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James Hansen on climate: What’s at stake?

 

What is at stake?

Warming so far, about two degrees Fahrenheit over land areas, seems almost innocuous, being less than day-to-day weather fluctuations. But more warming is already “in- the-pipeline”, delayed only by the great inertia of the world ocean. And climate is nearing dangerous tipping points. Elements of a “perfect storm”, a global cataclysm, are assembled.

Climate can reach points such that amplifying feedbacks spur large rapid changes. Arctic sea ice is a current example. Global warming initiated sea ice melt, exposing darker ocean that absorbs more sunlight, melting more ice. As a result, without any additional greenhouse gases, the Arctic soon will be ice-free in the summer.

More ominous tipping points loom. West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are vulnerable to even small additional warming. These two-mile-thick behemoths respond slowly at first, but if disintegration gets well underway it will become unstoppable. Debate among scientists is only about how much sea level would rise by a given date.

In my opinion, if emissions follow a business-as-usual scenario, sea level rise of at least two meters is likely this century. Hundreds of millions of people would become refugees. No stable shoreline would be reestablished in any time frame that humanity can conceive.

Special interests have blocked transition to our renewable energy future. Instead of moving heavily into renewable energies, fossil companies choose to spread doubt about global warming, as tobacco companies discredited the smoking-cancer link. Methods are sophisticated, including funding to help shape school textbook discussions of global warming.

CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of long-term consequences of continued business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.

Conviction of ExxonMobil and Peabody Coal CEOs will be no consolation, if we pass on a runaway climate to our children. Humanity would be impoverished by ravages of continually shifting shorelines and intensification of regional climate extremes. Loss of countless species would leave a more desolate planet.

If politicians remain at loggerheads, citizens must lead. We must demand a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants. We must block fossil fuel interests who aim to squeeze every last drop of oil from public lands, off-shore, and wilderness areas. Those last drops are no solution. They yield continued exorbitant profits for a short-sighted self-serving industry, but no alleviation of our addiction or long-term energy source.

A price on emissions that cause harm is essential. Yes, a carbon tax. Carbon tax with 100 percent dividend is needed to wean us off fossil fuel addiction. Tax and dividend allows the marketplace, not politicians, to make investment decisions…..

http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/2008/TwentyYearsLater_20080623.pdf

Accompanying slides:

http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/2008/TippingPointsNear_20080623.pdf

About the author: Dr. James E. Hansen, longtime director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said in a January 29, 2006, New York Times interview that officials at NASA headquarters had ordered the public affairs staff to review his coming lectures, papers, and postings on the Goddard Web site and requests for interviews from journalists. Since 1988, he has been issuing public warnings about the long-term threat from heat-trapping emissions, dominated by carbon dioxide, that are an unavoidable byproduct of burning coal, oil and other fossil fuels.


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One Response to “James Hansen on climate: What’s at stake?”

  1. Beth Robinson Says:
    June 27th, 2008 at 8:03 pm
    Beth Robinson

    It helped me understand the seriousness of ‘only a few degrees’ temperature change when someone compared it to our human body temperature of 98.6.

    If your child’s temperature is even a few degrees higher you know she is sick. If it is more than 3 or 4 degrees higher for over a few days, I’m taking her to the doctor. Therefore, just a few degrees can be a very serious indicator that something is terribly wrong.

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