years, I'm 37, I've never learned to drive.

I've been in a car only twice in the past 500+ days (both times to bring my dog to the vet).

I feel good because of it. I evangalise.

The world will be better without private cars.

by haroldp12 days ago

> I also think America has a lot of room for adding back walkable mixed-use neighborhoods

Euclid v Ambler was the wellspring of bad urban planning and a watershed of horrific outcomes. We need to return to people owning the property they own, and developing (and redeveloping) it in any way that doesn't hurt or endanger other people.

by SyzygistSix11 days ago

In Florida a new subdivision was put in that kept all the live oaks, used permeable paving stones for the road and the landscaping used all local plants, replicating the original ecosystem. The difference was amazing and quite beautiful. Yes, it was a fancier, more expensive subdivision but not so much so that the design was unfeasible to be replicated elsewhere. From the beginning it was a neighborhood in the woods, not some sterile, paved over monstrosity.

by sleepysysadmin12 days ago

>I don't think it makes sense to see human settlements as separate from nature. I think of nature as the fabric within which such configurations occur.

For sure we are not. If we put a bubble(mars dome) around Toronto. Everyone dies in a very short period of time. Nature outside of Toronto is required for Toronto to survive. The more you push nature away by urban sprawl, the worse it becomes for the people living there.

>It isn't inevitable that human development must be a concrete jungle. You can include plants, permeable surfaces, etc in your plans so people can live more lightly and less intrusively on the land.

A requirement in the long run. I suppose my example of Toronto is a bad one because of the giant boreal forest to the north is mitigating the problem. Similarly oceanic cities like NYC are also mitigated.

>I also think America has a lot of room for adding back walkable mixed-use neighborhoods where at least some people can live, work and shop in the same neighborhood.

I understand but I doubt it'll happen.

>Studies suggest this leads to greater wealth in such neighborhoods (such as more sales) and we know vehicle traffic is a significant burden wrt human-caused climate change.

Let's not forget such a huge cost to society. We have how much debt and capital tied up in transportation which the majority of the time sits idle in a driveway? Let's not forget how transportation is one of our only high energy sinks. You can charge your phone off a wall outlet in 30 minutes but it takes days to charge a car off the same outlet.

The urban sprawl and death of small towns is because the cost of energy became so high and you cant compete. Naturally influencing why politicians then set policy to intentionally harm small towns.

by dylanbfox12 days ago

I agree with all your points - but one thing I think about is: how do we fix what we have today? How do you fix the concrete jungles that most cities are today in the US. Or is it inevitable that more concrete will just be poured over time until some major natural disaster allows for a reset?

by DoreenMichele12 days ago

The Netherlands has reversed course from a car-centric culture to a more pedestrian- and bike-friendly culture. They did that very intentionally. As far as I can tell, there is no magic about it being The Netherlands -- except possibly the influence on the culture of the polder.

From what I gather, protecting the polder so everyone survives is so important that it has, at times, required people at war to cooperate in keeping the water out.

Today, globally, everyone knows we need solutions here or we are all doomed. We can stop quibbling about what various factions want for personal gain and start seeking answers that help some group live lighter on the land so we all benefit.

Rinse and repeat.

Start with low-hanging fruit. As that gets done, other things will become more reachable.

by GekkePrutser12 days ago

I think the Netherlands is still one of the more car-centric cultures in Europe though. And I've lived in several countries. Perhaps the inner cities aren't, but outside of them it's very hard to do without a car.

In many small villages/towns there is only a bus service during peak hours now. When I visit it's really a royal pain (and taxies are unaffordable as an alternative). And when you work in the Netherlands you're usually required to work nationwide which means countless hours in the car visiting clients. Public transport takes several times as long as car travel.

I really hated it when I worked there (I'm from there as you might have guessed). All these hours driving in frantic traffic were so stressful. I work in Barcelona now where public transport is much better (rural is still worse than inner-city but both are much better than the Netherlands' services). It's the first place I've lived where I genuinely don't need a car, it would only be a burden to me. Time between metros is counted in seconds and the network is so big. As well as that there's buses and trams and regional trains passing through that can be used to hop from one side of the city to the other.

The only thing that's genuinely better in the Netherlands is the bike lane network IMO :) That really is amazing. But I just don't see the feasibility of doing without a car completely there.

by TacticalCoder12 days ago

> I work in Barcelona now where public transport is much better...

Barcelona is one of the most stressful, if not the most stressful city, to use public transport in in Europe. If anything it should serve as an example for other cities as to what to not do. Public transports are full of thieves and scammers. It is simply beyond belief. It is known that if you ever dare to retaliate when you catch people stealing you, it can quickly degenerate very badly... For you.

I don't want to hear the typical: "If you look like a local and know what not to do, you'll be fine". I want public transports to be very safe otherwise I won't use them.

Several people mentioned Tokyo already: I spent close to a year there. Now that is a city with working and safe public transports.

by DoreenMichele12 days ago

I think your argument only strengthens mine. It sounds like you are saying "The Netherlands was kind of the America of Europe in terms of being crazy car-centric and they sucked so much worse than they do currently."

To which I say "So you're telling me if they can become the global poster child for doing this better, anyone can do this better -- even the US."

by dylan60412 days ago

It also helps that the country is old enough to have developed before the automobile. Kinda hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube when you've designed entire cities around support the automobile.

by occz12 days ago

>It also helps that the country is old enough to have developed before the automobile. Kinda hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube when you've designed entire cities around support the automobile.

I think this is a misconception for sure - the netherlands used to have much more car-oriented development but saw the issues with it and started retrofitting their built environments.

The same goes for the U.S in reverse, actually, with a lot of cities not having been designed with the car in mind and then subsequently having been demolished and retrofitted for the car. The transition is totally possible to do in both directions.

by unmole12 days ago

> As far as I can tell, there is no magic about it being The Netherlands

While not quite magic, a famously flat terrain and a mild climate surely had an impact?

by Cthulhu_12 days ago

> how do we fix what we have today? How do you fix the concrete jungles that most cities are today in the US.

Elbow grease. Break the concrete and plant shit, pay people to maintain these things every once in a while. I mean most amenity planting is low maintenance and only needs looking after once or twice a year to avoid it growing wild.

The US has the solutions already - a lot of money, and a lot of people looking for a steady job. All it takes is for people to stop hoarding said money and Decide to solve the issue.

by KennyBlanken12 days ago

Somerville, Massachusetts had a large Italian population a generation or two back and it seems damn near all of them considered "making it" covering every square inch of their land with concrete. Then putting up a 2 foot high brick wall topped with a few-feet-tall wrought iron fence.

The city has been working to undo it by providing financial incentives for removal, and partnering with an informal group of volunteers to make it cheap to do. They put out a call for public volunteers to have a sort of reverse-barn-raising. A big bunch of people show up and help rip apart and load up the concrete.

Jamaica Plain, a neighborhood in Boston, used to have a group of volunteers that worked with local nurseries to plant a tree and take care of the initial critical care (watering regularly) for free. All you had to do was email them, and then point when the crew showed up.

by micromacrofoot12 days ago

local politics is the only way

by presentation12 days ago

Agreed but given American politics this days, a well-placed earthquake will probably happen first.

by mkoubaa12 days ago

How do you think extended family housing complexes fit into this story? It's a norm in many cultures and for much or human history but an oddity in the US. Of course you can use as loose a definition of family as you like.

by DoreenMichele12 days ago

I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about that though I would like to figure out where that fits.

Our current housing crisis is rooted in building housing designed for our standard nuclear family with a breadwinner father, homemaker mother and 2.5 minor kids. This became our standard post-WW2 with the birth of the suburbs and was avidly embraced because it worked to solve our housing crisis at that time.

That was never the majority of the US population but it was a larger percentage of the population than it is currently and there were other housing options available if you were single. We have torn down a million SROs and largely eliminated the practice of boarding houses. Now we see such things as aimed at homeless people who can't make their lives work. At one time, that was normal housing for normal people.

We have a higher percentage of households with one to three people and we mostly don't build housing for such households. This has driven an interest in alternatives like Tiny Homes, RV living and trailer courts.

We really need to focus on building Missing Middle Housing and SROs. That would include duplexes which are a potential sensible option for living with extended family in some cases.


by presentation12 days ago

Agreed - a beautiful part of living in Tokyo is that if you're a single young person, you can rent a <$500/mo, 20m2 or smaller apartment in the heart of the city; and if you need more house you can rent/buy more house. People typically live in small living spaces, so public spaces become that much more vibrant, since people are mostly out of the home. The USA has next to no choice for those sorts of tradeoffs.

by earleybird12 days ago

That same time period (post WWII) saw a large shift from rural to city (suburb or otherwise). How does that factor into your view of normal housing?

by DoreenMichele12 days ago

I don't think that's all that important. There has been a general trend for a long time globally towards people leaving rural areas and moving to cities and suburbs. It is sometime in the past thirty years that I heard the announcement that global populations officially passed the fifty percent mark for human populations inhabiting cities more than rural areas for the first time in human history.

Suburbs got thrown up at breathtaking speed in part because it was greenfield development, which lowered some barriers to development. There is some saying about "Good. Cheap. Fast. Pick two."

At the time that they were carpeting the US at high speed, they were seen as good, cheap and fast. We are now seeing what the myriad hidden costs were, from cutting out lower income people to forcing people to be dependent on cars to cutting out people of color and also having environmental costs that were not factored in at the time.

The birth of the suburb predates the environmental movement.

The birth of the suburb is generally traced to Levittown in the late 1940s-early 1950s. The environmental movement is generally traced to the publication of a book called Silent Spring in 1962.

by nine_k12 days ago

Cities had (and have) more and better jobs.

Suburbs are, imho, the anti-city environment.

by signal1112 days ago

> I've lived without a car in the US for more than a decade.

Is there a post/blog/thread/AMA about this? This sounds super interesting in itself!

by Gustomaximus12 days ago

I think this would be very much based on where you live. I went 10+ years without a car while I was living in cities and it only made life simpler.

I now live on a farm and life would be near impossible without a vehicle unless I went Armish style with horse and cart and buggy.

If this person lived NY vs back country Montana it would be 2 very different stores.

by signal1111 days ago

You have a very good point. Cars give people a lot of personal autonomy.

Yes, cities could be built with better/smarter public transport options, but even Londoners and New Yorkers (two cities with very good public transport) will say they need cars from time to time. And I suspect pre-COVID-level jam-packed public transport will find few takers in a post-COVID world.

Outside cities, even in suburban areas, the need for cars is a no-brainer.

But I'd still like to know how the parent poster manages.

by kodah12 days ago

Living without a car is a privilege of those who live in cities or some suburbs. I've never actually seen real plans or ideas to extend this stuff to the country side. Mostly just folks shrugging their shoulders and hoping that end of the problem will go away.

by dylan60412 days ago

>Living without a car is a privilege

Whatthewhat? Such a privilege postion to be able to say that. Owning a car is a luxury that not all can afford. The fact that you think living without a car is a privilege shows how backwards we've gotten.

by ketzo12 days ago

Okay -- but tell that to the people living within the system today.

I'm from a smaller American city with abysmal public transportation. Cars are how you get to work, end of sentence. They are required for life.

Yes, the city should be doing more to make that better. Yes, the system is backwards. But the woman driving to work in a beat-up 2009 Civic that she bought for $1500 certainly doesn't feel luxurious or privileged.

In many places in America, the ability to live without a car implies 1) the ability to work from home 2) a greater amount of time to devote to travel 3) the ability to have someone else take care of "car-required" things 4) the ability to get access to a car if you really need one.

You can see where I'm going with this. Privilege is a factor of the system, and that system is a car-based one for most people.

by dylan60412 days ago

>In many places in America, the ability to live without a car implies

These are not necessarily true. 1)There are plenty of people that have low paying jobs that barely allows for food/rent, so a car+insurance is just out of the question. 2)I don't know what not having a car has to do with devoting to travel. If you can't afford a car, how are they going to afford traveling? 3) again, just not true for a large number of people. 4)Not sure what you are implying here. Stealing a car?

It really sounds like you're not appreciating the situation of very low income situations.

by presentation12 days ago

Agreed, it's not like transit riders have to pay tens of thousands of dollars up front + hundreds more every month to ride the train or bus, for a minimum wage job in an expensive city that they felt compelled to move to because their hometown was economically (and culturally) unproductive. The only reason suburbs and towns require cars is because they're designed extraordinarily poorly, for the interests of car/oil corporations, with their residents constantly demanding the government to subsidize their incredibly wasteful lifestyles.

by bllguo12 days ago

does it need to extend to the countryside? what percentage of cars are in rural areas vs. urban?

by kodah12 days ago

Yes. What folks that champion less cars often include as an incentive is a punishment for using cars. That punishment would likely be a tax that would disproportionately affect folks in the countryside, so any benefits made for cities would need to scale there as well. The total amount of cars is a red herring, it's the importance of vehicles. The story of what happened in France was very telling.

by stephen_g12 days ago

That doesn't necessarily follow, though. Congestion pricing, for example, can penalise car use where it's causing the problems like traffic and where alternatives exist (assuming good public transport, cycling infrastructure, etc., which you need to make any of this work), but not where it's less avoidable and not causing the same kind of issues and alternatives aren't there, like in the countryside.

by xmprt12 days ago

Do people within the country side travel to cities often? In any case, trains still exist and if that doesn't work, the interstate roads probably aren't going away because trucks still need to make trips.

by pineconewarrior12 days ago

> I don't think it makes sense to see human settlements as separate from nature

Sounds like heidegger and marx! I agree

by option12 days ago

and/or we can make cars clean

by DoreenMichele12 days ago

It's fine for people to also work on that but the reality is that our car-centric design means seniors, handicapped people, minors too young to drive and poor people are still sidelined unnecessarily. As we live longer and continue to actively create a world that unnecessarily hampers our elderly, we actively flush resources down the drain unnecessarily.

We cut people out of being productive members of society and turn them into a burden that has to be tended to and we actively interfere with them maintaining their physical mobility and ability to participate and contribute.

I'm handicapped. I live without a car because I can't drive. Walking has helped rehabilitate my defective body. America being so car-centric unnecessarily interferes with people like me making an adequate living and making their lives work and turns us into a burden on society when we don't have to be.

I'm not remotely the only one negatively impacted by our general lack of walkable mixed-use development, but I'm reluctant to start talking about other people I know who may not want their stories and their opinions being publicized.

by occz12 days ago

Exhaust from ICEs is hardly the only negative externality that cars bring, though.

by andrewstuart13 days ago

This is not the answer the Australian government is looking for.

The solution needed by politicians is highly technological, expensive, allows us to keep selling coal, and isn't understood by people so can be easily spun into ridiculous tales by politicians.

"Just plant trees" would be ridiculously expensive and is totally impractical, the politicians would say.

by Gigachad13 days ago

The aus governments "Future technology will save us, not latte sipping inner city greenies" is such a sad state of affairs. Basically lets them do nothing while pretending to have a plan. But they won't even fund implementation of the technology we already have and that works.

by andrewstuart13 days ago

Cause they never, ever even believed in global heating.

It's just a straight cynical political manipulation that aims to prevent any real action and keep selling coal. Australian government literally does not want to solve this.

by denkmoon13 days ago

>Cause they never, ever even believed in global heating.

Sure some of them do. They're just not willing to lift a finger to do anything about it.

by h0l0cube13 days ago

Why lift one little finger when you can be king of the ashes?

by JimTheMan12 days ago

The last guy who tried (Turnbull) got knifed. It's a sad world we live in.

by Ma8ee12 days ago

They do believe in global heating. They just don't care. They reckon they, their kids, and their friends will be fine anyway. Who care what happens to billions dirty, poor foreigners?

It high time that we realise that it never was a good faith discussion about facts. It's only about power. The rich people that have a lot invested in fossil fuels risk becoming less rich, and they are using all means necessary to not let that happen, or at least delay it as much as possible

by mistrial913 days ago

the cynical move is to let the effort of others build your own safety net, while maximizing your own network control and immediate income

lots of finger pointing about this, yet so many are guilty at once right?

by danans13 days ago

"Just plant trees" won't remove the need to stop the burning of coal either. Nothing short of changing out the fuel sources for the vast majority of human energy demands for zero-carbon versions will suffice.

by labster13 days ago

It’s funny you mention that because “just plant trees” was the solution to get coal for hundreds of years; forestry was invented as a way to get sustainable, (incidentally) carbon-neutral (char)coal for iron furnaces.

by pjc5012 days ago

Yes, and to a great extent the industrial revolution kicked off because coal was available in greater quantities than forestry charcoal! Its production is also somewhat labour-intensive.

Early coal was referred to as "sea-coal" in many places because the easiest way to get it was from veins close to the sea where it washed up. Deep mining of coal required the industrial revolution. There was a huge circular dependency between iron production, steam engines made from iron, and using the steam engines to pump out the iron and coal mines and draw up the mined resources.

by Gigachad12 days ago

It's not even based on needs anymore. Australia does not _need_ to burn nearly as much coal as it does. Sure, the last bit might be tricky to remove, but the fact that they do not even remove the amount that they can shows that they have no interest in getting rid of coal.

by danans12 days ago

The need I was referring to was the need to stop coal burning, but your point is taken about Australia's foot dragging on that.

by stephen_g12 days ago

Yeah, but all our major party politicians in Australia get big donations from the coal and oil & gas lobbies, and a lot of the conservative politicians have direct or indirect business links. So the whole “net zero” thing isn’t something their hearts are really in.

Hopefully things will change a bit with the election early next year - the opposition party that actually did legislate an effective and workable price on carbon back in 2011 looks like they might get back in (the scheme was repealed by the conservatives as soon as they got back into Government in 2013).

by csee13 days ago

They'll be perfectly happy with that solution because they don't have to stop burning coal and it's funded by small fish taxpayers.

by sleepysysadmin12 days ago

>This is not the answer the Australian government is looking for.

Which blows my mind. Australia has the opportunity to do very large outback scale energy capture projects that would effectively drop the cost of energy to 0 in the long run. Develop and bring the auto industry back as EVs. As a society you could effectively eliminate one of the highest costs to your people.

>The solution needed by politicians is highly technological, expensive, allows us to keep selling coal, and isn't understood by people so can be easily spun into ridiculous tales by politicians.

I'm not aussie and only vaguely follow their politics. Australia has to export. If they drop back down into a losing balance of trade it'll be very bad news.

>"Just plant trees" would be ridiculously expensive and is totally impractical, the politicians would say.

It also isnt a solution. Us Canadians have 10,000 trees per person. We ought to be considered carbon neutral but we dont because our boreal forest is considered a pollutor. So trees aren't a solution.

by roenxi12 days ago

> "Just plant trees" would be ridiculously expensive and is totally impractical, the politicians would say.

There is a 1 billion trees initiative currently in progress in Australia. I'm not sure of the details but I have talked to some of the people involved.

by Mikeb8513 days ago

To be fair, based on the action were currently seeing from governments worldwide, everyone is simply hoping for the technological answer.

by IncRnd12 days ago

Many people want an answer so long as other people do things to solve it.

by pjc5012 days ago

A problem in Australia is the risk of climate change induced fires burning down all the trees.

by throwawaylinux13 days ago

How does this comment relate to the article? What answer, and what was the question being asked?

Australian government has tree planting programs as part of its climate policy, doesn't it?

by keyle12 days ago

To answer your first question, the relative timezone at which this article has been posted helps triggers the local anger regarding climate change and our politicians taking the piss of it for profit.

To answer your second question, I doubt it, and if it does, it's probably an insignificant joke.

by throwawaylinux12 days ago

I asked 3 questions and this did not answer any of them. I assume your second answer actually relates to my third question, but really if you don't know the answer then speculating about it is not answering it. My first and second questions were also pretty specific, I appreciate there is anger about climate change issues but that is not what I was specifically asking about either.

Let's wait for OP to clarify what they meant.

by IncRnd12 days ago

> but really if you don't know the answer then speculating about it is not answering it.

There is a tendency for people who are knowledgeable in one thing to believe they have enough knowledge and discernment to answer on any other thing.

by 1413 days ago

Let’s plant trees and have everyone of them e be connected via Bluetooth sensor next to them in the soil providing real time twitter updates. Would that suffice for the Australian government? If not maybe we suggest 5g.

by andrewstuart13 days ago

Where is the part in your solution that captures the coal emissions?

by pilsetnieks13 days ago

That'd be the actual trees themselves.

by lucidguppy13 days ago

77% of agricultural land is devoted to livestock. We could return a lot of that land to wilderness if we adopted a whole food plant based diet.

by blizdiddy13 days ago

77% if you count land for grazing, otherwise useless to agriculture. If you go back 500 years you know what your find on that land? Just as many Buffalo as there are cows today. Feeding the world means using ruminants to turn grass into protein.

by throwamon13 days ago

I'm pretty sure there were no buffalo in the Amazon or Pantanal 500 years ago.

by mkoubaa12 days ago

Giant sloths were a thing

by CyanBird12 days ago

Correct, yet these were not "a thing" 500 years ago, not even 5000,try double that and then then "maybe"

by bpodgursky13 days ago

It's actually pretty clear from new imagery the Amazon was significantly deforested and farmed before European diseases wiped out the natives.

And before that, the extinctions mammoths and mastadons (by humans) led to a lot of tree cover that was grassland when the grazers kept the forests in check.

by mistrial913 days ago

area check

the amazing, Amazon Basin, is far, far larger than any previous human terraculture eh?

by pomian12 days ago

There was an interesting discussion on HN not too long ago (1-3 months?), that we have been wrong about human stress on mammoths etc. We should find it. As usual we learn neat things on HN.

by timClicks12 days ago

That's a very US-centric viewpoint. I mean, New Zealand didn't have any land-dwelling mammals except for the rat 500 years ago.

by Aromasin12 days ago

Same in the UK (barring the mammals point). The country was 60-80% temperate rainforest before human habitation, depending on what research you go by. I grew up in the countryside. I cannot tell you how impossible it is to convince someone, who is dead set on consuming animal products, that we could regenerate that land if only we got rid of the cattle/fodder though. It's always "that land can't be used for anything else" or "having animals grazing there is good for the land", and that is just demonstrably false in every way. It's baffling that there can literally be old growth forest just on the other side of the hill, and the farmers will be adamant that the land they're on would be useless and barren if it weren't for them - as they continue to staunchly cut back the hedgerows and mow their fields every few months.

Having been part of forest regeneration efforts across the UK - from southern heathlands to rocky Welsh and Scottish outcrops, good for "nothing but sheep" - I can say with all certainty that every part of the country except the most extreme alpine regions is suitable for reforestation or some form of plantation dense rewilding. People are completely ignorant to how the country looked before we levelled it for grazing, viewing the 70% ecologically barren agricultural land (of which 80% of that is used for grazing or feeding cattle) as the norm and the 2.5% old growth forest as a more novelty, and something strangely "unique to that area".

If you're from New Zealand, this video is especially poignant:

by crakenzak13 days ago

> Just as many Buffalo as there are cows today.

I’m very skeptical of this. Citation needed please.

by alex_young13 days ago

Wikipedia cites ~60M bison pre-1800 [1] USDA ~93M cattle currently [2]

[1] [2]

by littlestymaar12 days ago

Is the 60M figure for what is now the US or for all North America ? If that's the latter, you'd need to add Canadian cattle as well, around 11M[1].


by missedthecue13 days ago

Apparently as many as 100 million on the American plains once upon a time, according to Google

by lovemenot12 days ago

I wonder how many bison there were before the last Ice Age. Before the land-bridge and before humans from Asia arrived with their slash-and-burn.

by perfunctory12 days ago

Unfortunately there is no enough grassland to maintain the current levels of beef consumption. Most beef we consume is not grass-fed. So if you want to feed the world by converting grass into protein, that would mean just the same - radical reduction in meat consumption.

by unmole12 days ago

> Feeding the world means using ruminants to turn grass into protein.

Beef is not an essential staple. It's probably the worst kind of meat in terms of environmental impact.

by lucidguppy13 days ago

Why do you need protein from ruminants? Why not pulses?

by flenserboy13 days ago

Bioavailability. Plants are awful as protein sources for humans. Ruminants are awesome as plant processors for the providing of protein to humans.

by blacksmith_tb12 days ago

'Awful' is quite hyperbolic - pulses (aka beans and lentils), nuts, and seeds all contain protein[1]. In the US, it's not like we're struggling to get enough protein[2]. So demanding to eat meat is a little like insisting that you don't just need to drive, but that you absolutely have to have a V8 diesel pickup for your commute to the office.



by colordrops13 days ago

You're gonna have to provide a source for that. Just because less meat is needed for the same amount of protein doesn't make it better or more healthy.

by jjtheblunt13 days ago

> Just as many Buffalo as there are cows today.

is there a citation for that claim?

by blablabla12313 days ago

"Chickens actually evolved as a jungle species"

I think I once saw something similar about cattle but I cannot find any reference.

by danans13 days ago

> "Chickens actually evolved as a jungle species"

Though that might be true, and despite it working for a small community - the scale of meat production required to satisfy the world's demands today can't be achieved through forest-raised chickens or cattle.

The price of meat would have to skyrocket and/or the consumption of it would have to dramatically decrease. Both of those would be progress from a climate change and environmental perspective, but from the perspective of global meat consumer expectations, it would be a serious regression. Few people want to go back to pre-industrial diet (mostly grains, greens, and a very small amount of meat).

That's why plant based meat substitutes are such a big deal - they might be one of the few ways we can thread this needle.

by SyzygistSix11 days ago

Backyard chickens for both meat and eggs are pretty feasible in many places. I don't like meat but raising chickens for eggs was very easy for me and I live close to the center of a small city. Friends of mine in a major city worked with their friends and neighbors to collectively raise and slaughter backyard chickens for meat. Factory farming is not the only option, although I agree that this involves eating less meat for sure.

by suyula13 days ago

'Silvopasture' might be the term you want.

by blablabla12312 days ago

Yes exactly, thanks!

by tomrod12 days ago

Cows in the Texas Piney Woods love the woods. They like fields too. But more of often than not I'd find them under the cool shade of pines if not in the tanks (ponds).

by Cthulhu_12 days ago

How much different is that livestock land compared to its wild state? I mean, the big county-sized pastures aren't cultivated at all, they just have a fence put around them and a drinking through, yet they contribute to these statistics that people pushing vegetarianism/veganism like to cite a lot.

by Balero12 days ago

In some places not a lot. Some parts of the great plains have basically swapped Bison for cattle, and keep a vaguely similar ecosystem. However much more of this area is degraded due to have far too much cattle there too often. Bison used to graze and migrate, churning up the ground and adding fertilizer, and then letting things re-grow.

Other livestock land is completely different from its 'wild state'. Cattle ranching in what used to be the Amazon. Sheep herding in European uplands, also takes place on land that used to be forest and temperate rain forest.

Another feed in to the large percentage of land that goes towards livestock, is growing animal feed. The majority of cattle in the US is not just eating grass. It is eating crops that are grown specifically for feeding to cattle. So those fields of corn, that are then fed to cattle could also go back to their 'wild state'.

by redconfetti12 days ago

Maybe we should start raising giraffes instead of cows for meat. Then we'd have a need for lots of trees.

by 2OEH8eoCRo012 days ago

I don't want to though.

by syshum13 days ago

>>whole food plant based diet.


That is all

Edit: Below I am accused of Rules violation, likely due to the short response. However I do not believe it is, the OP is wanting everyone to either voluntarily give up meat in favor or not just a plant based diet but an extreme version of that diet a "whole food plant based" diet

While my comment is (was) short, it is all words I needed to make my point, that diet is a non-starter, and should not be entertained as a feasible solution.


Is all I needed, and wanted say,


is all that needed to be conveyed

so I say again to the idea of a whole food plant based diet


by colordrops13 days ago

I think comments like this are against HN rules.

by renewiltord12 days ago

This is true. Though HN is very big about tone and very little about content.

GP would benefit from running their thought through and then posting.

by shkkmo12 days ago

I think the tone of the comment is okay, but comment itself is lacking actual substance. The original comment didn't even state what exactly was being objected to, let alone make an argument or attempt to start a discussion.

I would say that commenting "I think this is against the rules" is also a very low value comment that doesn't link to the guidelines, explain which one was violated, or offer any suggestions for improvement.

by wizzwizz412 days ago

If we voted on content, it would be a memetic popularity contest. Voting on tone also has issues[0], but it also keeps the quality of communication high enough that people can (sometimes) completely disagree, but still learn from each other.


by shkkmo12 days ago

Even your expanded comment doesn't make your point. It never explains why you see a "whole food plant based diet" as a non starter. Without knowing the basis for your objection, it is hard to start a discussion and your comment ends up with little power to sway people's opinions. (Just repeatedly saying "no" is an especially ineffective argument.)

Personally, I enjoy cheese and meat far too much to adopt such a diet on a strict basis.

However, we can gain many of the ecological benefits of such a diet by simply increasing the precentage of our caloric intake that comes from such sources.

by syshum12 days ago

I have found over the years it is just simply easier to put down vegan's and vegetarians quickly. Just now I finished my breakfast, it had zero carbs, zero vegetables, zero plants, and consisted of meat from 2 animals.

I am not interested in the ecological benefits of "whole food plant based diet" nor are most people, the idea that people will simply adopt that diet if they learn of the "ecological benefits" is frankly absurd IMO.

by shkkmo12 days ago

> it is just simply easier to put down vegan's and vegetarians quickly

Then please do that elsewhere. HN strives to be a place for constructive discussion, not putting people down as fast as possible.

> I am not interested in the ecological benefits

I know plenty of people who limit their meat consumption due to ecological concerns. You may not care how the planet looks in 50 years but many people do and do so strongly enough to male significant changes to their lifestyle. (Which of those changes are actually effective is a whole different question.)

by throwaway5542113 days ago


The obvious endgame there is that you reduce the amount of land required per person and then increase the persons, ending up with the same land requirement.

Then we look for the next thing to cut.

I'll just keep my current quality of life and outcompete others for resources, thanks. Carbon tax pls.

by colordrops13 days ago

This makes no sense, and is a typical non-sequitur thrown out by those who are unwilling to give up meat. There is absolutely no evidence that meat eating is the limiting factor in population growth.

by throwaway5542113 days ago

Evidence? It's mathematical, not scientific. Derivable from first principles.

I can eat meat as much as I want provided another 7 billion people don't also do the same.

The issue is with the number of people, not the activity. Literally any use of land is a bad idea at that scale, we end up in rabbit hutches.

by Ericson231412 days ago

Malthus didn't count on people just not wanting to have kids.

by colordrops13 days ago

Another non-sensical response. You made the claim, not me. It's your responsibility to provide evidence.

by bliteben12 days ago

I think the response you are replying to meant this sentiment: Ranch land can and occasionally does turn back into wild land, once its a subdivision its gone forever. Over the long run he is certainly right that less requirements for ranch land doesn't do anything to ensure that we get more land without fences.

by throwaway5542112 days ago

My argument is that eating vegetarian does not reduce land use for agriculture.

It does to first order. Then we just end up with more mouths - like what happened after the Haber-Bosch process.

by earleybird12 days ago

> There is absolutely no evidence that meat eating is the limiting factor in population growth.

So you're saying eating meat is fine then?

by colordrops12 days ago

If this comment isn't a joke then you are acting in bad faith.

by sleepysysadmin12 days ago

>77% of agricultural land is devoted to livestock. We could return a lot of that land to wilderness if we adopted a whole food plant based diet.

You have to be careful here. Livestock is generally carbon sinks. Those cow patties are taking co2 into grass and then depositing it into the ground.

Flipside, plant based diet has a deadline.

We are already 70% degraded and only slowly the process by spraying oil byproducts on the land. If we kill the oil industry, that erosion increases in speed.

A more recent publication was looking at the moulds vs fungus balance and it's even worse than the above proposes.

We have to get into regenerative farming to reverse this problem and that includes keeping livestock for those cow patties.

by hasmanean12 days ago

The surface area of a lawn is several times that of a concrete surface.

Walking into a forest, I notice the air is several degrees cooler than outside.

Even a house made of clay will be a few degrees cooler in certain weather than one made of concrete due to the increased surface area and evaporation causing cooling.

It isn’t rocket science. Greenery makes the earth a much better place.

by Cthulhu_12 days ago

Same with trees, that block a lot of sunlight from hitting the surface and instead keep it up there, where the wind can come in and take it away (and cool it through evaporation).

by 1cvmask13 days ago

There was a similar report two years ago from NASA that the world had gone greener over 20 years primarily due to India and China. But I couldn’t find the breakdown of it by country.

by vixen9912 days ago

No it isn't primarily due to India and China. The greening of the earth is a universal phenomenon caused by the global increase in carbon dioxide. Carbon for plant growth has to come from somewhere and in general there are very limited carbon sources within the soil.

The massive increase in agricultural productivity due to this greening has not been a widely advertised observation. NASA has pointed out the pros and cons of this (i.e., the greening).

by mrjangles12 days ago

Not surprising considering all life on earth evolved when the atmosphere had between 5 and 10 times as much CO2 as today. At the current levels plants are, essentially, suffocating from lock of CO2, so I small increase can have a huge affect on their growth rates (as greenhouse operators know).

I remember reading that CO2 levels have been dropping for the last 500 million years, and, during the last Ice age, CO2 level dropped as low as 180ppm. Had they reached 150ppm, all surface life would have died, and humans wouldn't have made it.

by CodeGlitch12 days ago

I wonder if it also has to do with the massive decrease in the need for paper due to an increase in computers at the end of the 20th century. "The paperless office."

Also other sources of fuel other than wood for burning.

by Cthulhu_12 days ago

Nah I don't think so, because demand for paper has shifted to things like cardboard. And of course, global population has gone up by a lot.

Wood hasn't been a popular choice for a long time, things like coal, peat, oil, petroleum and gas have been more prevalent for the hundreds of years before the current systems of gas or electric heating. Wood is more of a last resort, or something more idyllic.

by olivermarks13 days ago 70% of the oxygen in the atmosphere is produced by marine plants, rainforests are responsible for roughly one-third (28%)

by hn_throwaway_9913 days ago

That seems like it has to be a gross misrepresentation, that only 2% of oxygen comes from other land plants.

This link, , seems like it has more reasonable numbers. First, it's a bit misleading to talk about what produces "oxygen in the atmosphere", because that oxygen was generated over many millions of years. Better to discuss what current percentage of photosynthesis occurs from which sources.

The link I gave says a quarter to a third of photosynthesis on land comes from tropical forests, and land vs. marine photosynthesis is split about 50/50.

by bliteben12 days ago

I live in the PNW and I recently read in this book that the dominate Phytoplankton that makes up razor clams diet has changed to three different species over the course of the last 100 years. Really makes you think about how little we know, and how long the process of distilling research into actual facts or summaries of how things work takes.

by dahfizz13 days ago

How much of the Earth's surface area is ocean and rain forest?

by olivermarks12 days ago

The ocean is a huge body of saltwater that covers about 71 percent of Earth's surface.

Rainforests cover 2 percent of the Earth's surface.

by foxhop12 days ago

If you are into this sort of thing, I have a youtube channel where I grow food on 1/3 acre. I've a 6 year old food forest, my first year flock of 6 leghorn chickens, and very close access to a lot of water. Connecticut Zone 6b. Links in profile.

by joshuanapoli12 days ago

Tree cover also decreases albedo, which increases the total solar energy absorbed. [0]

I wonder if tree cover decreases local surface temperature (as described in this article) while actually increasing global warming because less light is reflected back to space.


by marcus_holmes12 days ago

Plant cover also increases evaporation (because the water get trapped by the plants on the surface), which increases warming (because water vapour is a very powerful greenhouse gas), but also reduces local temperatures (evaporation removes heat), and increases cloud cover (which reduces warming by increasing albedo).

It's a very complex system, and working out the net effect is very difficult (as the paper says).

by CodeGlitch12 days ago

But wouldn't the plants and trees convert the sun's energy through photosynthesis into chemical energy? That energy conversion removes the heat.

by Cthulhu_12 days ago

Some, but 'removes the heat' is overly simplistic. They're not 100% efficient.

by gmuslera13 days ago

Mitigation as in hitting a wall at 180 mph instead of 200? Or hitting the wall in 32 years instead of 30?

Everything helps, but in the end the solution to the problem is elsewhere. Not tackling the problem and only going to partial mitigations is almost as bad as doing nothing, because it is just a delay to avoid solving the problem until is too late or doesn't matter anymore for you in particular.

by lovemenot12 days ago

If you have some suggestions, feel free.

Meanwhile, please don't decry partial solutions for being partial. It's a very difficult problem and there will not be a silver bullet.

Many partials might provide some respite. There's no guarantee, but something is better than nothing.

I think the thing you miss is the shifting Overton Window. The more people get used to current partial solutions, the more they can accept the next more painful necessary changes. It's as if the effectiveness of braking is inversely proportional to speed. Those 20mph of deceleration are better than you imagine.

by gmuslera12 days ago

I'm not saying that the mitigation shouldn't be done. What I am against is doing the side mitigation instead of going for the core problem solutions, or delaying them because your budget is focused by now on them, or first this, then that.

If you have an bad infection on one leg, taking an aspirin to lower your fever is a mitigation, but if you don't address the infection, you will lose your leg or your life. And taking an aspirin is fast, simple and painless, if it were complicated, and expensive and time consuming you should probably address the infection first, unless the fever was already life threatening.

by wizzwizz412 days ago

This is the logic that led to people recommending against masks: wearing masks would give people a false sense of security, and they'd start touching each others' eyeballs.

Turns out, that's not how human psychology works. If people are doing something, then other people feel like they can, too; if everybody's waiting for the big solution that will actually be worth doing (but won't ever happen, for political reasons)?

by playpause12 days ago

“Turns out, that's not how human psychology works.” - source?

by wizzwizz412 days ago

Source: the great experiment that we all did. People who wore masks over the past couple of years were generally more cautious if anything, not less.

by playpause12 days ago

What makes you think the causation is that way round?

by HPsquared12 days ago

Where's this solid "wall" you speak of?

It's more like falling into Jupiter, getting immersed in a thicker and thicker soup...

by betwixthewires12 days ago

Well yeah. The best carbon capture technology we have is planting trees.

Thankfully it happens all by itself.

by _ph_12 days ago

Not quite and even if, on a too slow scale. While trees try hard to spread, to survive they need minimum environmental conditions and e.g. protection from plant eaters while they are small. Take the extension of the Sahara to the south in the 70ies. There were droughts, trees being cut and new trees being eaten by goats. Once the soil had become unprotected, the desert would extend. Fortunately, there are now efforts to create the "great green wall" where new trees are planted and protected until they are strong enough to stand for themselves. This seems to be quite successful.

by CallMeJim12 days ago

> NASA satellites have been observing increased green cover on land, which is thought to be due to intensive agriculture to feed growing populations and ambitious tree-planting programs – for example, the so-called “Green Great Wall” in China.

> The cooling effect from greening is less significant in tropical forests with high leaf areas.

Does this mean that cutting down the Amazon rainforest to use the land for farming is net-beneficial for slowing down climate change?

by lovemenot12 days ago

>> Does this mean that cutting down the Amazon rainforest to use the land for farming is net-beneficial for slowing down climate change?

Even if it does, the effect would be temporary. Such land can rarely be farmed sustainably. In the medium termt becomes scrub and barely contributes to cooling

And anyway, the question is largely moot. Resisting climate change is only one of many important services rendered by these forests.

by goodluckchuck12 days ago

Perhaps I’m dumb, but it sounds like they’re saying that it’s good when China does it but bad when anyone else does.

by toto44412 days ago

I have this pet theory of mine that planting trees could also mitigate rising sea levels since trees contain water. Is that dumb ?

I have no idea of the order of magnitude we are talking about so I might be entirely delusional.

by cedilla12 days ago

It's not dumb as long as you ask questions (and are interested in the answer).

The global ice sheets currently melt at a rate of 1.4 trillion tons per year. Biomass of all living things is about 500 billion tons C. Let's pretend all of that is plant mass on land (most if it isn't), and let's just say there's 5 times as much water as carbon in plants (an overestimation at least for trees), and we arrive at only 2.5 trillion tons of water bound.

So, if I my estimations aren't wildly off, increasing tree biomass even by a large factor won't help us significantly. Add to that that the rate of the ice melting is accelerating, and that the sea levels are also rising due to thermal expansion, and I don't think we can more or less discount the bound water in trees.

by regularfry12 days ago

In terms of raw volume of water no, sibling comment has done the maths. But there is another interesting effect that's tangentially relevant. Forested areas act as rainwater sponges. When you get heavy rainfall, if you've got nothing but tarmac or even grass, all that water runs straight off and into the nearest river. Which then bursts its banks and floods everything nearby, making building on floodplains a bloody stupid idea.

With forests, though, the depth of the roots means the water can sink more into the ground. It all still ends up in the river eventually, but over a much longer time period. Because the big pulse of water from the rainfall is attenuated, the river has more of a chance to drain away, so you get fewer, and less serious, floods.

The net effect is that while we'll lose land to rising sea levels, in some areas there's the opportunity to reclaim land currently too marginal to occupy. Nowhere near the same land area, but it's a worthwhile effect to be aware of where it applies.

by occz12 days ago

>have this pet theory of mine that planting trees could also mitigate rising sea levels since trees Contain water. Is that dumb ?

Unfortunately, we would likely have to cover more land than there is on the entire surface of the earth to stave off even a meter of sea level rise. For reference, the sea to land-ratio on earth is around 70/30, and a tree of 15 meters at 60 cm diameter is approximately 5 cubic meters in volume, and a tree contains around 30-50% of its volume in water. The average forest density appears to be about 50-100k trees per square kilometer.

We should still plant trees en masse, but as a solution to sea level rise it's probably not viable.

by Cthulhu_12 days ago

It... kinda is? Trees can't contain that much water and can't compensate for the volume of water coming from glaciers and the like.

That said, trees do help stabilize the soil, mitigating the loss of arable soil in case of heavy rains and flooding or things like landslides.

by peter_retief12 days ago

If you establish a few trees and vegetation in an area it creates an oasis that is cooler than the surroundings as well as retaining water. This is definitely the way to cool the earth as well as absorb CO2

by nend13 days ago

I mean, I get that this needs to be studied in order to understand Earth's climate better, but I feel like the title would be more accurate and responsibly written if they said "partially mitigates".

by carom13 days ago

Mitigate means to make less severe. It does not mean prevent.

by KarlKemp13 days ago

I was going to comment that it has both means, i. e. partial as well as full mit.. aehm, let's say "reduction (in harmful effects of)".

But the dictionary is somewhat disappointing in only mentioning the gradual/partial reduction in harms. Here are the examples:

    • make (something bad) less severe, serious, or painful: drainage schemes have helped to mitigate this problem.
    • lessen the gravity of (an offence or mistake): there had been a provocation that mitigated the offence to a degree.
What's interesting is that both examples seem to use the term in a way that suggests that it does mean full-and-complete mitigation, otherwise the specifications "to a degree" and "have helped to" would not be needed.
by dahfizz13 days ago

I've never understood mitigate to mean a complete reduction of harm. In that case, you would use a word like "solved" or "fixed". "Mitigate" is used when the fixing is only partial.

> What's interesting is that both examples seem to use the term in a way that suggests that it does mean full-and-complete mitigation

I think that is for extra clarity. Both definitions say that mitigation is a partial effect "less severe" or "lessen the gravity of".

by wumpus12 days ago

You might take a survey amongst your friends before claiming that the dictionary tells you all you need to know about the word "mitigate".

by HPsquared12 days ago

"mitigate /ˈmɪtɪɡeɪt/ Late Middle English: from Latin mitigat- ‘softened, alleviated’, from the verb mitigare, from mitis ‘mild’."

It doesn't mean to eliminate negative effects, just to lessen them.

by irthomasthomas12 days ago

If you search youtube for "desertification" you will find many videos on the horrors of this problem being shared by school teachers as if it where a fact.

E.g. "Desertification is a fancy word for land that is turning to desert," begins Allan Savory in this quietly powerful talk. And terrifyingly, it's happening to about two-thirds of the world's grasslands, accelerating climate change and causing traditional grazing societies to descend into social chaos."

Back on planet Earth, a review of the current scientific literature firmly disproves this thesis. Nasa satellite images clearly show the deserts are retreating, and on average there is a strong trend to global greening...

Greening of the globe and its drivers - Nature 2016 "Satellite records from 1982–2009 show a persistent and widespread increase of leaf area (greening) over 25% to 50% of the global vegetated area, whereas less than 4% of the globe shows decreasing leaf area (browning). Ecosystem models suggest that CO2 fertilisation effects explain 70% of the observed greening trend, followed by nitrogen deposition (9%), climate change (8%) and land cover change (4%)."

Elevated CO2 as a driver of global dryland greening - Nature 2016 "Recent regional scale analyses using satellite based vegetation indices such as the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), have found extensive areas of “greening” in dryland areas of the Mediterranean, the Sahel, the Middle East and Northern China, as well as greening trends in Mongolia and South America. More recently, a global synthesis from 1982-2007 showed an overall “greening-up” trend over the Sahel belt, Mediterranean basin, China-Mongolia region and the drylands of South America."

Global Greening Is Firm, Drivers Are Mixed - Harvard 2014 "Evidence for global greening is converging, asserting an increase in CO2 uptake and biomass of the terrestrial biosphere. Global greening refers to global net increases in the area of green canopy, stocks of carbon, and the duration of the growing season. The growing seasons in general have prolonged while the stock of biomass carbon has increased and the rate of deforestation has decelerated. Evidence for these trends comes from firm empirical data obtained through atmospheric CO2 observations, remote sensing, forest inventories and land use statistics."

Rise in CO2 has 'greened Planet Earth' Prof Judith Curry, the former chair of Earth and atmospheric sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, added: "It is inappropriate to dismiss the arguments of the so-called contrarians, since their disagreement with the consensus reflects conflicts of values and a preference for the empirical (i.e. what has been observed) versus the hypothetical (i.e. what is projected from climate models).

by sleepysysadmin12 days ago

>Back on planet Earth, a review of the current scientific literature firmly disproves this thesis. Nasa satellite images clearly show the deserts are retreating, and on average there is a strong trend to global greening...

Canada is one of the few countries which pulled out of the United nations desertification action. For which Canada was penalized heavily. This is the same initiative that plans to plant trees across africa.

IPCC 2019 makes it quite clear that greenification is not happening and desertification is absolutely a huge problem.

You will also see on pages like:

Greenification isn't even a consideration for climate change.

Greenification isn't a word you will find in the effects of climate change wiki page.

Why is it do you think that they exclude this?

by irthomasthomas12 days ago

They are ignoring the LAI (Leaf Area Index) data. You would have to ask them why they do that. While you are at it, ask them why they always start at 1850, like that wiki article. And ask geologists what is significant about that year.

I will give you a clue. It is an anagram of LAI.

by irthomasthomas3 days ago

For future readers. The Little Ice Age, a glacial period after the Middle Age Warm era, ended around 1850. Since all climate models used by the IPCC start from that point, they would predictably show rising temperatures, as the globe began another mini interglacial period.

by ecommerceguy13 days ago

Wasn't Trump derided for wanting to plant a billion trees or something (I'm going by memory)?


by good867530912 days ago

Seems like it was a good idea but we couldn't afford to give a fascist a win. For the sake of democracy or something.

by KennyBlanken12 days ago

It was the political equivalent of switching over to LED light bulbs to justify continuing to drive a 10mpg SUV an hour a day commuting to work.

It was literally greenwashing his work to undo decades of environmental protection regulations and laws, while also forking over tons of public land to oil/gas/coal companies.

by ecommerceguy11 days ago

Once again a sky is falling comment that is pure lie. Do you people really believe this shit?

by 8note12 days ago

I think that was mr beast with TeamTrees.

I don't remember the derision though

by Cthulhu_12 days ago

Mr Beast is a rich prick that likes to show off his wealth to susceptive kids.

by alliao12 days ago
by breakyerself13 days ago

Planting Trees and shrubs is not a substitute for phasing out fossil fuel emissions in case you were confused by this and many other similar headlines.

by koheripbal13 days ago

Moreover forests are carbon neutral - that's why it's called a carbon CYCLE.

New trees only sequester within the new biomass.

The real solution is not to emit CO2 from mined fossil fuels.

I do wonder how much more lush land will become with higher CO2 levels.

by bliteben12 days ago

I have never understood this argument with respect to industrial forests. We move all this carbon into lumber, paper and other products, yet somehow it magically returns to the air.

Even industrial forests sequester some carbon in the soil as it seems from my experiences that there is easily 10% of the tree mass that never gets harvested before wind damage or other reasons.

A natural forest is constantly losing trees which turn into soil. Some forests have soil that you literally can sink feet into decomposing trees that you can't even see before falling into them. I might buy the argument that the termites etc recycle the fallen trees back into carbon, except for the fact, that it seems to accrete.

by jjcon12 days ago

> Moreover forests are carbon neutral - that's why it's called a carbon CYCLE

As is the meat industry despite many citations of a retracted paper - the cows aren't emitting anything that wasn't already in the grass (at least not in the long term). Both however to act as temporary buffers/reservoirs and emitters that can affect things if they are kept around in perpetuity.

by 8note12 days ago

Does the time spent in the cow make up for the cow re-releasing the carbon as methane instead of carbon dioxide?

The same carbon was in the air, but not necessarily causing the same greenhouse effect

by jjcon12 days ago

The methane is only temporary and still maintains equalibrium in the long term - the issue is when we extract/introduce entirely new greenhouse gases to the system (notably oil)

by wumpus12 days ago

> the cows aren't emitting anything that wasn't already in the grass

This is not true; fertilizer and farm machinery to fertilize and harvest the corn that creates 1/2 the mass of feedlot meat burns a lot of oil. And almost all of American beef goes through feedlots.

by jjcon12 days ago

>burns a lot of oil

Oil isn't emitted from cows

by pabs312 days ago

Sounds like the real solution is to stop extracting gas/oil/coal from the ground entirely and also plant new fast-growing carbon-rich trees, cut them down, convert them to inert carbon (timber? charcoal? oil?), store the result (underground? as furniture/housing? somewhere?) and repeat the cycle as many times as possible in as many places as possible.

by EdwardDiego12 days ago

What about carbon capture in the soil? Genuine question, I'm not at all familiar with the science.

by colechristensen12 days ago

Depends on the forest and specific local ecology.

Planting forests definitely is a carbon sink, but the carbon goes into the living biomass. Whether or not you get long term buildup of soil carbon just depends. In other words there’s a sizable one time bonus to planting forests and a conditional long term continuous sink.

People tend to simplify one way or the other.

by EdwardDiego12 days ago

I was thinking about peat soils - as we know, they're great at preserving organic matter thanks to high acidity, to the extent that they're dug for fuel.

A lot of peats in my country have been drained (and the drainage requires continual maintenance) for pasture, but well, it's rather hard to farm without harming the environment.[1]

But I'm assuming that healthy peat bogs are fixing carbon/ritual sacrifices in a net-negative manner until someone digs it up and burns it.

I just wonder if allowing peatlands to revert for carbon credits would offset the loss of the pasture.


by titzer12 days ago

Just a PSA, the term "carbon capture" people are throwing around now almost always means capturing CO2 at emission sources like fossil fuel-fired power plants. It generally does not mean capturing CO2 from the air at large. There really is no viable technology for that. Except trees.

by wizzwizz412 days ago

Iirc, that's an old forest thing, and goes away pretty much as soon as the trees do.

by Cthulhu_12 days ago

It needs to be a multi pronged attack. One of my current pet peeves is that there's a ton of green energy projects - offshore wind farms, solar panels at home, etc - but at the same time, new massive datacenters are built left and right. So instead of converting to renewables, renewables are added on top of existing energy production, and we'll never be able to get rid of carbon emitting energy production.

That is, we need to reduce energy consumption AND convert to renewable energy AND have more green everywhere AND a bunch of other things.

by cedilla12 days ago

Data centres account for only a few percent of energy usage, and energy use in developed countries increases quite slowly. Since renewable energy is so much cheaper than energy generated by nuclear or fossil fuel plants it can easily outpace the increase in demand.

by grouphugs12 days ago

we've really underestimated how difficult it is to get green back on the surface. using kenya as a case-study, we see that we fundamentally changed earth, the conditions under which forests grew are no longer present. kenya has had a lot of difficulty getting tree's from reforestation campaigns to survive. this issue shows up all over the world.

by crawsome13 days ago

Nov 23, 2020

by good867530912 days ago

Ah yes, National Eat a Cranberry Day. My favorite holiday. Thanks for contributing to the conversation.

by tootahe4513 days ago

You have been banned from r/science.

by marsdepinski13 days ago


by vmception13 days ago

Is that really what we need though, atmospheric temperature I thought was the main issue

How long heat stays in one area

I get that more plants = good, for other reasons but surface temperature wasnt something we have been aiming to optimize for?

by Cthulhu_12 days ago

It's one of the issues though. I think ground temperature is about human and animal comfort, desertification, viability of certain plants and crops, etc. Not unimportant, but as you imply, only part of the equation.