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    Most of this is “what can a human do”, with a brief note that software developers can often get additional available time for the important political work.

    Here’s a thing that software developers in particular can do: Support older hardware.

    • Code for older versions of browsers. Yeah, you won’t get the latest convenient features. That’s OK, people made great websites 15 years ago too. If you only ever code for the most recent version of browsers, you’re forcing people to buy newer hardware that supports those browsers.
    • Make your code efficient in disk space, memory, and CPU.
    • Support Linux, which can make better use of old laptops than Mac or Windows can.

    If people can use older hardware, they’re buying less new electronics. This is not going to make a massive difference in terms of climate change, but it’s part of a larger pattern of putting a stop to growthism.

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      Perhaps somewhat paradoxically, older hardware can be substantially less power efficient than newer hardware for the same tasks. It’s not always a good trade off particularly if you’re focusing on reducing your dependence on fossil fuel based power generation.

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        It takes a lot for the power efficiency benefit to outweigh the cost of manufacturing and transport for new hardware. I suspect nothing in the consumer electronics realm comes close to break-even; datacenter a different matter.

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          I tend to think of that more as an issue with washing machines and refrigerators. How true is that of laptops?

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            It’s an anecdotal and unfair comparison, but my 9-year old Dell Vostro laptop consumes 25+ Watt in idle state, whereas a Dell XPS from 2018 can be tuned to 4+ Watt of idle consumption (the same Linux distro, both have Core i7 from different generations; the differences: HDD vs SDD and 17”/dual graphics against 13” Intel graphics).

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              Very. Modern CPUs are much faster and more power-efficient than older ones, and they can clock down much more, just making better use of each clock cycle.

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            I can see where you are coming from and I really agree with the sentiment. Still, it’s probably a lot more impactful to locally advocate for a right to repair legislation. People could then replace dead batteries of old phones so they can run your software in the first place.

            It’s so tempting to keep to yourself and just work on the small stuff but systemic problems need systemic remedies.

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              True, although that’s something non-developers can do too!

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            A lot of comments here are about individual actions, which are all great—but part of the point of my article is that joint political action is that much more powerful.

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              Sure it is, but like you said:

              Thing is, policy-makers aren’t doing very much.

              What makes you think they will change their mind? We are not even voting them out of office. Quite the opposite.

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                Lasting change won’t happen until we are better represented.

                When is the first Lobste.rs user going to run for federal office?

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              Write less bloated software. Less CPU cycles, less memory, less power needed. Write code that sucks less.

              Write less bloated websites. Keep them small, cut the Javascript-bloat and tracking. With fewer requests the load on the network is less and visitors wait less.

              In the real world, try to arrange home office if possible. It saves resources and time spent while commuting.

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                What about less time spent with (re-)compiling binaries to change a option one your configuration? ;^)

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                  While I want to believe this because I love optimizing the living hell out of databases I hack on, I’m unconvinced that by writing more efficient software it will cause anything other than induced demand. People still have the same number of highway lanes, just smaller cars using them. Maybe the CPU p-states drop a little more often in the short-term, but usage expands to capacity as with so many resources. We use resources we have until we cannot use more.

                  The only solution to using less power is to limit the power that can be used. Optimizations can happen after this vital step is achieved. Until then, we will just maintain utilization.

                  Doing this in any sort of meaningfully large-scale way will require governments to properly capture the externalities associated with various forms of power production over time.

                  When I make programs more efficient, I’m not really helping to encourage governments to do that, and I don’t think I’m helping things in this respect.

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                    Induced demand is definitely a thing, but I could imagine that if you write a fast alternative to some popular website AND it somehow got many users, it would be a net win.

                    For example, whenever I go to weather.com I’m shocked at how slow and bloated it is. If someone wrote a really low latency version of it, and somehow ranked on Google (big if I know), then it might save power overall.

                    Basically I think it’s better overall to attract demand for the efficient thing rather than the inefficient thing. Although I think you would have to be a very rich person to fund this kind of thing, because the market clearly doesn’t pay for lack of bloat in web pages and native phone apps.


                    Or another alternative – if someone here actually works at weather.com, or nytimes.com, cnn.com, I bet you could really make a dent in the power bill without affecting any functionality :) Easier said than done I know.

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                      Or another alternative – if someone here actually works at weather.com, or nytimes.com, cnn.com, I bet you could really make a dent in the power bill without affecting any functionality :)

                      Are you looking for this? https://lite.cnn.io/en ;)

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                        there’s also https://text.npr.org/

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                    On a somewhat related note, use languages that are more efficient, powerwise if possible. https://thenewstack.io/which-programming-languages-use-the-least-electricity/

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                      You can perfectly travel to work without having a too negative impact by cycling or public transport.

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                      You can also support the youth led climate strike on September 20th.

                      Global: https://globalclimatestrike.net/#join

                      United States: https://strikewithus.org/

                      If you’re in San Francisco California and want to participate feel free to send a DM.

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                        I believe that trying to live more ethically individually has very little impact compared to being involved in direct political action. We have to force government to act rapidly and dramatically to limit the factors that will end life as we know it if left unchecked. We have to be in the streets and we have to make it too expensive for them to ignore our voices.

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                          THIS. Those of you in BOS, I hope to see you outside CIty Hall on the 20th.

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                          One of the most impactful things we can do is learn about nuclear power so we stop being afraid of it, and then advocate for it.

                          I happen to be French so my country’s electricity is already mostly nuclear. Thanks to that, we reject on average over 2x less CO2 than our German neighbours.

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                            “Eject” is what you mean.

                            But actually “emit” is the best word.


                            Reject is what girls who aren’t in love do to boys who are.

                            Eject is what pilots do who are in falling planes.

                            Emit is what the sun does with light.

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                              Yes, I meant emit, thank you. The French language uses either emit (émettre) or reject (rejeter), with a meaning similar to “produce waste”.

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                                Rejeter, like jeter in the sense of jete <ballet move>?

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                                  It’s the same word, but that’s because “jeter” means “to throw”.

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                            Quit doing ML. Training ML models uses ridiculous amounts of compute.

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                              In the same vein: do not support cryptocurrency pyramids, one of which already turns more energy into pointless heat than some small countries.

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                              As David Roberts of vox.com notes over and over, the most important thing you can do in the US is Vote Democrat. The only thing that will make a significant difference on a global scale is federal policy change and the Republicans have shown they have no interest.

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                                I’m certainly not gonna say you should not vote Democrats. But their track record on climate isn’t good. Major democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein have acted in an astonishingly arrogant way towards climate campaigners lately.

                                If you want Democrats to act on climate, of course you have to vote Repulicans out, but you also have to make sure the people within the democratic party that are silent climate deniers (they won’t say so, but they’ll oppose any meaningful action) don’t get the upper hand.

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                                  Who believes that a politician will do what he says ? Even more when it implies going against the autonomous development of the Capital. Talk is cheap for all who seek power

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                                    Both parties are corrupt. They’re corrupt in different ways on some issues. Republicans usually vote against anything that helps in this. So, you’re right. Their party also votes against consumer protections, workers’ rights, etc at State and Federal levels. If you vote for them and don’t own a business, you’re voting against yourself. You’re also still voting against yourself if you’re not rich and interact with any other business that might screw you over.

                                    Another key difference is that Democrat policies mostly waste tons of money, often on welfare, where Republicans like to waste tons of money on locking up Americans for victimless crimes and mass-murdering people overseas for often hard to justify reasons. That Republicans are more pro-mass-murder… as a party, not necessarily individuals… made me firmly draw a line on not voting Republican. I’d be voting for six digits worth of innocent people to die in a way that benefits rich people (esp defense contractors), leaves our lower-paid soldiers with PTSD or physical disabilities, and puts us in debt that I’ll owe back. I’d rather the debt or financial bullshit be something like getting people education, health insurance, jobs, or good infrastructure. The stuff Democrats like to overspend on.

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                                    Don’t write “modern” software that requires me to throw away every two years. I have a phone that is about 100000 times faster and has 1000000 times more memory than the one used in the Apollo 11. It can’t even load reddit in a timely manner.

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                                      It can’t even load reddit in a timely manner.

                                      It’s doing you a favor.

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                                      Streaming video is the most energy consuming activity of the avg software consumer. Stop watching pornography. Lead by example.

                                      EDIT: most energy intensive web activity of avg software user.

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                                        Literary erotica/smut is energy efficient, especially when delivered as plain text.

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                                          Save the world, read ASSTR!

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                                        On this tipic I’d like to mention that many organisations around the world are planting trees. Check out the Ecosia search engine, The Eden Reforestation Projects, Trees For The Future, Tree Sisters… just to name a few

                                        Consider a donation today! Consider a monthly one. Consider a substantial one.

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                                          Does this really need to be on a site about technology? If I wrote “What can a software developer do about motorcycle safety?”, an article which explicitly opens with “this essay isn’t about technology”, would that be a good fit for lobsters?

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                                            Motorcycle safety affects motorcyclists. Climate change affects everyone, terminally.

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                                              “What can a software developer do about medicine”, then.

                                              (to be clear: I disagree with Wilhelm - IMO an article specifically targeting software developers which contains actionable advice is on-topic for the site - but I also think you’re misrepresenting their point).

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                                                Medicine is a professional field that is difficult to impact without expertise. We are not facing extinction-level events due to (in)action in the field of medicine, so leaving the world’s best and brightest to continue their research is probably optimal. Climate change is a process everyone contributes to, in the small by our direct actions, and in the large by the people we choose to represent ourselves in governments.

                                                There should be a “What can an X do about climate change?”, for all values of X (including “software developer”), because it’s precisely by people not knowing how they, a lowly X, could possibly do to change the course of climate change that we’ll end up destroying life as we know it. This doesn’t apply to motorcycle safety, medicine, etc.

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                                                  Let’s try yet another comparison. First aid saves life. Everyone can learn it, and the more people do the more deaths will be averted. Nevertheless, is this website the right place for an article about cardiac massage?

                                                  I am not saying I don’t want to see articles like that on lobste.rs though. Just that it is a valid question.

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                                                    First aid does not prevent an extinction-level event, so I fail to see how it is comparable…

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                                                That’s clearly not my point. Lobsters is a computing-focused community centered around link aggregation and discussion, launched on July 3rd, 2012 (from the about page). What is computing-focused in this political article about climate change, which opens with “this essay isn’t about technology”? I don’t have any against fighting climate change, but this is so massively off-topic, so I ask: Is this a good fit for lobste.rs?

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                                                  Because most people here are software developers or have something to software development, and this article has to do with software developers? Just because the solution isn’t technical, doesn’t mean the question doesn’t have to be asked from and for our perspective.

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                                                    This article has practically nothing to do with software developers. You being a software developer changes nothing, remove any mention of software and the content of the article does not change in meaning or value.

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                                                    You’re right — if the article stopped halfway, I’d say it was off-topic. But once you hit the heading “It’s a good to be a software developer” that changes — it describes circumstances that apply to software developers, and reframes the question from “what do we do about climate change” to “what are software developers enabled to do about climate change that don’t apply generally to the broader population”. And I think that’s valuable to have!

                                                    I know it’s a small part of the article, and I don’t think you’re wrong for questioning whether it belongs here, or even that you’re 100% wrong for saying it doesn’t, but I do believe that on balance it does.

                                                    (Indeed, I think it’s really important to have the discussion of whether it belongs because we all want lobste.rs to keep being lobste.rs and not turn into a facsimile of HN/reddit/digg. The +49/-21 off-topic this article gets right now represents there’s maybe even a policy decision that should be made.)

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                                                In places where biking isn’t possible (too long, not safe, etc.), I think WFH is probably the best way to reduce CO2/NOx/etc. My list would be:

                                                1. Work from home
                                                2. Eat local food
                                                3. Ecological home improvements (solar panels, hybrid water heaters, etc.)

                                                The last is important if you’re doing the first. ;-)

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                                                  Missing the essential prequel, “why should a software developer do anything about climate change.”

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                                                    “I don’t see what’s so important about preserving the environment that sustains my life that I should have to do anything about it.”

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                                                      It’s an excellent point and it has nothing to do with Climate Change.

                                                      Let’s do a mental experiment. Switch the topic. Let’s say you’re concerned about world hunger.

                                                      What can a developer do about world hunger? Well, if you wrote an app that allowed people to sell hot dogs at 20% than they used to, that’d help. How? Because the incremental drop in hot dog prices would affect the entire food chain to some degree, thereby making food cheaper for folks who can’t afford it.

                                                      But that doesn’t feel right, does it? Even if overall, your hot dog app actually did more than anything else you could do for world hunger, it doesn’t feel like you’re directly doing something about it.

                                                      So, what do you want? What part of this question is about doing stuff, what part is about how you feel about doing stuff, and what part is about making a difference? These are three different issues. Whatever your answer on these issues, you should have some sort of measurable test to see how well you’re doing. Write the test, then make the test pass.

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                                                        That’s a nice case where market forces actually align with ethics. It happens more often than people think about it, since you don’t notice things when they work right. But it’s ultimately a coincidence.

                                                        But what about those cases where it doesn’t align? A lot of environmental impact doesn’t show up on the balance sheets, because the cost has been externalized. The obvious example is dumping toxic waste in the river, which might not even affect the employees if they happen to be upstream, but even things like creating a toxic social norm and inducing substance addiction have significant costs that don’t immediately affect the business.

                                                        Also, food distribution is pretty well optimized already, except for harmful cultural norms that induce lots of food waste. Those can’t be fixed with app development.

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                                                          Yes, I deliberately tried to keep this very simple as the point was that the complexities expand rather quickly. Folks are welcome to add ethics and other concepts as desired.

                                                          This is a very good question because it’s something a lot of people want to know about: I feel strongly about X. What can I do? Far too often the answer given is some sort of self-serving version of “join my cause!” as if everything has already been decided and a few tweets and some donations every month is all that’s needed. Do this, then go on about your life. No further thought required.

                                                          It’s an especially powerful question because it needs some decomposition. If you don’t know why you feel strongly about X, in concrete terms, you’re rather unlikely to feel as if you’ve made any progress with it, no matter what you do. How it should be decomposed it up to each person, of course. But it needs work.

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                                                      I think that while there is something you can do on an individual level, and you totally should, the real change needs to come from governments and corporations. It has been shown in studies (I’d really want to put in a citation here, but of course I haven’t read the study, but only read an article on a news site about this) that even people who care about the environment are more driven by financial incentives than by environmental motives. People start with changes that have limited impact on their lives, even if those aren’t the worst for the environment.

                                                      For example, my girlfriend is a vegetarian and fanatically separates waste. However, she still still flies a lot and drives to work, because tickets are cheap, and driving is faster, cheaper, and more comfortable than using public transport. Another example that I see in almost every supermarket is vegetarian food. Vegetarian burgers are usually more expensive than actual meat. If you think about it, it’s incredible that raising and slaughtering an animal is cheaper than mashing some vegetables together and making a burger of those [1].

                                                      I think there are two tasks here for the government:

                                                      1. Align motives. The best decision for the environment should also be the best decision for your wallet. For example, flying and driving is incredibly cheap if you consider how much CO2 emission they cause.
                                                      2. Supply information. What is the impact on the environment of flying, commuting, eating meat, doing my laundries, leaving my computer on at night? I can probably cut out some of those, but I have no idea how they relate, and it’s not something I care about enough to make a study of it. I bet a lot of people spend a lot of effort on one, but do more harm by l

                                                      [1] I think there are multiple explanations, which probably all apply to some degree:

                                                      1. Animals get treated like shit.
                                                      2. Meat gets subsidized in one way or another.
                                                      3. Producers make a lot more profit on vegetarian foods.
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                                                        As far as your task 2 goes, I think there’s plenty of information already, at least wrt carbon emissions - breakdowns by various categories, studies, carbon calculators with various levels of detail (I recommend searching for something specific to your country if you’d like to understand your own footprint). We’re not lacking in information at this point.

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                                                          I’m not saying there’s no information available. There’s almost too much information available to easily make sense out of it. The tools I found also suck (multiple choice surveys that makes you pick between ‘I eat meat every day’ and ‘I don’t eat meat’). It would help if the government verifies and distributes the information, and backs a site/tool to help you make informed decisions. I’m sure that people with enough time and determination could make an accurate figure of their CO2 emission, the problem is that most people don’t.

                                                          For the people with a shallow interest in the topic, there’s a lot of potentially confusing information available. For example, I want to compare my CO2 emissions (meat-eater) with the emission of a vegetarian who flies significantly more. This site says: “A kilogramme of beef protein reared on a British hill farm can generate the equivalent of 643kg of carbon dioxide. A kilogramme of lamb protein produced in the same place can generate 749kg.” (now, weirdly enough, this statement is only about proteins, but I only read this the second time, and I would have happily used this figure in a calculation). This site says “Chicken produces only 2.33 kg of C02 per kg of meat before transport and processing.”. I’m not saying any of them are wrong, but in a quick-and-dirty calculation I could have used either of them for calculating the cost of eating meat.

                                                          The government spends a lot of money on ads telling you to vote, to lock your doors, to be nice to people, to have lights on your bicycles, to not drink prematurely, to not smoke, to wear seatbelts, etc. But I haven’t seen a single ad that gives information about emission or tells you where to find this information.

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                                                            Setting aside the question of how animals are treated different on different farms, and different countries, which is an ethical question, there remains at least one other.

                                                            How do these CO2 stats take into account the energy density of food and adjustments in human metabolism especially when eating meat?

                                                            It might be anecdotal and I’d be surprised if not controversial, that especially low-fat vegetarians and vegans have to eat a lot more, which also affects the outcomes.

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                                                              I see. Yes, that would be useful. I think I would still prefer governments to focus on reducing emissions through policies and regulation in the first instance, but perhaps even that would benefit from information campaigns. However, given how urgently large changes have to occur, it might be better to be informing people that we’re in the midst of an emergency, rather than what their specific emissions are.

                                                              By the way: the vegetarian who flies a lot likely generates more emissions.

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                                                          My current project at work is updating the signup page for a statewide program that encourages schools to implement anti-idling policies (in drop-off and pick-up lines) and encourage walking and biking to school. It’s a tiny impact, but at least I’m getting paid to do some good.

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                                                            I like that this topic is popping up again.

                                                            Shameless plug:

                                                            I wrote a thing about it some weeks back that focusses on stuff you could actually do at your job: https://blog.m7w3.de/responsibility-of-a-developer-climate-change.html

                                                            Two things cannot be overstated: 1) The amount of power it takes to run the web, ad networks, real-time-bidding, ML- and big-data pipelines, CI systems, search, video streaming etc etc. 2) The efficiency of modern computing infrastructure. And 1 is still severe, despite the enormous gains in hardware-efficieny. And overall, most of the stuff doesnt provide much value. At least not as much as to justify its tremendous consumption.

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                                                              These articles often overlook what we should do as software developers to retain as much technology as possible once the infrastructures will start to break down. The vast majority of software produced today won’t withstand the collapse of the internet that will likely follow a deep economic and political shock brought by climate change. This software won’t run or won’t be accessible and maintainable. Software archeology and preservation give us insights on some of the problems that appear when you want to run software for decades and we can easily see how nothing is being done in this regard.

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                                                                when you want to run software for decades

                                                                use Common Lisp :D

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                                                                Ride your bike or take public transportation to work.

                                                                Get involved in politics and donate money to people proposing solutions, such as local politicians who help make the above more feasible for more people.

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                                                                  Do Google, Facebook, Apple, and co plan to be business in, say, 25 or 30 years? Do the billionaires plan to live that long?

                                                                  Or do they care about anyone who does? I’ve had a good run, but I’ve got kids and I’d hate to be the last generation that makes the place better for our kids – or heck, even livable.

                                                                  How long till the insurance underwriters stop playing along with the charade?

                                                                  It’s taking too long to get a government that represents the people rather than the corporations and the richest, but eventually it’s going to impact them too, no? Do they really expect to escape to Mars? Can they keep their heads in the sand much longer? I read something persuasive that climate change is in the hands of a few dozen billionaires. Many of us are less than six degrees of separation away, no?

                                                                  Climate change impacts the developing world harder/sooner. The first world has some $7 trillion in oil in the ground, and they’re going to be reluctant to write it off. Eventually I suspect the developing world is going to pick up sticks and stones and the other side is going to use that as an excuse to hit back and then where are we?

                                                                  p.s. confession: as to the headline question: I spent some time in the rchain.coop community as a way of doing something with my angst about this stuff. I suppose there’s some chance it’s part of the solution, but it’s an awfully long shot.

                                                                  1. 1

                                                                    Pretty good actually, specially on working less, but you put too much emphasis on political candidates and campaigns. I’d rather be an activist inside NGOs, local or more important: engage for water quality, against Monsanto’s products, for another agriculture, for less meat consumption, join law suits to make states respect their environmental plans, support independant media, etc, etc. Maybe that’s what you mean with “groups either acting on a particular issue”, but that’s one little bullet point.

                                                                    Other points that come to mind:

                                                                    • stop using Facebook (and if you don’t use an alternative, that’s ok)
                                                                    • install linux to your relatives
                                                                    • place your money outside the classical bank, put it where it can act positively (co-operative, social banks like in France La Nef, or the NGO Terre de Liens (to help buy land for biological agriculture))
                                                                    • no more smartphones, they’re power sucking machines (tough one!)
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                                                                      When streaming videos, is 4K or 1080p playback that necessary? Sometimes, 720p or even 480p is perfectly fine (at least on YouTube). 480p videos encoded with modern tools (mature codec, good muxers) have a fine quality overall. Lower resolutions leads to less CPU (or even more efficient: GPU) energy consumption.

                                                                      So, as a developer, know your ffmpeg flags ;)

                                                                      1. 2

                                                                        On my 1080p screen, good 480p videos are definitely watchable, but it’s quite apparent how compressed they are. No problem if it’s, say, a lecture series with slides downloaded separately, but I wouldn’t do it for entertainment.

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                                                                        See if your local power company lets you buy renewable power. My local utility lets you pay 1¢ extra per kWh on any percentage of your electrical usage for renewable investment.

                                                                        I do this at home, and we do it at my business. Costs less than $10/month for my house to go 100% renewable.

                                                                        If you’re in the Madison area, check it out: https://www.mge.com/our-environment/green-power/green-power-tomorrow

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                                                                          This heavily depends on country and availability, but if you buy renewable power from the same company that you bought fossil power that’s not really ideal.

                                                                          It’s very well possible that it has zero benefit, because the company probably already has some share of renewables and they may just virtually shift more of that to you while increasing the virtual fossil share of their other customers.

                                                                          Ideally you buy renewable electricity from a company that a) is only selling renewable electricity and b) commits to invest a certain share into new renewable energy production and not just sell from already existing facilities. If you can’t have a) and b) at least strive for one of them.

                                                                          1. 1

                                                                            I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said, but my utility (Madison Gas & Electric) seems to have a decent plan for going net-zero-carbon. I’d prefer them to move faster, and I hope that showing them with my wallet will encourage quicker implementation.

                                                                          2. 1

                                                                            Or move to Tasmania or New Zealand which are both usually powered > 90% by hydroelectricity.

                                                                          3. [Comment removed by author]

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                                                                              It’s the same amount of energy, it just changes the direction/polarity.