A good day, and a good month, for the global climate

by John Quiggin on November 8, 2020

Joe Biden’s win in the US Presidential election is part of a run of good news for the Global Climate. Biden has promised to rejoin the Paris Agreement on his first day in office.

The US is then required to commit a Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to reductions in carbon emissions. Biden has already announced that he is committed to achieving zero net emissions by 2050, and this, along with an interim 2030 target will presumably be the basis of the US NDC.
Net zero by 2050 is now the international norm.

In October, South Korea and Japan, both holdouts until relatively recently, announced commitments to net zero by 2050 . Only a handful of OECD countries, notably including Australia, are now holding out. Middle income countries with big emissions are also moving, China set its target at 2060, which still implies a need for rapid action now, and South Africa has expressed an aspiration for net zero by 2050.

There are also more immediately positive developments. Bangladesh, the Phillipines and Vietnam have all cancelled or greatly modified plans which involved a big expansion of coal-fired power. The same is true in Poland which has been, along with Turkey, the last big holdout.
One of the reasons for these moves is that it is now almost impossible to get finance for projects related to coal. The vast majority of both government and private lending agencies now have divestiture policies excluding, which are now being extended to cover the most destructive oil and gas projects, such as tar sands. There are still loopholes through which some coal projects can squeeze, but they are tightening all the time.

The final stage of the process is the withdrawal of big engineering companies from the business of building coal plants. GE announced this recently. Samsung and KEPCO, after taking a lot of reputational damage for involvement in the Vung Ang 2 project in Vietnam announced they wouldn’t be doing any more.

There’s still lots of work to be done. Getting to zero emissions by 2050 is a huge improvement on the scenarios that were being considered until recently, but not enough to prevent severe climate damage, some of which is already happening. An earlier decarbonization target and a shift to negative emissions (more on this soon, I hope) are needed.

And targets are one thing, delivery another. China’s announcement won’t have much effect unless Xi Jinping can rein in provincial governments that are still eager to develop coal. And Biden probably won’t have much capacity to pass legislative action. As the law stands at present, he can do a lot through executive action and regulation, but the Republican majority on the Supreme Court may try to stop this.



Dr. Hilarius 11.08.20 at 6:35 am

Your last sentence is a realistic fear. Barrett gives every indication of being far more extreme than anyone else on the court when it comes to regulatory power. I can’t find the direct quote right now but she has said that government can’t solve every problem, with the subtext being that the courts should not allow government to even try. Expect hostility not just to federal regulation but also regulation at the state level.


Hidari 11.08.20 at 8:16 am

Looking at this in the most positive possible way, it’s possible that the new Cold War between China and the United States might have whatever the opposite of ‘collateral damage’ is. For example, the motives of both actors in the original Cold War were bad, but despite these bad motives, competition between them led to Man’s first expedition to the Moon.

This might work out the same. Xi Jinpin’s announcement was game changing. It’s possible (not terribly likely, but possible) that now that there is Great Power competition, there is now real incentive for movement towards a zero carbon economy., with both powers racing towards this goal, and immense cultural capital ‘flowing’ to the country that achieves it.

(The whole executive action thing bothers me, but that’s maybe for another thread.)


Lee A. Arnold 11.08.20 at 11:32 am

Policymakers and business firms ought to be awakening to the fact that new “materials science” is going to be a big part of everything in the material world — including the race toward decarbonization in hundreds of diverse ways such as building insulation, lighter stronger materials, “carbon capture and storage” including “direct air capture”, better electricity storage and conduction, etc. You still don’t see new materials science listed among the ways to fight global warming. Yet the whole field is about to accelerate logarithmically with the application of machine learning to chemical discovery. Open access:


alfredlordbleep 11.08.20 at 1:12 pm

Following Lee A. Arnold @3

The lazy way to keep cool in the sun
Passive radiative cooling requires a material that radiates heat away while allowing solar radiation to pass through. Zhai et al. solve this riddle by constructing a metamaterial composed of a polymer layer embedded with microspheres, backed with a thin layer of silver (see the Perspective by Zhang). The result is an easy-to-manufacture material near the theoretical limit for daytime radiative cooling. The translucent and flexible film can be made in large quantities for a variety of energy technology applications.
Science 10 Mar 2017:


reason 11.08.20 at 1:16 pm

“The whole executive action thing bothers me”, me too, but the WHOLE of the US constitutional baggage makes this practically the only show in town. The US Senate is probably the most undemocratic elected body on the planet and makes the electoral look benign. The US badly needs a complete constitutional rework, including getting rid of the presidency, but the constitution is set up to be impossible to change (there is no sensible mechanism described, precisely because it gives power to the states and not to the voting public). You could also talk about the horrible features of the EU constitution (in particular the effective veto single countries have via the unanimousity requirement) which has allowed for instance Hungary to avoid consequences for ignoring their commitments via Polish protection. But eventually the people giving the money (in the US the West Coast and the North East) will have to say enough is enough. I suspect this provides a limiting factor on how far the oligarchy will allow the neo-confederacy to go.


reason 11.08.20 at 1:17 pm

… electoral COLLEGE look benign. ….


alfredlordbleep 11.08.20 at 1:29 pm

Proper link for article I cited:


Hidari 11.08.20 at 2:27 pm

Here is a good link to an interview in the Intercept about Trump on the environment vs Biden vs the environment. Obviously Biden will be better that goes without saying, but how much better is up in the air at the moment.



steven t johnson 11.08.20 at 2:28 pm

Hidari@2 writes “the motives of both actors in the original Cold War were bad…” The bad motives of the Bolsheviks in being invaded by foreign countries in 1919 escape me. I do understand very clearly that many people have never forgiven the USSR for conquering Germany in 1945, but I cannot agree with Hidari this is a bad motive.

It is not clear how these goals are to be enforced. Investment decisions driven by profitability do not consult them. In principle, Xi has tools to be effective but his lifelong program has been to increase the role of private capital and profitability.


Omega Centauri 11.08.20 at 5:10 pm

The real issue is not symbolic things like Paris, but actual on the ground change. We know the climate requires an aggressive approach to the energy transition, but the political reality in Washington is only going to allow very modest moves.

Lee is right about one thing. There are real science/engineering advances that can be made, which will make renewables more attractive and cheaper. But the political system will be working hard to slow this process in order to protect the incumbent technologies and companies. I expect that at the federal level we will only be able to work on minor projects that don’t threaten the fossil interests.


nastywoman 11.08.20 at 8:30 pm

”Here is a good link to an interview in the Intercept about Trump on the environment vs Biden vs the environment”.

Yes – as in the introduction to the interview Jeremy Scahill writes:

”In the past four years, Trump has undone or weakened up to 70 rules and regulations aimed at protecting the environment, while another 30 policy changes are still underway. The majority of these 100 changes are being done at the Environmental Protection Agency, which is currently headed by a former lobbyist for the coal industry who fought the Obama administration’s attempts at environmental regulations. Trump has overseen the largest rollback of federal land protection in U.S. history, opening environmentally-sensitive areas for corporate and industrial development and has portrayed himself as opening up “God’s great creation” to mining and extraction, freeing it from government protections. We analyze the corporate and industry executives and lobbyists Trump has placed in key environmental positions, his withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, and hear from environmentalists and scholars on how to proceed if the Earth is to remain inhabitable”. –

So there is no way – that Biden even will come close to Trumps War against the Environment.


nastywoman 11.08.20 at 8:51 pm

”So there is no way – that Biden even will come close to Trumps War against the Environment”.

And why can’t we say it like it is:
”Trump waged a devastating War against the Environment” –
– Even before he started his War against Science in general and against any US Doctor who reminded Trump he should protect his people from a Virus.-

AND then commenters on the Internet have the nerve to compare Trump to Biden –
a believers in Climate Change –
a believer in Science –
– who wants to fight the Pandemic – which cost US so many lives –
– and a Biden who wants to join the World –
in the fight against the Climate Crisis!



J-D 11.08.20 at 10:07 pm

The US badly needs a complete constitutional rework, including getting rid of the presidency, but the constitution is set up to be impossible to change …

Very difficult, certainly, but ‘impossible’ is something of an overstatement. Consider the impact the Twenty-fifth Amendment had on the events of 1974 (and the difference something like it might have made during the presidency of Andy Johnson).

The US Senate is probably the most undemocratic elected body on the planet …

How stiff is the competition? Can you show your working? (Perhaps it’s not an important point: ‘not the most undemocratic’ is a bit like ‘not as dry as the Atacama desert’.)


alfredlordbleep 11.09.20 at 12:01 am

My corrected link for my post @4
seems not to have gone through. So try, try, try again.


alfredlordbleep 11.09.20 at 12:13 am

(I hope Lee A. Arnold meant super-linear, if not exponential when he wrote “Yet the whole field is about to accelerate logarithmically. . .”). Maybe I wasn’t solely a wee bit foggy at an early hour. :-)


bad Jim 11.09.20 at 8:06 am

At least with respect to electrical power generation, economics alone is driving the U.S. to renewable energy. Coal is simply no longer competitive, and even combined cycle natural gas plants don’t pencil out against wind and solar power. It’s hard to beat technologies with zero marginal costs.

Decarbonizing transportation or residential heating and cooking is going to be a heavy lift. An SUV offers safety in a fearful time, and a truck with a giant grille projects power, command, mastery, and this sells. Never mind that such vehicles mow down pedestrians. It’s hard to imagine not heating a meal over an open flame, notwithstanding the health risks associated with inhaling the products of combustion.

Economics won’t do the work here. The heavy hand of regulation will be required to reduce and eventually remove these environmental threats. At a minimum, all new construction to be required to be at least compatible with electric appliances, all new vehicles to be electric.


notGoodenough 11.09.20 at 9:38 am

A couple of quick thoughts

I think the mood is “cautious optimism”.

The damage Trump has done to scientific research, particularly in the field of climate change, should not be underestimated – from the shutdown which resulted in lost data and brain drain, to the ongoing subsidising of fossil fuels, and of course the lack of investment in renewables. While the recent US elections have some implications for this, given the makeup of the supreme court and the possible (probable?) Republican Senate, obstruction is likely on a number of fronts. A Democrat-led Presidency and Congress is not a magic solution, but rather a small step in a better direction.

Nevertheless, there are a couple of points I have in mind:

1) Technology transfers. Once something is developed to the manufacturing level, scaling up manufacturing (though by no means trivial) is a lot easier than going from TRL 1 to 5. Breakthroughs in any fields in Europe or Asia, for example, can benefit the US (even if the US is facing issues funding them). And, of course, vice versa.

2) Capitalists like making money. While the obstructionist and obstreperous nature of many “elites” should by no means be discounted, AFAICT when things are profitable there will be people with money and power who want to make money from them. And while the Faustian nature of this is a whole topic unto itself (I´ve noted previously I think leaving the field completely open to exploitation is a bad idea), it will be a driving force pushing even the more centrist politicians towards pushing this area.

3) De-politicising of climate change. While the US is a bit of an exception here, in many countries the environment is no-longer solely the province of the fringe, but rather something people (and particularly younger people) actually care about (for example, the cases of Urgenda Foundation v. State of the Netherlands, or the Acción de Tutela de Cambio Climático in Bogota [Rodríguez Peña et al.]). Of course, this shouldn´t be overestimated (not everyone is a Greta Thunberg or Michael E. Mann in the making!), but I am hopeful that in the coming years the idea of strong intervention to make significant changes will become more and more the norm.

While I hope I´ve been clear that social and technological advances are both necessary, I think there is positive movements in that direction. Although the fossil fuel industry has considerable wealth and power to bring to bear, it is also worth considering that the pandemic has hit them rather hard as well – and if governments can be persuaded not to bail them out, we may well see a certain degree of reduction of influence in these coming years.

I am generally not optimistic about the likelihood of the change needed within the best-case time-frames, but I think there is good reason to be…well, not too pessimistic, anyway.

As I say, cautious optimism.


notGoodenough 11.09.20 at 9:38 am

A couple of quick thoughts (contd.)

For me (and this is personal opinion, so treat as such), one significant development is the increase in joined-up thinking within research. Within the battery field, for example, fundamental research is still important (of course), but so too is material development, upscaling, cell integration, post-mortem, etc. etc. Increasingly, it is apparent that there needs to be a strong integration between activities at all levels, and that these must feed back into each other to create iterative feedback loops. And, correspondingly, there is an increase in interest in promoting this (particularly within, for example, EU funding of projects).

Statistics-led methodologies are enabling DoE multivariable experiments (as opposed to the traditional OFAT) which can often provide more information, as well as being faster and more efficient. Meanwhile, advances in non-destructive analytical tools (especially in situ) are helping provide a foundation for rapid understanding of hitherto neglected or poorly understood areas of research.

And the use of AI represents an interesting potential tool to help speed things still further (particularly in areas such as monitoring and combinatorial chemistry). All in all, materials development (and application-led materials development, iteratively linked with all steps within the TRL chain) is developing a lot faster than when I started out (in the days, of course, when one would ride a brontosaurus to work).

This is important, because at the end of the day one key thing we need is actual practical systems which can be manufactured sufficiently to satisfy demand. And there is a push to try and fund in this mostly neglected area (and one can see an increase in technology transfer to meet the changes in priorities within funding).

Again, to be clear, technology alone likely won´t save the planet, but I think the advances in this area is a lot more rapid and significant than many might be inclined to believe.

Again, cautious optimism.


MarkW 11.09.20 at 12:30 pm

The issue not whether particular U.S. institutions are properly democratic (and what is less democratic that using executive orders to make an end-run around the treaty process or regulatory agency rules to make an end-run around legislation?). The actual issue is that Net Zero by 2050 is currently outside the Overton Window in the U.S. A month ago, here’s where climate change came in the list of voters’ top concerns:


If you combine ‘extremely important’ and ‘very important’, climate change comes in next to last in the list 15 issues surveyed. That’s your problem to solve, not the structures of U.S. government.

Another data point:


So most Americans would like to see climate change addressed as long as it doesn’t personally cost them anything over $1/month. Can net zero emissions ultimately be done at net zero cost? If so, then politics and public opinion are not obstacles — basic economics will suffice (just as it has to induce utilities to switch from coal to natural gas). But otherwise, it looks to be a tough sell.

Lastly keep in mind that if U.S. action on climate change is envisioned to involve huge expenditures by the federal government, then that would have to happen in an environment where the U.S. has been foolishly running enormous deficits during economic booms, where the incoming administration has been promising additional costly programs (e.g. student-loan forgiveness), and where the Social Security trust fund is on track to be exhausted within three years. If it came down to prioritizing spending on climate change vs Social Security, how do we think that would play out?


Kiwanda 11.09.20 at 3:44 pm

It’s worth emphasizing that while new developments in materials science are very interesting, the current costs of wind and solar make them the cheapest way to build new powerplants in most of the world, right now. And in many places, building new wind and solar is cheaper than continuing to run existing fossil-fuel powerplants. The continuing “learning curve” of improvements in engineering and building renewables will only improve this.

While the sticker price of battery-electric cars is still higher than the internal-combustion cars they would be natural replacements for, it’s arguable that the “total cost of ownership” is lower, right now. The Tesla Model Y and Model X are SUVs, and if there’s a market for consumer tanks, someone will make an electric version.

As far as I can tell, heat pumps (air conditioners “run backwards” for heating) are cost-competitive in most the world right now, particularly in new construction. And in new construction, better insulation helps as well.

So, a lot of electricity production can be renewable, and transportation and home heating electrified, right now. The areas that need effort, maybe breakthroughs, are concrete and steel production. Plus a cheaper way to handle variations in renewable electricity at the seasonal scale: maybe hydrogen through better electrolysis, or better geothermal.


oldster 11.09.20 at 10:22 pm

typo in the OP?

“divestiture policies excluding, which are now being extended to cover the most destructive oil and gas projects, such as tar sands.”

Did you mean to add “coal”, after the word “excluding”? (or perhaps, “fossil fuels”?)


oldster 11.09.20 at 10:32 pm

alfredlordbleep @4 and 14 —

That looks nifty, but could you say more about large-scale applications? Once we have rolls and rolls of this metamaterial, what do we put it onto? Or suppose we have acres of it to drape around — what do we drape it on, and why?

This stuff radiates infrared back to outer space, but is translucent to visible spectra. Okay, cool. But if my aim is to reduce global warming by reducing the absorption of incident solar energy, why does this lead to a better heat-balance than equivalent areas of mylar space-blanket that reflects both IR and visible rays back to outer space?

Or is the idea that we use this when we have a double aim of radiating some heat, but also letting some visible rays through? So, maybe, a covering for your atrium? Or maybe laminating it onto PV cells, so that they still can generate power?

Any thoughts about applications will be welcome.


reason 11.10.20 at 9:27 am

“If it came down to prioritizing spending on climate change vs Social Security, how do we think that would play out?”

Both are easily doable if the military budget is reduced and taxes on the rich are increased. The problem is not the budget it is power of the rich.


notGoodenough 11.10.20 at 10:14 am

MarkW @ 19

With respect, I find your comment not overly persuasive for a number of reasons. I should note I am not an economist, but a brief review of relevant literature would seem to call into question some of your assumptions and statements. Perhaps you would care to give this some consideration?


“If you combine ‘extremely important’ and ‘very important’, climate change comes in next to last in the list 15 issues surveyed.”

Well, that is not a very informative statement, is it? Bottom of a list of 15 important issues tells us little about how important it is to people. However, a closer look is a little more revealing. If you combine ´extremely important´ and ´very important´, you arrive with 55% of those responding – i.e. a majority (and a bipartisan majority, no less). The number of people responding ´not important´ was, by way of contrast, 19%.

I would respectfully posit, therefore, that the US population is by no means as indifferent to climate change as you seem to imply.

”Another data point:”

Firstly, as a side note, I have issues with drawing any broad conclusions from the AP-NORC surveys. Given that (AFAICT) in this case the sample size was 1202 people (or a shade under 0.0004% of the population) I´m not entirely convinced the answers are so statistically sound as to warrant basing future policy on them alone. But let´s leave that aside for now.

(and, as another aside, AP-NORC polls also show a majority of people would support increased funding into renewable research; a clear majority support increasing subsidies to producing renewable energy; most say renewables have more advantages; and a majority support carbon taxes – just FYI).

Let´s examine the question:

“Suppose a proposal was on the ballot next year to add a monthly fee to consumers’ monthly electricity bill to combat climate change. If this proposal passes, it would cost your household $____ every month. Would you vote in favor of this monthly fee to combat climate change, or would you vote against this monthly fee?”

The responses are indeed revealing [1]. As you and the CATO Institute you link to note, “only” 57% of people would vote to support the increased household fee by 1$, and 23% would vote to support a fee of 40$. Moreover, more affluent households are more likely to support a monthly fee to combat climate change.

Now, as previously stated I am not an economist, but it seems to me that if 57% of people would actively support paying 1$ more, and more affluent people are prepared to pay more than that, it would seem that what is required is distributing the costs so that such fees would be distributed with respect to household income, rather than simply distributing the costs as the same amount per household irrespective of affluence. Surely it is possible to come up with a system which would reflect this? For example, rather than charging everyone in the US the same amount, perhaps link it to their degree of affluence somehow? My understanding is that even a flat tax rate could reflect that, while a tailored progressive tax may be even more well suited to popular support. And that would assume that such costs must necessarily be borne by the majority of USians – is it not possible to construct a better distributed system than that?

Thus, I´m not convinced that this represents quite as tough a sell as you seem to believe it must be.


“the U.S. has been foolishly running enormous deficits during economic booms”

Indeed. The tax cuts during the Bush and the Trump years appear to have significantly increased the deficits during economic booms – I´m glad you agree that this was a bad idea.

A brief aside on Social Security (while noting that I don´t wish to derail the thread, so will not dwell here too much)

”where the Social Security trust fund is on track to be exhausted within three years”

Given that “exhaustion” means “only able to pay out what it receives in taxes – a mere 75% of current levels”, it is certainly worth considering this. The shortfall represents ca. 1% GDP, or 3.21% of taxable payroll. It is also worth noting that the shortfall could easily be covered by relatively minor adjustments – such as small and incremental increases in payroll tax, raising the maximum amount of wages subject to payroll tax, broadening the tax base, etc.

”If it came down to prioritizing spending on climate change vs Social Security, how do we think that would play out?”

That “if” is doing some considerable work there. With respect, you seem to be trying to construct a false dichotomy – there are a number of ways one could pay for a slew of proposals, including shoring up Social Security and paying for a renewables transition. These range from the adjustments I previously mentioned (though I´m sure the economists in the audience can come up with more, and no doubt many far more intelligent than anything I propose) to readjusting the current expenditure (and various combinations thereof).

Given that this does not seem to be the likely selected dilemma (certainly when many other potential options are possible, with some no doubt proving more palatable that running Social Security at only 75% of current levels), why pose this question at all? It seems to me, at least, that there are other, far more significant obstacles facing US attempts to address climate change – not least the potential political landscape.

Back to the environment

Such costs are, of course, very difficult to estimate – and certainly I would advise caution regarding any numbers.

However, just as a thought experiment, let´s consider the number given by Wood Mackenzie for the US to transition to 100% renewables: ca. $4 trillion over 10 years (assuming current technology levels), which would work out at the admittedly not inconsiderable $400 billion per year (just a little under 2/3 of military spending).

(by way of amusing contrast, the 2017 tax cut alone enacted by the Republicans has been estimated by CBO [2] to add $1.9 trillion to the deficit over the next 10 years – yet strangely enough that doesn´t seem to have engendered the same degree of panic, though perhaps I´ve missed it).

The wealth tax proposed by Warren alone has been estimated to raise between $1.1 and $2.75 trillion within that period (depending on the degree of optimism one has). I´m sure other, alternative tax schemes could also be contemplated which could potentially meet the shortfall. I must question, therefore, whether or not this really is as economically unfeasible as you seem to believe it must be.

But we should consider other scenarios and sources. Interestingly, one such report [3] seems to suggest that the costs to transition to 100% renewables could be recouped within 7 years. I´m sure many criticisms could be leveled at the study (no doubt there are many uncertainties which cannot be accounted for), but it does raise an interesting point.

Given that investing in a 100% renewables transition would likely aggregate energy and social costs, help decrease environmental impact (thus saving businesses from the cost impact of that), help promote jobs, and act as a stimulus to a country which potentially faces a depression, why must we assume that this is an expenditure rather than an investment?

Moreover, if we compare the costs of decarbonisation to the economic impact of climate change (e.g. increased burden on the insurance sector, long-term health issues, the continuous fossil fuel subsidies, and the minor matter of the end of civilisation)…well, it begins to look a bit more palatable, no?

I´m sure those with more expertise than I can comment more sensibly on this, but I´m afraid that I don´t find what you´ve said convincing – perhaps you can give this some thought, and offer further insight.

Cordially yours,

[1] https://epic.uchicago.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/AP-NORC-2019-Fact-Sheet.pdf

[2] https://www.cbo.gov/system/files/2019-10/55743-CBO-effects-of-public-law-115-97-on-revenues.pdf; https://www.cbo.gov/system/files/2019-04/53651-outlook-2.pdf; https://www.cbo.gov/system/files/2019-08/55551-CBO-outlook-update_0.pdf

[3] https://doi.org/10.1016/j.oneear.2019.12.003


alfredlordbleep 11.10.20 at 7:38 pm

For oldster let me do a switcheroo. Dug this out in my similar questioning applications of the work I referenced:

A team of researchers from MIT’s materials science and engineering department, Plasma Science and Fusion Center and physics department report that their “perfect mirror” combines the best characteristics of two existing kinds of mirrors — metallic and dielectric. . .
The new kind of mirror developed at MIT can reflect light from all angles and polarizations, just like metallic mirrors, but also can be as low-loss as dielectric mirrors. In addition, it can be “tuned” to reflect certain wavelength ranges and transmit the rest of the spectrum. A device such as this, operating in visible light, would appear to be one color — red, for instance — while also being transparent. . .
“Potential uses depend on the geometry of the system. For example, coating an enclosure (with “perfect mirrors”) will result in an optical cavity, a hollow tube will produce a low-loss broad band waveguide, while a planar film could be used as an efficient heat barrier or collector for thermoelectric devices,” the authors wrote of the device, which has three patents pending. In other words, says author Edwin L. Thomas, Morris Cohen Professor of Physical Science and Engineering at MIT, “walls, windows or even car interiors coated with the ‘perfect mirror’ could very efficiently reflect heat while appearing transparent.”

Even leading to almost philosophical or visionary musing:

“For me, what’s really interesting is the ability to trap light and manipulate the way it flows in matter,” Fink said. “This is going to revolutionize the way people think about confining light.” Trapping light invites all sorts of intriguing questions, Fink points out. For instance, if you light a candle in a room lined with perfect mirrors, would the room stay illuminated even after the flame is extinguished?

A Dielectric Omnidirectional Reflector
Yoel Fink, Joshua N. Winn, Shanhui Fan, Chiping Chen, Jurgen Michel, John D. Joannopoulos, Edwin L. Thomas
Science 27 Nov 1998

M.I.T. Scientists Turn Simple Idea Into ‘Perfect Mirror’
By Bruce Schechter


alfredlordbleep 11.10.20 at 7:51 pm

In case you don’t have a NYT teaser rate like me here is more. Some of which has been commercialized by now (22 years later)

Even more promising is the possibility of replacing conventional fiber optics used in communications with omniguides. The absorption of light by conventional glass fibers means that the signal must be boosted every 20 kilometers or so. This requires amplifiers, which only work in a narrow band of frequencies. Omniguides would carry light with far less loss of energy, meaning they could stretch for thousands of miles without amplifiers. Engineers would not be limited to a small band of wavelengths by the abilities of amplifiers. ”You could have a thousand times the bandwidth. That’s a very big deal,” Dr. Fan said.
The M.I.T. scientists also envision coating windows with infrared reflecting mirrors to keep heat in or out of rooms. The mirrors could be chopped into tiny flakes and mixed with transparent paint to allow them to be applied directly to walls or windows. The M.I.T. mirrors could also be useful in improving thermophotovoltaic cells, devices that trap waste heat and convert it to energy. Dr. Dowling suggested that, because the new mirrors could be made to reflect radio waves, they could be used to boost the performance of cellular telephones. Even the apparel industry could benefit.

[italics added]


Ikonoclast 11.10.20 at 9:03 pm

Saying one is going to do something by 2050 is like saying one is going to do nothing at all. China will only commit to 2060. Being so tardy will not save the world from dangerous climate change. Everyone needs to get to zero net emissions by the earliest feasible date which probably would be 2040. That might save us. That’s 20 years, so reduce 2020 emission levels by 5% (of 2020 levels) every year.

By 2030, our emission need to be half what they are now. I predict our emissions in 2030 will be higher or equal to 2020 emissions. In other words, we will make no progress at all just as we have failed to do anything substantial in the last 30 years. Civilizational collapse is highly probable now. I’d put it at 95%.


Hidari 11.11.20 at 3:07 pm

Yes, although obviously I agree with the thrust of the OP, and, as noted, Biden will almost certainly be better on the environment than Trump (he could hardly be worse) I don’t know if ‘good news’ is the right way to frame this. ‘Marginally less apocalyptic’ news perhaps.

It says so much about our era that, whereas in the 1960s and 1970s, the world of popular literature and popular cinema was replete with tales of environmental apocalypse, when the situation was, objectively, so much better than today: now, when the situation is objectively so much worse, hardly anyone (i.e. in the arts) even talks about the environment except in the most stereotyped and cliched way (paying lip service to Greta, quietly mumbling about recycling plastic bags) etc.


oldster 11.11.20 at 5:46 pm

Thanks, alfred. That answers some of my question, and I suppose the rest is due to my lack of imagination.


nastywoman 11.12.20 at 6:22 am

”now, when the situation is objectively so much worse, hardly anyone (i.e. in the arts) even talks about the environment except in the most stereotyped and cliched way (paying lip service to Greta, quietly mumbling about recycling plastic bags) etc”.




”when the situation is objectively so much worse, EVERYBODY (i.e. in the arts) talks about the environment – even Johnson and Merkel and Macron – when they get a telephone from the New US President – while a lot of my fellow Americans have completely different priorities…


Trader Joe 11.12.20 at 12:15 pm


Sometime in 1990 someone said they would accomplish something by 2020 and someone like yourself would have said “doing it by 2020 is the same as doing nothing at all, it will be too late by then” – yet here we are and progress has been made. More progress will likely be made by 2050.

I don’t disagree at all with the need for change. But the breathless ‘sky is falling’ commentary doesn’t actually promote action, rather it promotes skepticism just like in the old fable.


Tm 11.12.20 at 4:06 pm

alfredlordbleep 25: “For instance, if you light a candle in a room lined with perfect mirrors, would the room stay illuminated even after the flame is extinguished?”

I haven’t read the details but shouldn’t we expect the illumination in the room to increase linearly while the candle is lighted? Of course, any observer would absorb some photons.

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