“We need to change”: Astronomers Admit Their Outsized Contribution to the Climate Crisis

Radio Telescope view at night with milky way in the sky

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

All those long flights to remote observatories ensure Astronomers have an outsized carbon footprint. And Astronomers keen to reduce their carbon footprints are being advised to abandon software languages like Python, in favour of compiled languages like C++.

‘We’re part of the problem.’ Astronomers confront their role in—and vulnerability to—climate change

By Daniel Clery
Oct. 7, 2020 , 11:30 AM

Astronomers have a climate problem. Not only is global warming increasing the frequency of wildfires and the strength of hurricanes that physically threaten observatories, but a changing climate could mar their views by bringing higher temperatures, humidity, and turbulent air closer to their mountaintop perches. Astronomers are also adding to the climate problem themselves, with long flights to remote facilities and meetings and heavy use of energy-hungry supercomputers for cosmic simulations. “We’re part of the problem, not of the solution,” says Leo Burtscher of Leiden University.

Those concerns were cast in sharp relief by six papers published last month in Nature Astronomy. One, on the carbon costs of meetings, emerged directly from the 2019 European Astronomical Society (EAS) meeting in France, which took place during a record-breaking heatwave when temperatures exceeded 45°C. “We were sitting with no air conditioning, sweating through all these interesting talks,” Burtscher says. Discussions turned to climate change and the carbon emitted getting everyone to the meeting, and they inspired Burtscher and his colleagues to size up the meeting’s travel emissions. They added up to nearly 1900 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent or about 1.5 tons per delegate—roughly the same as emitted by an average resident of India in a whole year.

Astronomers are now taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint. In another of the six studies, Simon Portegies Zwart of Leiden University calls for changes in computing strategy. Astronomers should avoid traditional computers and instead use ones that rely on more efficient graphical processor units, Zwart says, although they are harder to program. Astronomers should also abandon popular programming languages such as Python in favor of efficient compiled languages. Languages such as Fortran and C++, Zwart calculates, are more than 100 times more carbon efficient than Python because they require fewer operations. Another option, says MPIA’s Knud Jahnke, is to set up supercomputers in Iceland, with its carbon-free geothermal power and cold climate, which reduces cooling needs, or in other countries with plentiful renewable energy.

This month, Lick workers cleared brush and trees around the site to lessen the risk of future fires. Astronomers need to take action, too, Burtscher says. It’s a moral decision—and a practical one, he says. “We need to change in order to continue our professions.

Read more: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/10/we-re-part-problem-astronomers-confront-their-role-and-vulnerability-climate-change

As a software developer who has worked with many people with academic qualifications in Astronomy, Physics and Mathematics, I feel qualified to comment on the advice to Astronomers to switch to C++. Just don’t.

144 thoughts on ““We need to change”: Astronomers Admit Their Outsized Contribution to the Climate Crisis

    • “All those long flights to remote observatories ensure Astronomers have an outsized carbon footprint.”

      Totally BS, as it is phrased to suggest that the long flights were purposely chosen to increase the carbon foot print. Long flights are determined by the need to locate these observatories at sites conducive to good astronomical observations.

      • Also, how many astronomers have private jets? If an astronomer flys from Europe or the U.S. to Australia or South America, most likely they are going to take a commercial flight that was going anyway. How is that significantly raising their carbon footprint? Compare astronomers to professional and major college sports, especially in the U.S. Most teams have private chartered jets. Rarely do they fly commercial.

        • Alan
          Yes, the unstated assumption is that the commercial plane wouldn’t have flown unless the astronomers had been on board. In reality, most flights are (were) essentially full with some people who wanted to get on a flight already full. Therefore, the same amount of CO2 would have been generated whether astronomers were passengers or not.

          • The number of flights scheduled and the types of planes flown are determined by the total expected traffic. Anything that increases the total number of passengers could result in either more flights, or larger planes on the same flights.
            Of course the total number of astronomers flying is so low that it doesn’t even reach rounding error.
            Also the amount of fuel burned by a plane increases as it’s weight increases. Though once again, the extra weight of a couple of astronomers and their luggage is once again, below the rounding error.

      • Charles, if I thought Astronomers were deliberately selecting longer flights to increase their carbon footprints, I would have said so.

        Alan I agree the idea that Astronomers are contributing significantly to global CO2 is absurd.

        • Astronomers are also adding to the climate problem themselves, with long flights to remote facilities and meetings and heavy use of energy-hungry supercomputers for cosmic simulations. “We’re part of the problem, not of the solution,” says Leo Burtscher of Leiden University

          Climate Researchers Astronomerss are also adding to the climate problem themselves, with long flights to exotic remote facilities and meetings and heavy use of energy-hungry supercomputers for climate cosmic simulations. “We’re part of the problem, not of the solution,” says Michael Mann Leo Burtscher of Penn State Leiden University
          Fixed it

        • Eric, with climate phobia, no guilt trip is too crazy, too bizarre, too out there to be seen as over the top unfortunately. This craziness is just intellectual bulimia.

        • Forth was developed by Charles (Chuck) Moore in the early 1960s. Moore’s work with computers at MIT and the Stanford Linear Accelerator Centre left him dissatisfied. The
          turn-round time for editing, compiling and running a program using the then current
          generation of ALGOL and FORTRAN compilers was too slow. His solution to this was
          to write a simple text interpreter in ALGOL which read in words (any printable
          characters except space) and performed actions associated with them.

          If I remember well, Forth was often used by astromnmers.

          • Forth was intended for control, not massive computational tasks. It was one of the first if not the first threaded interpretive language which made for very memory efficient programming, which was particularly useful with 8 bit microcomputers with 64KB maximum memory. OTOH, the threading took a bit hit on execution speed. One later use for Forth was in the Open Boot subsystem for Power PC based Mac’s and Sun Sparc workstations.

            FORTRAN was designed to maximize computational throughput without having to resort to assembly language.

            FWIW, I still have my copy of the “Forth” book.

  1. When we switch back to FORTRAN, do we need to use punch cards, too? Seems like that would maximize the desired inefficiency.

    Amazing that they never seem to run out of absurd new things to talk about.

    • We use Intel® Parallel Studio XE, FORTRAN Compiler …… not FORTRAN 4

      No, we don’t use punch cards.

      We interface through a desktop computer and run time consuming programs on parallel processing architectures of UNIX servers.

    • The first FORTRAN program I attempted to compile was on a DDP-24 and it didn’t use punched cards. It used paper tape — I wish it had used cards! It would have been easier to correct errors.

    • Part of me is saying “You old farts just want to stick to your punch cards!!!” (disclaimer- I started coding right at the end of punch cards)
      Another part- the part who recently worked with ‘Academics’ and their code: Preach it!
      The last part- the part thats remembering that mining for Bitcoin and such uses more electricity than many nations- and that even the mathematically intense stuff they do is chickenfeed… is laughing

      • To my reading, true money will turn out to be a commodity (salt, gold, cigarettes) whatever. The commodity will have an intrinsic value regardless of what the commodity is trading at. I haven’t jumped the mental shark in regard to bitcoin. Proof a labor seems a bit Marxist to me. What economic value do I get for filling and re-digging a ditch regardless of how “hard” the labor.

        And bitcoin valuation drops to 0 when the lights go out. Hope no one bites into that tulip.

    • C++, well if you don’t count all the extra hours, coffee and the carbon emitted during long frustrated sighs you might end up with more efficient code. That has a subtle resource leak leaving your telescope pointed at your forehead instead of Alpha Centauri during some long late-night session.

      Don’t the astronomers still use Forth? An interpreter, sure, but efficient still. Until someone other than the original coder needs to do some maintenance. Then you have to learn a whole new invented language to read the code, complete with the prejudices, misapprehensions and ignorance of the original coder built-in!

      APL (“a programming language”), now there was an efficient language! Even the original coder can’t figure it out the next day. But you could do a five layer nested loop over multiple data sets in three or four characters. APL is no longer possible as far as I know, it makes intensive use of strike-over characters, like type Y, hit the backspace button on your Teledyne mechanical terminal and then hit the |. I guess there is an IBM Selectric that can do it…

      I dunno, with modern processors and graphics coprocessors that can do millions of triangle calculations in a microsecond or something the concept of “more efficient code” is really ludicrous. In today’s coding world, with every line relying on thousands of lines of code by others, the readability, testability and maintainability aspects far outweigh any potential processing time considerations.

      If you really pine for the days of optimized jump tables and trigonometric lookup tables, code it in DSP assembly. Use lots of cryptically labelled macros. Maybe it will eventually work, but for sure no one else will ever be able to read it! Job security!

      • Great comments Bruce, thanks! I wanted to post something like this but couldn’t muster the energy in the face of such abject stupidity. You’ve done it better than I would have anyway. You made my day!

      • I had good laugh when the efficiency of FORTRAN was listed a a good programming language.
        In the late 1960 and into 1970, I was the systems programmer for a large service bureau in Portland, Oregon. I had just taken a FORTRAN class at the local community college so was given the task of converting a new customers IBM 1130 FORTRAN to FORTRAN IV on our 36 model 40 machine. The 1130 was discontinued.

        I will never forget the first test of the converted program. It read a punch card with the proper data on it. Nothing happened and I just had time to think “oh shit” when ALL the lights on the big console panel lit up, then the printer printed a line. The sequence of card reading, panel lighting and line printing continued for the rest of the job.

        We ran 3 partitions on the computer. Only the BG with FORTRAN actually did anything. All the computer operators gather around to see the show.

        I was never able to get it to run any faster. Fortunately, the program was for a stevedore company and told them how to load logs into a ship’s hold. They did this only a few times per year. That was the only FORTRAN job we ever ran.

      • It depends on the application. For trivial applications for which the processor barely raises a sweat coding/algorithmic efficiency doesn’t matter. On the other hand if the machine is being pushed to its limits then efficiency does matter.

      • Bruce wrote – “APL (“a programming language”), now there was an efficient language! Even the original coder can’t figure it out the next day. ”

        Perfect, just perfect.

  2. “….and heavy use of energy-hungry supercomputers for cosmic simulations…”

    Has anyone compared total CO2 output from the (very few) supercomputers doing astro calculations with the total CO2 output from the (very large) number of porn transmissions over the net?

    Maybe there’s the germ of a funded study here…?

  3. On the other hand, some of the very worst FORTRAN code I have ever seen, was produced by Ph.D credentialed academics who were busily advising young graduate students on how to get THEIR Ph.Ds.

    Oh, what a spaghetti mess we weave, when FORTRAN solves what we believe. Or something like that…

    • My guess is that if you dig deep into ‘climate’ models, you will find PhD student badly written Fortran errors buried in statistical libraries and other hard to see compiled places.

      • Mickey, Lee – maybe your memories are better than mine, but in what language was the Imperial College epidemic modelling software written?

        Was that (uncommented) Fortran, or am I just imagining it?

        • Point is, that it doesn’t matter what language/software you are using, it can only ever be as relevant, efficient and logically accurate as the person doing the programming.

  4. All of the power saved from switching to python would be needed to offset a couple of microwaves warming Hot Pockets.

  5. In their Marxist utopia, astronomers are not likely to be high on dear leader’s list of priorities, although light pollution is much less of a problem.

      • Assembly is still my language of preference. But I must admit it was my first computer language acquired around 1964.

        • In my first college class in computer programming—this was in 1973—the teacher gave this identical challenge to each person in the class: program IN BINARY the process of a taking two short integers, something like 7 and 13, reading them sequentially from a keyboard input register and putting them into registers and then adding them together and then storing the result (as binary) in a third register. He provided the binary addresses of the four registers (memory addresses to be used) and a list of the binary machine codes (operation:operand format) to perform all necessary processing steps, such as “store at” or “clear register”.

          I was ultimately unsuccessful in writing out the sequence in binary . . . but it was a very humbling yet significant learning experience, and one that I have never forgotten.

          IIRC, there was only one person in the class of about 25 that successfully met the challenge. We thought that classmate walked on water the remainder of that semester.

          • I did learn to write some 8080 assembler on my first personal computer – a Sinclair ZX81. That involved writing instructions in hex rather than binary. I hope I would have been able to do the conversion from hex accurately.

          • IN the late 70’s I used to teach a class on hardware, specifically integrating microprocessor with TTL chips. Always told the class that it was programming with wires. Found out that many of them , in BSCS 3rd year, were never taught binary arithmetic, so they could not understand assembler or higher level languages.

            Years later I was consulting at a company using the BSD kernel deleoping a QOS appliance and they asked me “Why can’t you do this in C++ in the kernel?” When I stopped laughing, I patiently explained that was not possible due to the underlying kernel architecture relying on assembler and C which C++ had abstracted to a much higher level and could not be used at all in the kernel, let alone debugged at that level.
            There was kernel space and there was user space. C++ did not live in kernel space.

  6. CO2 output is a huge positive for the planet – plant growth – symbiotic oxygen production, and even a more benign climate!!!

    This pandering to the CO2 reduction crowd needs to come to a screeching halt!!!

    • tomwys, well said, and it’s really all that need be said, except that science and the data back you up.

    • There is no CO2 reduction crowd. It doesn’t exist anywhere.

      The trillion dollar industry is based on talking about CO2 reduction and telling/mandating people to reduce CO2, with the latter being all phony too. It’s organized virtue-signaling but hey, it pays well.

      Say what you want about the autistic kid, but she figured it out.

    • The CO2 crowd has drunk ‘the Koolaid’ of the climate cult and refuses use logic or to listen to reaon. They don’t even listen to the IPCC’s pet scientists and most of the ranting and raving in the media go beyond the contrived IPCC’s conclusions or political summaries (which frequently seem unrelated to and go beyond the ipcc pet science). Sorry, long story short: the monster has a life of its own! Media frequently trumpet doom that was never confirmed by the ipcc, like co2 increase will cuase more and stronger hurricanes or forest fires. The whole situation is out of control – has reached a tipping point! – and soon all those funding whores promoting climate stupidity to get research funding will soon start facing all kinds of restrictions on the perks of academia like conference travel.

    • IMHO CO2 is not the problem. What is meant by AGW is a man made rise in average ocean surface temperature. Water pollution (mostly from Asia) causes significant ocean temperature rise due to more sunlight absorption on 3/4 of the planet’s surface. Atmospheric CO2 has insignificant effect on raising ocean or land temperature. Human water pollution is off the charts and the effects are obvious along all coasts and particularly asian rivers. The oceans viewed from space show large algae blooms almost everywhere near human population or some industries. Algae blooms are caused by polluted water, not CO2. Clean water reflects most sunlight but algae evolved to absorb sunlight. Ocean dead zones are similar: The darker water absorbs more sunlight than clean water. Oceans are 75% of the planet surface and direct solar heating is the biggest effect on ocean temperature. The modern world uses the oceans as a convenient toilet. Now even the Ganges has dead zones. These dead zones are caused by water pollution, not CO2. Yet dead zones are typically blamed . Ocean surface temperature rise is just one symptom of water pollution.
      Human water pollution consists of: human biological waste, farm waste, phosphates, nitrates, plastics, garbage, toxic industrial wastes from chemicals to oil, carcinogens, not nice, etc. This water pollution is what causes ocean oxygen depletion, dead zones, acidification, algae blooms, and artificial rising ocean temperature. More efficient treatment of sewage and agricultural runoff is needed even if the population is greatly reduced. Plus conscientious economic ways of handling industrial waste. Perhaps the worst untreatable stuff could go to some badlands if it doesn’t hurt the water table. Using the oceans generally as a toilet is the problem. Its a question of affordability.

  7. As an amateur astronomer since the 1960s I am saddened that the profession has succumbed to junk science, when once it was completely guided by data and observation. Oh, they do have some rather outlandish theories proposed occasionally but that’s more on the cosmology side…

  8. Well, Python is OK to test something like a image processing scheme, but if you want to do that processing at 120 FPS in real time… c++.

    • I’m not defending the stupidity of this astronomy hair shirting. Just saying there are software tools for different tasks. I continuously had to persuade young engineers and scientists to give up their favorite uni scripted holdovers (Python, Mathematica (brrrr)) and get real.

    • That’s what scipy and numpy are meant for. they’re C++ libraries that are coded like Python code. Develop new user-centric code in Python, do the number crunching in numpy.

      At a Python user group, a Python newbie joined us looking for pointers in doing a realtime radar collision avoidance program in Python for an automotive company. Ultimately, he did very well, and much better than we realized was possible.

      I assume there are massively parallel variants that let people throw together efficient supercomputer applications in not very much time.

  9. Switching from Python to C++ to reduce carbon emissions! You can’t make this stuff up!

    Plonkers. They might consider engaging their brains at some point.

  10. April first again? This either the funniest satire or the stupidest reporter on record — perhaps it is both. Social engagement and media account for millions of times more per minute computer power-generated carbon than all the astronomy ever.

    • There is a rumor that cosmology-oriented astronomers have engaged one of the largest supercomputers ever built—along the lines of Deep Thought, running with the assistance of lab rats—to answer the ultimate question of, at least, the Universe.

      Can anyone verify if this is true, and if so what its carbon footprint might be?

      I would also like to know what programming language is being used.

      • Back in my supercomputer days, someone (I forget who) observed “I don’t know what language we will be using for supercomputers will look like, but I know it will be called Fortran.”

        Sometime after I moved on I read an article about the next version of Fortran. One of the additions was Object Oriented Programming constructs.

        Do it’s probably Fortran 42.

  11. Any of us who haven’t learned an important lesson by know about academics and authority are probably never going to understand. As an academic and a physician myself, I know the problem well. We are credited with knowledge simply by our titles whether we are following scientific principles or not, whether we are more influenced by financial reward or the search for truth, and whether we have a clue what we are saying or are just making up convenient lies to sell ourselves. I tell my students not to believe anyone, myself included, unless they examine the evidence supporting conclusions for themselves and apply objective reasoning to their analysis.

    The beginning of the argument above starts with claims about increasing wildfires and strengthening hurricanes that will be accepted as fact by many as they come from authority. The truth is they are unsupported and even contradicted claims when one looks at the long term objective measures of these events. We live in a world where, for a large segment of the population, image and belief are more valued that truth and reason.

    • Human societies have long been infused with cultural superstitions. It was only the hard edge of The Enlightenment that changed western society and put it on the path to scientific revolutions. The on-going political correctness and cancel culture phenomena that are consuming western science is a devolutionary process, an anti-enlightenment back back to beliefs in superstition and anthropocentric ideas in order to control the people that enlightenment set free.

    • Requirement to get a science degree (select one):
      1) demonstrate ability to apply scientific knowledge in the rigorous execution of scientific method
      2) pass multiple choice tests

      • Great observation. There are many people with no scientific credentials who are more skilled at sifting through contradictory claims and evidence to get to a reasonable understanding of truth than a lot of those with PhD in their title. Our methods of selecting people for scientific fields are as reliable at finding the most qualified, as our our political processes in finding capable leaders. I believe I am a good physician (but don’t take my word on that), and I graduated near the top of my class, but I am very skilled at writing multiple choice exams. That skill may have counted for more than anything else.

  12. … abandon software languages like Python, in favour of compiled languages like C++.

    They could be so much more efficient if they learned to program in Assembler. The elite could program in machine code.

    There is a reason for every programming language. Suggesting C++ as a replacement for Python suggests a lack of sophistication.

    • Actually they should *all* be required to program in machine code. It would keep them so busy they wouldn’t have time to come up with the idiotic conclusions they provide now!

  13. Virtue signalling is a cosmically strong signal, unstudied by astronomers until this announcement…..

    • “. . . what does Astrology have to do with climate change?”

      Don’t you realize it is all predestined by the stars?

  14. We stand together in stark witness to the destruction of any future credibility of statements coming from Messrs. Leo Burtscher and Simon Portegies Zwart.

  15. They’re just channeling their inner Lysenkoism instincts, weaving politics into their science in hopes of finding success in the recognition of their science skills. Trofim Lysenko was not successful at dominating Soviet science because he had better science or scientifically sound ideas. He dominated and controlled Soviet biological and genetic science for 40 years by appealing to the class structure warfare mentality of Soviet communism styled under Stalin. He exploited the culture by wrapping himself in political power to gain standing in Soviet science academies. He did this by spewing the ideological lies of communism in with his biology. The same thing is now happening in too much of today’s western sciences.

    From Wikipedia:
    Lysenko’s political success was mostly due to his appeal to the Communist Party and Soviet ideology. Following the disastrous collectivization efforts of the late 1920s, Lysenko’s “new” methods were seen by Soviet officials as paving the way to an “agricultural revolution.” Lysenko himself was from a peasant family, and was an enthusiastic advocate of Leninism.[13][10] The Party-controlled newspapers applauded Lysenko’s “practical” efforts and questioned the motives of his critics.[13] Lysenko’s “revolution in agriculture” had a powerful propaganda advantage over the academics, who urged the patience and observation required for science.[14] Lysenko was admitted into the hierarchy of the Communist Party, and was put in charge of agricultural affairs. He used his position to denounce biologists as “fly-lovers and people haters”,[15] and to decry the “wreckers” in biology, who he claimed were trying to disable the Soviet economy and cause it to fail. Furthermore, he denied the distinction between theoretical and applied biology and concepts such as control groups and statistics in general:[16]“

    Lysenko found scientific success not via his science ideas, which we know today were foundationally wrong. He found personal professional success in the Soviet science academy (at the time) via his political intertwining with his flawed theories, to the great detriment of all Soviet biological sciences, where actual science only advances via intellectual openness, curiosity, and willingness to abandon failed theories.

    Western science is now entering a Dark Ages, an anti-Enlightenment Period where discriminatory diversity mandates, political correctness, and critical race theory, and other junk social ideas are being used to politicize and infuse the pursuit of science. Michael Crichton’s famous lecture on ”Aliens cause global warming is a realization by Dr Crichton of the beginning of a creeping anti-Enlightenment into Western sciences that is consuming all of the sciences now tiday, even in that those like astronomy that those scientists smugly thought themselves immune from such an intellectual cancer. Calling for useless and futile gestures like those that Eric highlights here happening in Astronomy, is a symptom of this intellectual cancer spreading through hard science disciplines that thought themselves immune to the political anti-Enlightenment. This is happening, because too many “scientists” are finding career success not in the rigor of their science, which is usually mediocre at best, but by wrapping themselves in the political culture of a politicized science that carries the favor of authoritarian political regime that is consuming a society like malignant cancer ravages a body. A prominent example of how a field has gotten consumed by this is climate science’s Michael Mann, where an individual continues to do this kind of wearing the Emperor’s new clothes political adornment to great career success.

    Astronomy is very much part of the on-going crisis of failed Dark Matter theory. How can astronomers now distinguish themselves in this mess of a discipline drowning in paradigm failure and so many competing theories with no way for a young astronomer to know which avenue to pursue. The lure of politicizing oneself’s science work to find career success is the siren call to the rocks of despair. Climate science went down this path in the 1990’s. Will astronomy now too follow the siren call of political correctness onto the rocks of despair?

    • Great post Joel.

      Can I use it to try to dispell the leftist view of my family and friends that you can ‘trust the 97% of scientists’? I know that’s obsurd, but you say it so much better than I could. And of course, I’m not one of the 97%.

      • Of course. So many parallels between what Lysenko did 90 years ago in Soviet Russia to gain success in the Soviet science academies. The likes of Michael Mann and others are today pushing the Marxism of critical race theory and climate “justice” are claimed as reasons to support climate change policies that have nothing to do with climate. They do this for career advancement when their actual science achievements (publications) are fraudulent or based on superstitions. Just like Lysenko.

        • Thanks Joel.

          At least the scientists of today who dare to refute the likes of Mann and his cohorts aren’t being executed! Yet, although silence by journalism is pretty effective.

          Scientists of integrity will regain their place once again. It’ll take a while for the general population to know who it is they’re supposed to trust though.

  16. A compiled language executes faster.
    Either way, if you have an accidental endless-loop in either language it will destroy the world, and C++ will get you there faster.

    • Oh n/m. I was thrown off by the word faster. Yes. compiled execution will be more efficient, long term.

    • A compiled language also requires two steps to debug.
      Debug -> compile -> run -> debug-> compile -> run -> repeat until there are no more bugs. If the resultant program will be run millions of times per year, the debug time is a minor contribution to total run time.

  17. “Not only is global warming increasing the frequency of wildfires and the strength of hurricanes”

    Not supported by data or observation. Therefore, the article is moot, or bogus, take your pick.

  18. Are all astronomers this dumb and gullible? I suspect not, in fact as was pointed out this looks like a feeble and pathetic attempt to gain entry to climate change monarchy on the part of Daniel.
    Why would a supposed scientist start an essay by repeating a pack of lies?
    I sincerely hope for mankinds future that more scientists can find it their consciences to speak truth and shun the greed that is “climate change”.

    • Yes-just virtue signalling with a little hint of ” can we jump on to the gravy train too. ”
      Merchant bankers.

      • Huh?
        Merchant banks were the beating heart of the gold standard monetary system.
        For a while, Vanguard’s Prime Reserve Fund was the last remnant of a genuine market in commercial paper (circulation credit for the core survive & prosper economy). This month they threw in the towel and went into US gov’t obligations, confirming that Modern Monetary Theory has finally arrived, and the end is getting very near. Signal your virtue with some other invective.

  19. You would think that astronomers would have a good intuitive grasp of magnitude; but no, they seem to be nibbling at molecules and nanoseconds to “save” an entire planet.

  20. This just highlights that there is no correlation between intelligence and sound, practical judgement.

  21. So now it’s astronomer guilt. Who’s next? If all these learned people took time to really study AGW there’d be less guilt being passed around.

    • If astronomers want to fell gulity let them have that privilege. They can all shut down and get real jobs but please keep Hubble running.

  22. Simple simon science.

    Astronomers are some of the worst climateers. Jim Hansen is commonly knighted as the guy that got it rolling and how about preparing for the big speech to congress in 1988 by turning off air conditioners and opening windows on a hot day to enhance the effect.

    How about the linear thinking that Venus’s CO2 atmosphere and 700C temp was what we were up against in a fossil fuel burning earth? All astronomers and physicists before the Great Woke Dumbing down K-PhD of the past couple of generations were very smart people. With doors thrown wide at universities to accommodate the left side of the bell curve, this is no longer reliably true. Long corrupted social science virus has wedged it’s way into everything. The learned societies, institutes and faculties of science are run by marxbrother social scientists.

  23. Social media and crypto currencies
    The two biggest culprits in increased power needs in the west
    Massive Data farms that must have continuous reliable power and massive cooling.
    Facebook, Twitter, Google etc cannot exist with renewable unreliable power

    Charles, are there any papers out there in the carbon footprint of these internet giants?

    • When it comes to faddish conceptions that waste lots of energy, cryptocurrency “mining” occurred to me as well. Here is an article on the high energy cost of “mining” a Bitcoin currently (note that I can’t think of even one everyday practical advantage for cryptocurrency vs. regular money, although I understand that criminals find it convenient):


      As for astronomers, couldn’t they be proud of applying resources such as energy toward real science.? They are doing something neither faddish nor criminal, an honest living to the extent that they are adding to human knowledge?

  24. This just proves that astronomers are idiots. The number of astronomers in the world is insignificant. Nothing they do can possibly have any noticeable effect on carbon emissions.

  25. If efficiency is the only thing that matters, why not require everyone to program using assembly language?

  26. I think we can offset all the CO2 footprint of all the astronomers for at least ten years or so, by eliminating one, just one, Global Warming (or is it Climate Change? I get so confused!) Conference, with all those private jets going to luxury spots on the globe.

    Not that I’m against private jets, I hope to ride on one someday.

  27. Ya, know, this sounds like a bunch of Americans touting wind power to cut the US carbon footprint while ignoring what’s going on in China.

    I suspect that the number of computes chewed up by astronomical simulation is a small fraction of the computes chewed up by BitCoin miners. They already have massive systems built in cold climates.

    From a couple years ago, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/manitoba-bitcoin-1.4457486 says

    As the buzz around bitcoin continues to reverberate across the globe, many large global cryptocurrency players have been quietly building inroads in Manitoba in search of cheap electricity to run their power-hungry operations.

    Following several interviews with commercial real estate companies, economic development organizations, cryptocurrency industry players and Manitoba Hydro, CBC News has learned that several dozen out-of-province and international investors view Manitoba as a top-tier location to establish their cryptocurrency operations.

    CentrePort Canada, which manages 20,000 acres of low-cost industrial land in Winnipeg, says early on the interest came from Chinese investors, but they’re now seeing curious investors from Argentina and companies in other South American countries.

  28. So, why do they bother at all about any science? Just write a story, then vote by delegates, and this becomes scientific truth. Like Councils in the Church, in the past. Who needs some science – the WORD of WISE MAN is enough. They are already the Keepers of The Truth, so be consistent, and don’t fuzz about some computers or programming languages – it is a post-science time.

    • You only get to vote if you are invited into their club. And the club will not allow anyone in without correct political credentials, like promoting “racial diversity”. While having a diverse work force is generally good, using discriminatory policies to actively pursue it mens discriminating against the best qualified applicants and candidates for tenure to pursue a ideological agenda. Very bad to try and chase a desired outcome. It is socialism to try and chase a desired equality of outcome over equality of opportunity.

  29. OTOH, what is the need for astronomy at all? Discovering planets we can never get to does us what good?

    These guys ought to just give it up.

    • Rhoda: There hasnt been much to do in physics and astronomy since 1950, during which time their numbers have swollen exponentially to many times over the number of same that have lived and died over centuries.

      At the turn of the 19th to 20th century an intelligent person could read virtually every scholarly paper ever written. Today, there are over 50 million papers published and new papers are growing by 2.5 million a year (estimated in a 2009 study)


      To be really knowledgeable, one should read every paper written to the year 1900 and then add Einstein, and a dozen more.

      Something similar happened in the arts. Classical composers wrote and performed the great works largely before 1900. Today classical music is now a performance art (not a creative one) replaying the great works of long dead creators. I submit that this has happened to physics/ astronomy- it is now a performance art with models as their instruments. ‘Discovery’ is unproved things found by models. Dark Matter, strings, alternative universes and stuff are their despairing offerings.

  30. ASCII wastes a lot electricty!
    How? Digital 0 to 9 is ASCII 48 to 57.
    The constant conversion between digital value and its screen representation is a waste.

    Also unicode is a waste. We need a global script, one that can fit in 8 binary digits.

    China, Korea, Japan are the greediest!

  31. Just outlaw Bitcoin-type currencies because they consume 1000+ times the electricity / carbon as is talked about in this article — from the math algorithms which generate new Bitcoins, etc.

    • Or clear out the ruinables and get cheap dispatchable electricity back to 7cents/kWh and let people use it and pay for it.

  32. I program pretty much exclusively in c++. The recompile of our code is pretty resource intensive, takes a few hours each night on one machine with 32 cores.

    What will use the electricity are high cpu applications. Things like bitcoin mining or searching for prime numbers.

    Most code written is inefficient where people just use brute force algorithms. I have seen coders query a database in a loop over and over again each minute looking for a change in query results. This is when query results only change once per day.

  33. The CO2 footprint.

    I think, already before this, have commented here that the CO2 footprint can be a valuable tool in
    the value assessment for a given “product”, if played correctly though.

    In proposition of energy and resources, there could be a workable way to apply the CO2 footprint as a parameter for value assessment, as already a lot it is spent in the merit of assessing the CO2 footprint for the given energy and resource expenditure.

    If there is a way to apply this correctly without biases, especially in the means of comparing with given established “universal “standards, another way of a value assessment for any given product could be possible to apply.

    For example, if these smart guys are saying that they have a larger CO2 footprint than affordable,
    then this may translate as,
    that the value of their product is not affordable… maybe even an unnecessary waste, at some point.
    Technically these guys are spending more than they are worth of.
    If this applied every where correctly and independently, as an internal self assessment, a
    “good” amount of worthless will cease to persist.

    So, if Mann’s CO2 footprint happens to be non affordable, then Mann not worth it, valueless… 🙂

    Again, just saying, another way of looking at.

    And I think this well resonates with;
    “be aware and careful with what asking for”. 🙂


  34. This sounds similar to the idea that we could save Biafran children from starvation by eating all of our dinner, especially the vegetables.

    How many Chinese astronomers agreed with the idea that everyone should cut down on CO2 emissions immediately?

  35. In ‘Climate Change’ it seems that, as with Astronomers, the solutions. like solar and wind power, are actually part of the problem. Saving Earth from ‘Climate Change’ always requires much suffering and pain for the non-Elite.

  36. C++ can do a lot of jobs really well. Don’t switch to save co2 emissions. Switch to save on electricity bills. Even without the warmunist power generation schemes, electricity costs money. If you can save money by using C++, do it, by all means.
    I am a C++ programmer and I never think of it as saving CO2 emissions. It’s for getting results faster with a smaller power bill using less hardware.
    Please don’t bash C++. It’s not C++’s fault. It just so happens that C++ has advantages which can be viewed this way.

    • Well said! The energy bill tells the story clearly enough.
      Having developed optimizing compilers for 20 years, I need to say that Fortran’s presumption that no aliasing can occur between different arguments to a procedure gives it a compilation advantage over C++, provided that you’ve respected that (unchecked) rule.

      Also, the anti-interpreter bias that started this thread has me doubled over laughing.
      If you regard an interpreter as the delivery vehicle for state-of-the-art, highly-tuned, domain-specific library functions, they nearly always dance rings around naive “applications programmers” trying to write supercomputing code for the first time. Python, APL, Matlab, and others are a fine way to code number crunching routines unless you have to roll your own inner loops. Then I have to agree with the assembly coders here: dig in way way down deep and write library routines like the craft-coders of old.

  37. Thanks for the reminder that even in intellectually robust fields like astronomy and astrophysics, around half of the the credentialed experts graduated in the bottom halves of their classes.

    But who stop with C++? Why not go all the way to Fortran, like the climate modelers do, and further reduce the risk of useful results?

    Or even further:

    “You may be interested in knowing that John Arnold and I write our programs (like TB) in machine language. We have found it to be less restrictive and more versatile although not having a source file of some kind is a disadvantage. We do keep a hand-generated source listing on coding sheets for our reference. A major program like TB requires a two-pass development: the first pass ends up with lots of ‘fixes’ and ‘patches’ to get the program to work; the second pass is then used to clean-up the mess produced in pass one. The coding sheets from pass two represent the nearest thing to source code we have.”
    – Dick Whipple, Dr. Dobb’s Journal of Tiny BASIC Calisthenics and Orthodontia, Vol. 1, No. 1, January, 1976

  38. C++ for astronomers? Quite braindead idea – C++ provides too many possibilities for inexperienced programmer to shoot himself in the foot. Try to imagine some 10-20 years old software package that have been extended and “improved” by bunch of post-grads – and most of them have try to learn C++ when they implement new features required for their own thesis. Python is much safer and performance penalties are not so bad if libraries like numpy and scipy are used.

    Of course, the ideal way would be using languages and programming paradigms that make making errors harder and support designing better program structures – like functional programming (e.g., with Scala) or languages with better type safety like Rust. However, it is quite unlikely that most scientist would have time or enough interest to develop proper programming skills. So, once again – python is not so bad choice.

  39. The common misnomered ‘Carbon Footprint’ is really a ‘CO2footprint’; the only real Carbon Footprint is when someone walks the coals – I’m off to increase my Hydrogen Footprint, err have a glass of water!

    A lot of £$€ are spent searching Skies for possibly likely non-existence Aliens, as my fellow UniofManchester Alumni concludes we maybe the only techno species in this galaxy at the moment; the distances are too vast & Speed of E/M rad too damn slow. Even if we find some signal it’ll take years/decades for comms; InterStellarTravel is impossible anyway IMO, as you wouldn’t be able to carry enough OnBoardSpares/Resources to travel more than InterSolarSystem unless one invents the Matter Generator as in SciFi StarTrek.
    Some colleagues work at the local Jodrell observatory & vice versa, recently one came back & described the exaggerated claims made for them to obtain funding for projects such as SKA.
    Not against it but they need to be realistic, why so many scientists are funded for this pure science, maybe use the money for real human problems? Resolving Poverty, cutting real pollution, reducing/solving landfill etc.
    #Just Saying

    • That alumni being ProfBECox.
      I’ve also heard/seen some ClimateAlarmists use another misnomer of ‘MethaneBudget’ !

  40. On the subject of conservation, I seem to remember that P.J. O’Rourke on his travels was in a country where one of the locals was so obsessed with the topic that he believed there were too many vowels in their language and a few should be deleted in the interest of conservation in all things.
    The astronomer just reminded me.

  41. Much ado about nothing.

    What a bunch of shite.

    Are the authors looking to get an endorsement for promoting C++ or do they just think that a free programming language is just too “vulgar” for astronomy?

  42. There are two concerns mentioned here. Air travel to remote observatories and inefficient computer languages.

    Air travel: if gross air travel exists then one must ask why? Most high level astronomy is not by the human eye but by cameras or other sensors, taken automatically across the sky. Other than the maintenance team no one needs to be there. However, if someone offered you an expensed trip to an exotic location would any of us object?

    Now they have captured some data, either visual or other, they need to crunch it with a computer program.

    If you are not a professional programmer, why would you want to learn a complex language such as C++ with its attendant testing difficulties.

    I can see why you would wish to use python to go through many iterations of your ideas to extract the signal hiding in your data.

    As to people recommending the use of assembler language! I can only assume they are joking. The development of computer languages followed a distinct path to make it easy for the human to express their ideas to the ‘computer’. The human is the weak link in program development. Anything that makes it easier is welcome.

  43. Seriously? An abacus is is even better at reducing their carbon footprint and while they’re relishing their “woke-ism” why not at the same time deal with Critical Race Theory and decolonization of astronomy too.

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