Three things

I was shocked and horrified to learn of the loss of Maryam Mirzakhani at age 40, after a battle with cancer (see here or here).  Mirzakhani was a renowned mathematician at Stanford and the world’s first and so far only female Fields Medalist.  I never had the privilege of meeting her, but everything I’ve read about her fills me with admiration.  I wish to offer condolences to her friends and family, including her husband Jan Vondrák, also a professor at Stanford and a member of the CS theory community.


In other depressing news, discussion continues to rage on social media about “The Uninhabitable Earth,” the New York magazine article by David Wallace-Wells arguing that the dangers of climate change have been systematically understated even by climate scientists; that sea level rise is the least of the problems; and that if we stay the current course, much of the earth’s landmass has a good chance of being uninhabitable by the year 2100.  In an unusual turn of events, the Wallace-Wells piece has been getting slammed by climate scientists, including Michael Mann (see here and also this interview)—people who are usually in the news to refute the claims of deniers.

Some of the critics’ arguments seem cogent to me: for example, that Wallace-Wells misunderstood some satellite data, and more broadly, that the piece misleadingly presents its scenario as overwhelmingly probable by 2100 if we do nothing, rather than as “only” 10% likely or whatever—i.e., a mere Trump-becoming-president level of risk.  Other objections to the article impressed me less: for example, that doom-and-gloom is a bad way to motivate people about climate change; that the masses need a more optimistic takeaway.  That obviously has no bearing on the truth of what’s going to happen—but even if we did agree to entertain such arguments, well, it’s not as if mainstream messaging on climate change has been an unmitigated success.  What if everyone should be sweating-in-the-night terrified?

As far as I understand it, the question of the plausibility of Wallace-Wells’s catastrophe scenario mostly just comes down to a single scientific unknown: namely, will the melting permafrost belch huge amounts of methane into the atmosphere?  If it does, then “Armageddon” is probably a fair description of what awaits us in the next century, and if not, not.  Alas, our understanding of permafrost doesn’t seem especially reliable, and it strikes me that models of such feedbacks have a long history of erring on the side of conservatism (for example, researchers were astonished by how quickly glaciers and ice shelves fell apart).

So, while I wish the article was written with more caveats, I submit that runaway warming scenarios deserve more attention rather than less.  And we should be putting discussion of those scenarios in exactly the broader context that Wallace-Wells does: namely, that of the Permian-Triassic extinction event, the Fermi paradox, and the conditions for a technological civilization to survive past its infancy.

Certainly we spend much more time on risks to civilization (e.g., nuclear terrorism, bioengineered pandemics) that strike me as less probable than this one.  And certainly this tail, in the distribution of possible outcomes, deserves at least as much attention as its more popular opposite, the tail where climate change turns out not to be much of a problem at all.  For the grim truth about climate change is that history won’t end in 2100: only the projections do.  And the mere addition of 50 more years could easily suffice to turn a tail risk into a body risk.

Of course, that the worst will happen is a clear prediction of reverse Hollywoodism theory—besides being the “natural, default” prediction for a computer scientist used to worst-case analysis.  This is one prediction that I hope turns out to be as wrong as possible.


OK, now for something to cheer us all up.  Yesterday the group of Misha Lukin, at Harvard, put a paper on the arXiv reporting the creation of a 51-qubit quantum simulator using cold atoms.  The paper doesn’t directly address the question of quantum supremacy, or indeed of performance comparisons between the new device and classical simulations at all.  But this is clearly a big step forward, while the world waits for the fully-programmable 50-qubit superconducting QCs that have been promised by the groups at Google and IBM.

Indeed, this strikes me as the most exciting news in experimental quantum information since last month, when Jian-Wei Pan’s group in Shanghai reported the first transmission of entangled photons from a satellite to earth—thereby allowing violations of the Bell inequality over 1200 kilometers, teleportation of a qubit from earth to space, and other major firsts.  These are breakthroughs that we knew were in the works ever since the Chinese government launched the QUESS satellite devoted to quantum communications.  I should’ve blogged about them in June.  Then again, regular readers of Shtetl-Optimized, familiar as they already are with the universal reach of quantum mechanics and with the general state of quantum information technology, shouldn’t find anything here that fundamentally surprises them, should they?

51 Responses to “Three things”

  1. Mitchell Porter Says:

    Preventing long-term climate change (as opposed to mitigating its short-term effects) is an enormous distraction from the real story in human affairs, which is the historically simultaneous understanding of the atom, the gene, and the brain, and the subsequent transformation of the world by the application of that knowledge.

    Saying all that is a mouthful, but when you say singularity, people think you mean living in virtual reality; when what it really means is nanotechnology, biotechnology, and artificial intelligence, all tumbling out of Pandora’s box at the same time.

    I used to say such a situation is a race between superweapons and superintelligence, but now it just looks like a question of which of the world’s technical elites will first master all of the potential, and what they will do with it.

  2. Ajit R. Jadhav Says:

    It just so happened that I was browsing the Web sites of a few leading mathematics journals last week. (Was trying to see if my diffusion equation result might be seen as being fit for publication in this journal or that. Eventually decided that in its current form, it might better fit in a physics journal.)

    Anyway, that’s how I was going through the home-pages of the editors of the Journal of American Mathematical Society. I thus landed at Maryam Mirzakhani’s home page, checked out her Wiki-page and other things, and was left wonder-struck. Yes, as an engineer, it was impossible to figure out anything about work let alone form any kind of a judgment about it. Yet, since I come from a “third-world” country, it also was, in a way, “easy” enough for me to relate to some aspects of her story: a genius, an immigrant, and a success. And, damn it, let me add: also a beautiful, lady-like face, one that silently exuded a quiet kind of a confidence.

    And, then, just one or two days later, I read this news on the ‘net. … It was disconcerting, to say the least.

    RIP, Maryam! And may her family find the strength to survive this, unusually unfortunate, loss.

    –Ajit

  3. Raoul Ohio Says:

    It is tough to know how to deal with impending certain doom, although it is not as scary when you get to be an old guy.

    When I was a kid in the early 1950’s, at school we would practice kneeling down by basement walls and tucking our hears under our arms, the better to survive Russian atom bombs. Every time I would hear a loud airplane, I would think this is it.

    Then I got interested in science, and became aware of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, who had the clock at maybe 1.5 minutes to midnight. Just checked; now they are giving us 2.5 minutes, so I guess things are getting better.

    In 2017, of course, the future looks much worse. Those guys are probably wrong about methane burps, but something even worse will surely turn up. Like Trump.

    I suggest everyone pay attention, but try not to freak out. Soldier on, creating whatever it is you do. And, try to get out in nature and take long hikes. Beer is good!

  4. JP Says:

    Is anyone able to comment on how this 51-atom quantum simulator is different than recent work done at MPI-Garching? e.g., https://arxiv.org/pdf/1705.08372.pdf and https://arxiv.org/pdf/1604.04178.pdf (which had atom numbers in the hundreds)

  5. Ashley Says:

    A 51-qubit experiment is indeed very impressive, though it’s important to note that this is a linear array, as opposed to the 2d setups proposed by some other groups. In particular, it looks like the dynamics of this experiment can be simulated quite well classically using matrix product states (Figs 5-6)…

  6. Scott Says:

    Ashley #5: Aha, thanks for the crucial context about MPS!

    I knew that if there were a claim to quantum supremacy here, superseding e.g. the Google group’s planned 7×7 qubit array, then that would’ve been prominent in the paper. But I didn’t know exactly why there wasn’t such a claim.

  7. jk Says:

    why do i never see discussed an obvious strategy for mitigating global warming? blow up a pacific island or two. blow up as many as necessary.

    the explosion of mount tambora in 1815 produced the year without a summer in 1816. that’s the proof of concept.

    yes, there would be obvious drawbacks such as radioactive fallout, but even that seems like a small cost weighted against the earth becoming “uninhabitable.”

    we have all those bombs sitting around; a few of them could actually do some good.

  8. Scott Says:

    jk #7: The more “controlled” version of what you’re advocating—i.e., the one with fewer wild side effects—is blotting out some percentage of sunlight using sulfur dioxide cannons. That is something that’s pretty widely discussed (look, it even has its own Wikipedia page 🙂 ). And my guess is that humans will eventually be forced to resort to that and similar strategies. But when we do, it will be like putting band-aids over a ruptured artery—i.e., a desperation measure that can at most buy us a bit more time. More sulfur dioxide would continually need to be injected into the atmosphere to counteract the warming, and that would no doubt have all sorts of nasty side effects of its own, not all of which we know yet. And it wouldn’t solve the underlying problem of the atmosphere containing vastly too much carbon, which then gets absorbed into the oceans, causing ocean acidification etc. etc.

    But yes, I absolutely support more research in this direction, as well as into every other aspect of climate change adaptation and mitigation.

  9. fred Says:

    Given all the different ways we could end (nuclear terror, epidemic, global warming, meteor strike, …), more focus on space colonization seems like a good idea.

  10. AJG Says:

    On the topic of climate change, there are times that I feel that the situation is essentially too late — that even belated action that we take now across the world to mitigate climate change will not undo the warming scenario that will lead to mass extinctions and the scenario posed by Wallace-Wells.

    Thus the destructive impacts of climate change is inevitable. Thus any attempt to mitigate is ultimately pointless, and we should be content to accept our ultimate fate.

    For those on this forum — convince me that my sentiment is wrong.

  11. fred Says:

    When it comes to sea level rising, I think it’s not too late to start digging a new big giant lake in the Midwest to hold all the extra water…

  12. Lisa Says:

    Interesting idea. Where in the Midwest would be best?
    How deep?
    How wide?

  13. Raoul Ohio Says:

    fred #9 and #11:

    Given that levitation is a lot easier than space colonization, why not deal with rising sea level by teaching everyone to levitate? I’m sure the Transcendental Meditation people would help out, although I think you have to pay a lot of money before you learn to levitate.

  14. Mateus Araújo Says:

    Scott #8: How about making white clouds over the Pacific? It seems to me just as effective, but with fewer side effects. It also seems easier to shut down if for some reason it doesn’t work like we expect.

    Of course, this is a desperation measure, that should be considered only because keeping warming under 2 degrees only via stopping emissions has an ice sheet’s chance in the Arctic of working.

  15. wolfgang Says:

    >> blotting out some percentage of sunlight using sulfur dioxide cannons.

    Would it not be easier to add sulfur to aircraft fuel?
    Bring back air pollution and global dimming…

  16. fred Says:

    Raoul #13
    Well, in the end, if we don’t use Mars as a practical terraforming experiment, we’re gonna have to try it out on the earth itself, with no room for error!

  17. Richard Gaylord Says:

    scott:
    “if we stay the current course, much of the earth’s landmass has a good chance of being uninhabitable by the year 2100”. i am 70 yrs. old and i have no relatives. can you give me even one reason why i should care about the condition of the earth in 2100 (or even as soon as 2045). if you can’t, can you tell me how i can avoid being criticized as a climate denier (i’m not – i simply don’t care. and even if i did, the history of unintended harmful consequences resulting from human intervention into ecological systems makes me question the wisdom of allowing governments to intervene).

  18. Scott Says:

    Richard #17: It sounds like all you need to do is explain to people, “I’m not a climate denier, I’m just an asshole!” 😀

    The reason to care about the people of 2045 or 2100 seems exactly the same to me as the reason to care about other people who are alive today. In fact, many of them are the same people.

  19. fred Says:

    Lisa #12,
    right, I wonder which size would make a significant difference.
    But it’s a relatively simple task, it could all be done automatically with solar powered digging robots.

  20. AJG Says:

    Funny that no one responded directly to my comment (Comment #10). Specifically, to point out that the fatalistic and pessimistic assessment of humanity’s ability to alter the current path we are on with respect to climate change.

  21. Scott Says:

    AJG #20: Even supposing it’s true that we’re already doomed, that it’s too late to escape a Permian-Triassic-like cataclysm—and it might be true, of course—I still don’t know how I could be “content to accept our ultimate fate,” as you put it. In such a case, I’d be discontent—enraged about human doofosity—right up to the end.

  22. fred Says:

    Scott #21

    but how do you prioritize the threats?
    You seem ready to combat global warming tooth and nail right to the end, which is great.

    But when it comes to the dangers of AI, it’s as though nothing registers. And I’m not even talking about the “singularity”, but simply the fact a vast swath of humanity will soon be totally unemployable (starting right now with the driving industry).

    But the real core issue behind all this is that humanity never tried to address it’s end game and big questions like overpopulation and general happiness.
    Isn’t the “raison de vivre” of humanity (and life) to expend as much as possible, to the entire galaxy? If not, then what is the alternative?

  23. Richard Gaylord Says:

    scott:
    rather than responding to me with an highly offensive personal attack, you might have addressed the more significant issue regarding the unintended (and unwanted) consequences of human intervention in ecological systems. my conversations with my colleagues about this often end in their agreeing with me that it is as quite likely that humans will actually cause damage to the planet – and more importantly to its inhabitants. (see e.g, the movie “Snowpiercer” which is described in IMDb as “Set in a future where a failed climate-change experiment kills all life on the planet except for a lucky few.”

  24. Scott Says:

    Richard #23: Given that you were open and honest (which I applaud) in expressing what most people would consider to be asshole sentiments—“why should I care about future generations?”—I didn’t think you’d be offended to be called one.

    Your two arguments are almost comically at odds with each other: if future generations don’t matter to you, then why even enter into a discussion about it? Having said that, of course the central goal of environmentalism has always been to slow down the unintended bad effects of human intervention into ecological systems. If it’s too late, one might be forced to take active measures to try to restore ecological systems to how they were—but precisely because humans are so bad at that, simply leaving things alone tends to be an excellent option when it’s possible.

  25. ppnl Says:

    Wow Richard. Old people suck. But I think I have finally figured out what is going wrong in America. Maybe there is somthing to that soylent green idea…

  26. Richard Gaylord Says:

    i am offended because i have been diagnosed as having Asperger’s (which is a not that uncommon a personality trait [not a mental illness] amongst theoretical physicists) and i am damned tired of going through life, being criticized for being ‘less of a human being’ (or, in your words, an asshole) because i lack empathy for other people (even though i have great empathy for dogs which i do love). you really should get to know someone personally before you attack them personally.

  27. JimV Says:

    I do care about future generations, because I know there will be good and great people like Scott among them, and am doing what I can with regard to my personal lifestyle (no car, walk to most places, recycle, etc.)–but …

    For consolation, I also tell myself that if the human race does this, we will deserve the consequences; just as we in the USA (collectively, not necessarily individually) deserve the consequences of electing Trump. For that matter, I could have done more against Trump, and I could do more against AGCC. I hereby accept some of the blame for those consequences.

    The worst thing is that the consequences will fall most heavily on the least blame-worthy: the last generation to survive.

  28. Scott Says:

    Richard #26: I’m also somewhere on the Asperger spectrum, as are a large fraction of all the people I know.

    But I think it’s a slur against aspies to say that, as a group, they don’t care about the welfare of other people, which is essentially the definition of the word “asshole.”

    Aspies often have difficulty understanding other people, predicting other people’s reactions, and getting other people to do what they want. But those difficulties strike me as completely orthogonal to moral callousness, and crucial not to conflate with callousness, the way so many are eager to do.

  29. Richard Gaylord Says:

    i said i lacked empathy, not that i didn’t care about the welfare of other people. your knowledge of Asperger’s is slight.

    “Asperger’s syndrome is named for Dr. Hans Asperger, an Austrian pediatrician, who first described the condition in 1944. Dr. Asperger described four boys who showed “a lack of empathy, little ability to form friendships, one-sided conversation, intense absorption in a special interest, and clumsy movements.” Because of their obsessive interests in and knowledge of particular subjects, he termed the boys “little professors.”

    btw – When a person refuses to acknowledge a mistep or error, it’s known as being Trumpian (or in your words, being an asshole).

  30. Scott Says:

    Richard #29: The difficulty is that the word “empathy” is fundamentally ambiguous. People use it to refer to the cognitive capacity to understand other people’s mental and emotional states, but also to refer to the moral quality that causes you to care about others at all (i.e., as a rough synonym for “conscience”).

    This conflation is precisely what I’m arguing against, as I’ve seen countless examples of either of these traits unaccompanied by the other, and not even a detectable correlation between the two. I’d prefer that everyone reserved “empathy” for the cognitive capacity, although it’s probably too late for that.

    You, however, gave the clear impression in your comments that you weren’t just talking about an Aspergers-related cognitive deficiency, but also about a generalized misanthropy and not-giving-a-crap:

      i am 70 yrs. old and i have no relatives. can you give me even one reason why i should care about the condition of the earth in 2100 (or even as soon as 2045).
      i am damned tired of going through life, being criticized for being ‘less of a human being’ (or, in your words, an asshole) because i lack empathy for other people (even though i have great empathy for dogs which i do love).

    If I misunderstood, and you wish to state for the record that you do care about the welfare of other human beings—including the billions of us alive right now who plan to inhabit the world of 2045, and our children who will inhabit even the world of 2100—then I’ll retract my criticism and apologize for misreading you.

  31. Jim Cross Says:

    Thing 2

    Even though global warming is real, too much fear mongering could (and maybe has) create(d) a backlash, a sort of cry wolf type response. Whatever bad comes from it will come very slowly for the foreseeable future. We liberals have already have been on this issue for 2 or 3 decades. Most people think they can see changes, warmer summers, earlier springs, but most of it is fairly innocuous at this point. People just might not believe it if you try to paint an apocalyptic picture and become even more resistant to doing anything.

    Thing 4

    Trump. At the moment, he worries me more than global warming.

  32. melior Says:

    It seems to me that Richard answered his own question, since he admits he cares about the dogs!

  33. Richard Gaylord Says:

    you want me to state ‘for the record’ on your blog that i care about the welfare of other human beings in order for you to apologize for your criticism of me personally rather than with my position as you understood it? i don’t care a whit about your misreading what i wrote; it’s your ad hominem attack on my character that i object to. i can only conclude that either your were never taught how to deal in a civilized manner with people with whom you disagree or that the people who told me that you are a jerk were correct.

  34. Scott Says:

    Richard #33: Ok, this interaction has gone “to the dogs.” Thanks for participating here and best of luck elsewhere. Banned.

  35. dorothy Says:

    hey scott, have you seen the recent study about what you personally can do to reduce CO2 emissions? stuff like not owning a car, don’t go on holidays or conferences by plane, don’t eat meat etc were on it, but right on top of the list: have fewer children. what’s your opinion on that? if you want the masses to be informed and to take consequences, what do you think how far they should go? would you support a 1 child restriction for people in the US in order to save the planet?

  36. wolfgang Says:

    Richard,

    >> why i should care about the condition of the earth in 2100 (or even as soon as 2045).

    >> makes me question the wisdom of allowing governments to intervene.

    I think if you add “why should I care if other people have health insurance” you would be all set to run for office….

    Your whining about how Scott responded to you shows that you really could make it as a politician – or at least twitter troll (which nowadays is almost the same).

  37. josh Says:

    do you really think not caring about people you have nothing to do with makes you an asshole? wouldn’t we all be assholes by that definition? do you really care about the welfare of people e.g. in north africa at the moment? would you make personal sacrifices to improve their situation if you could? i don’t doubt at all that you would make sacrifices for your children. that’s just natural. but i think there might be people out there who see life on earth as a dynamic process with species arising and going extinct, and who don’t think mankind is a necessary part of the future balance. this doesn’t make them assholes in my opinion.

  38. Marnie Dunsmore Says:

    Just noting here (before the discussion went off the rails), regarding the mitigation of climate change, there is no discussion here of population. You only discussion technical solutions to climate change mitigation.

    Compared to the other solutions, it really wouldn’t be that difficult to encourage people to have fewer children and to implement other moderate solutions to control population.

    Discussion here:
    http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/makingwaves/population-and-ecology/blog/44620/

    Yet, you still see people vilified from the left and right for trying to say that over population is destroying ecosystems and contributing to climate change.

    Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki comes to mind. When he called out Canada’s extremely high immigration rate (it currently has one of the highest immigration rates in the world), he was lambasted in the press and called a racist for stating that we can’t keep increasing population (which in Canada happens mostly through immigration) without destroying the natural world.

    Yet you don’t have to look far to realize the heavy impacts of population increase. Most of the wild places, and many of the wild animals that I remember from places like Banff National park, or Waterton National Park, are disappearing. I noticed recently that Banff is turning into Disney Land, right in the middle of the core territory of grizzly bear and wapiti. Nearby Calgary has doubled in size since 2000.

    If you are really serious about climate change, in addition to serious discussions about reducing carbon footprints, it’s about time that we stopped labeling people as racist, who try to talk about limiting population, and controlling immigration to a sustainable levels.

  39. Scott Says:

    josh #37: I would draw the distinction as follows. If people won’t make serious personal sacrifices for faraway people who they don’t know, that doesn’t make them wonderful, but it doesn’t make them assholes either. It makes them completely ordinary.

    However, a reasonable requirement for being a non-asshole is that one at least do the things that are zero-cost to oneself, like making sympathetic noises for faraway people if the subject comes up. “Gee, I really hope things work out for all those folks facing famine in South Sudan.” “That Holocaust, it was quite a shame that it happened.” “I really hope that after I’m dead, the people who survive me inherit a habitable planet.” What can one say about a person for whom even expressing those sentiments is already too much to ask?

  40. Scott Says:

    dorothy #35: Yes, I did see that study.

    An obvious difficulty here is that the people who might actually be moved to have fewer kids because of a study about CO2 impact, are overwhelmingly disproportionately concentrated among the people who would raise their kids to make wonderful contributions to the world, and who from that standpoint should have as many kids as possible. “The best lack all reproduction, while the worst are full of passionate fertility.” 🙂

    OK fine, what would I think about a China-style one-child policy in the US, which cut through the tragedy-of-the-commons problem by imposing a restriction on everyone? Here we’re far, far, far into the realm of political fantasy. But even so, my preference in such cases is essentially always for taxes on damaging behaviors commensurate with the damage they cause, rather than blanket bans. I.e., just make it much more expensive to drive a large car, own a large home, or do other things that are environmentally damaging on their own and that also tend to be correlated with having many kids. And use the resulting tax revenue to subsidize things like solar power, reforestation, and carbon-capture technology.

    I think that that, combined with birthrates that have been plunging anyway all over the developed world (i.e., the part of the world responsible for the lion’s share of CO2 emissions), would already make a serious dent in humanity’s environmental footprint.

  41. josh Says:

    ok, maybe i have misinterpreted what richard was saying. i did not read it as ‘you can all go to hell, i would like that’ but rather as ‘why should i personally care, if everyone and everything i know and love will be gone at that time anyways?’ and caring is deeper in my understanding than doing something zero-cost as saying ‘yes, the environment should be protected’. even if all people in the US shout out loud that they hope the people in sudan will survive, i would doubt it has any affect on their real situation. you have to do something to change something, and that usually requires sacrifices of some sort (money, time, changing habits etc.). i guess you are saying that if the voice of the masses would be loud enough, the government would be forced to take actions. but i don’t think that is opposed to what richard said.

  42. Marnie Dunsmore Says:

    #40 Scott:

    I don’t think anyone is suggesting that we implement a one child policy.

    There’s been quite a lot of research on how you could incentivize people to have one or two children through minor modifications to tax the policy (and stop the ever in the press crying about our “aging” population, and the “crisis” of low birthrate.)

    Instead, right now, many families are pressured through social conditioning to have more children than they can afford to raise.

    Regarding your comment “just make it much more expensive to drive a large car, own a large home, or do other things that are environmentally damaging on their own”, that won’t really have much impact toward reversing climate change if the population continues to increase.

    You’re a physicist, so you should be able to calculate the energy capacity of burning fossil fuels versus the alternatives. It will be very difficult to replace fossil fuels with green alternatives and maintain our current lifestyles. In order to really get a handle on climate change, at current population levels, green house gas emissions per person would have to dramatically decrease to the point where we would not drive a car or fly in an aircraft, or even use air conditioning. And maybe not even a washing machine.

    I don’t foresee technology bailing us out on this one.

    There is absolutely no denying that without population control, including policies to curb family size, and control immigration, we are going to have run away climate change. Maybe in won’t happen in 2100, but with current population rate increases, it will surely happen by 3000. (Not very far away in the grand scheme of things).

    Regarding your comment “the part of the world responsible for the lion’s share of CO2 emissions”, again, look at the numbers, as shown in this report:

    http://edgar.jrc.ec.europa.eu/news_docs/jrc-2015-trends-in-global-co2-emissions-2015-report-98184.pdf

    China is the number one violator in terms of green house gas emissions. That’s been the case since about 2005.

    And yes, the US is next on the list, but it has at least stabilized its green house emissions.

    Have a look at India. It’s headed for run away green house gas emissions.

    So, no, contrary to your comment, Scott, having people stop driving large vehicles in the developed world will not “make a serious dent in humanity’s environmental footprint”.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for people stopping their addiction to these ridiculously large vehicles, but you’re fooling yourself if you think it will make much of an impact.

  43. fred Says:

    Empathy isn’t helping, what we need is more compassion.

  44. fred Says:

    Marnie #38

    there is one solution that would solve a lot of problems:
    prevent any white couple in the West from having kids on their own, and instead force them to adopt some child from a third world country.

    You decrease the white population (the source of most evil in this world), you pass on Western values onto the kids without having to integrate intolerant ideas and customs (anti-gay sentiment, forcing women to wear hazmat suit all day long, female genitalia mutilation, etc), you solve overpopulation.

  45. AJG Says:

    Scott #21:

    I understand why you would express discontent (“raging against human doofosity”, to quote your words) to the end. Perhaps I shouldn’t have used the word “content”, a better word would be “resigned”.

    The key point I was raising is that, if it’s already too late to mitigate the effects of climate change that could potentially lead to massive extinctions (which I hope is not the case), then spending our energies expressing discontent is not especially productive. I suppose I’m expressing the traditional Japanese sentiment of “shikata ga nai” (translated as “it cannot be helped”)

    BTW, I hope I am not coming across as suggesting that we should do nothing to mitigate or prevent further impacts due to climate change. Any actions that is possible at an individual, national, or international level should be examined and considered. The point is, I have 0 reason to be hopeful on this issue, unlike other issues out there.

  46. Alexander Vlasov Says:

    Ashley #5:

    I suppose they use MPS for testing purposes. Anyway, most recent simulation by supercomputer was with 45 qubits and so testing arbitrary evolution with 51 qubits is problematic. Using Clifford-based benchmarking is rather common (e.g it was described by Martinis group in 1402.4848), despite that also based on set of quantum gates effectively simulated classically.

  47. Scott Says:

    josh #41:

      i guess you are saying that if the voice of the masses would be loud enough, the government would be forced to take actions.

    Well, yes. This is actually something that’s confused me my entire life. It’s like, I understand if you can’t be bothered to donate anything to charity, or moderate your own carbon footprint, or spend any of your own time improving the world. You’re only human, and a papercut is more real to you than the suffering of a billion people half a world away, or generations in the future. I get it.

    But even then, how hard could it possibly be to pull the level for Democrats every other year? Or failing that, at least avoid pulling the lever for Republicans? That seems to me like the equivalent of simply musing to yourself that you’d like the world to be less horrible, except that it actually makes a difference.

    And yes, I know: even after the complete takeover of the Republican party by fascism, hypocrisy, cowardice, and treason, there are still people who genuinely believe that the Republicans are better, for the US or conceivably even for the world (!). So let’s leave those people out of it.

    What I don’t understand is all the people who don’t merely Defect in all their personal prisoners’ dilemmas, but vote in right-wing candidates because they will All-Defect to be a universal law. What’s up with that?

  48. Ben Boral Says:

    Marnie #42,

    There are legitimate policy proposals to address the challenge of how the US can get other nations to decrease carbon emissions. For example, the Climate Leadership Council (founding members James Baker, George Shultz, Stephen Hawking to name a few) proposes a 4 point plan:
    1. A gradually increasing carbon tax
    2. Dividends for all Americans paid by the tax
    3. Border Carbon Adjustments
    4. Significant regulatory rollback

    #3 is what addresses your concern. Imported goods from nations without a carbon tax would get a tariff until that nation imposes a carbon tax of their own.

    Source: https://www.clcouncil.org/our-plan/

  49. Jr Says:

    I was sorry to hear about Professor Mirzakhani. Seems like she was a private person and she was wise to keep her health out of the news bit it made quite a shock to read she had passed away.

  50. josh Says:

    Scott #47,

    sorry, I honestly don’t really understand what you were trying to say there.

    I’m a European computer scientist, and I’m not too familiar with the different opinions of Democrats and Republicans in the US about climate change. In Europe, there are several parties which proclaim as their main agenda the protection of the environment. But for me, this should not be a political discussion in one particular country; but just as you stated, climate change should concern everyone. This is why I think Richard’s statement was actually interesting and touched an important topic: How can we convince people that it’s worth to fight? Can we maybe better showcase immediate effects of climate change? Just as you suggested, tax increase related to environment unfriendly goods and actions is something everyone will notice. And at least in Europe this is common practice. That might be one reason why the CO2 emissions per person is twice as large in the US than in Europe. But of course the total amount is still way too high. So I think tax increase alone will not help; especially as this can not be applied in an unlimited fashion if the country wants to stay competitive compared to other countries which don’t care too much about such topics (as e.g, China).

    I think in the long run the only thing that will potentially safe us is to put a lot of money and effort into research for better technologies. I have some trust in humanity that we can change faster than the climate; and either find methods to somehow live in the presence of toxic gases, a new ice age etc. or what we will find ways to prevent such scenarios in the first place. Hopefully not with the help of a nuclear winter as in Futurama….

  51. Marnie Dunsmore Says:

    #50 josh

    “How can we convince people that it’s worth to fight?”

    We could get serious, from a policy perspective, about making sure that all people have a decent standard of living and quality of life when implementing policies to mitigate climate change.

    I think that’s something that is lost in these American Republican vs Democrat discussions. I lot of people who vote Republican probably do so to protect the industries in which they work. Many of them probably know that climate change is a real thing, but they also have to think about raising their families and earning a decent standard of living.

    That’s something that many people completely lose sight of.

    I think of many people I know in Alberta. They work in the oil and gas sector there, or in related industries. Those jobs have been stable high paying jobs. So no surprise that even Rachel Notley, of the left of center New Democratic Party, has supported the oil and gas sector, while also using royalties from oil and gas to fund alternative energy.

    I don’t hear meaningful integrated discussions in the US about how to transfer revenues from the fossil fuel energy sector to fund alternative energy, while also maintain jobs across the economy. It’s a Jekyll and Hyde situation.

    I also think it is pretty irresponsible for some in the elite, or in high paying protected jobs, to ramble on about the inevitability of automation (it can’t be helped, don’t you know!) and job loss, and then in the same sentence, cry crocodile tears about climate change.

    We actually don’t need all this automation. But! Heaven forbid that salaries (as opposed to autonomized energy gobbling robots and self driving cars) should cut into the ever increasing stock prices of our corporate darlings.

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