Hansen on why he became an activist: “Our planet is close to climate tipping points” and it is “clear that needed actions will happen only if the public, somehow, becomes forcefully involved.”
Top climatologist launches new website with graphs and analysisClimate Progress, August 26, 2010
60-month and 132-month running means of global surface temperature anomaly with a base period 1951-1980.The nation’s leading — and most scientifically prescient — climatologist has a new website, Updating the Climate Science: What Path is the Real World Following? It “will present updated graphs and discussion of key quantities that help provide understanding of how climate change is developing and how effective or ineffective global actions are in affecting climate forcings and future climate change.”
He also has a new essay, “Activist”, for “J. Henry Fair’s upcoming book.” As an aside I simply can’t imagine why Fair titled his book, “The Day After Tomorrow,” the dreadful, scientifically inaccurate 2004 climate movie that many folks, like director James Cameron, actually say set back the cause of informing the public about climate science and the dangers of unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions.
I’ll excerpt the essay and repost some of the graphs below:
Sea level change for 1870-2001, based on tide gauge measurements, from Church J.A. and White N.J. “A 20th century acceleration in global sea-level rise,” Geophys. Res. Lett., 2006; 33: L01602. University of Colorado data are shifted to have the same mean for 1993-2001 as Church and White. The trends were computed for 1870-1920, 1920-1975, 1975-2001 for Church and White data, and 1993 – mid November 2009 for University of Colorado data. Figure also available in PDF. (Last modified: 2010/07/30)Hansen explains how he became an activist:
“How did you become an activist?” I was surprised by the question. I never considered myself an activist. I am a slow-paced taciturn scientist from the Midwest. Most of my relatives are pretty conservative. I can imagine attitudes at home toward “activists”.
I was about to protest the characterization – but I had been arrested, more than once. And I had testified in defense of others who had broken the law. Sure, we only meant to draw attention to problems of continued fossil fuel addiction. But weren’t there other ways to do that in a democracy? How had I been sucked into being an “activist?”
My grandchildren had a lot to do with it. It happened step-by-step. First, in 2004, I broke a 15-year self-imposed effort to stay out of the media. I gave a public lecture, backed by scientific papers, showing the need to slow greenhouse gas emissions – and I criticized the Bush administration for lack of appropriate policies. My grandchildren came into the talk only as props – holding 1-watt Christmas tree bulbs to help explain climate forcings.
Fourteen months later I gave another public talk – connecting the dots from global warming to policy implications to criticisms of the fossil fuel industry for promoting misinformation. This time my grandchildren provided rationalization for a talk likely to draw Administration ire: I explained that I did not want my children to look back and say “Opa understood what was happening, but he never made it clear.”
What had become clear was that our planet is close to climate tipping points. Ice is melting in the Arctic, on Greenland and Antarctica, and on mountain glaciers worldwide. Many species are stressed by environmental destruction and climate change. Continuing fossil fuel emissions, if unabated, will cause sea level rise and species extinction accelerating out of humanity’s control. Increasing atmospheric water vapor is already magnifying climate extremes, increasing overall precipitation, causing greater floods and stronger storms.
Stabilizing climate requires restoring our planet’s energy balance. The physics is straightforward. The effect of increasing carbon dioxide on Earth’s energy imbalance is confirmed by precise measurements of ocean heat gain. The principal implication is defined by the geophysics, by the size of fossil fuel reservoirs. Simply put, there is a limit on how much carbon dioxide we can pour into the atmosphere. We cannot burn all fossil fuels. Specifically, we must (1) phase out coal use rapidly, (2) leave tar sands in the ground, and (3) not go after the last drops of oil.Hansen has a nice chart showing what emissions path we are on.
Updates of Figure 16 in Hansen (2003), “Can we defuse the global warming time bomb?” (also in PDF).Some confusionists have tried to create some semantic confusion about whether we are above the IPCC’s “worst-case scenario.” The IPCC does have emissions scenarios higher than A1F1, as the figure shows, but in the Synthesis Report for policymakers, one of the few things non-scientists actually read, the worst-case scenario it models for impacts this century is A1F1. And that’s the path we are currently on (see U.S. media largely ignores latest warning from climate scientists: “Recent observations confirm … the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realised” — 1000 ppm).
The question of whether we stay on this path — in the absence of domestic climate legislation and an international deal — will be determined primarily by whether China continues its recent pace of coal-based growth for the next two decades and beyond, which I doubt, and whether a number of countries keep the pledges they made in the months leading up to Copenhagen, which I suspect they will.
Back to Hansen’s move to activism:
Actions needed for the world to move on to clean energies of the future are feasible. The actions could restore clean air and water globally, assuring intergenerational equity by preserving creation – the natural world.
But the actions are not happening.
At first I thought it was poor communication. Scientists must not have made the story clear enough to world leaders. Surely there must be some nations So I wrote letters to national leaders and visited more than half a dozen nations, as described in my book, “Storms of My Grandchildren”. What I found in each case was greenwash – a pretense of concern about climate but policies dictated by fossil fuel special interests.
The situation is epitomized by my recent trip to Norway. I hoped that Norway, because of its history of environmentalism, might be able to stand tall among nations, take real action to address climate change, drawing attention to the hypocrisy in the words and pseudo-actions of other nations.
So I wrote a letter to the Prime Minister suggesting that Norway, as majority owner of Statoil, should intervene in their plans to develop the tar sands of Canada. I received a polite response, by letter, from the Deputy Minister of Petroleum and Energy. The government position is that the tar sands investment is “a commercial decision”, that the government should not interfere, and that a “vast majority in the Norwegian parliament” agree that this constitutes “good corporate governance”. The Deputy Minister concluded his letter “I can however assure you that we will continue our offensive stance on climate change issues both at home and abroad”.
A Norwegian grandfather, upon reading the Deputy Minister’s letter, quoted Saint Augustine: “Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.”
The Norwegian government’s position is a staggering reaffirmation of the global situation: even the greenest governments find it too inconvenient to address the implication of scientific facts.I’m gonna skip his digression into the policy approach he favors. I’ve spent enough time responding to it. The point is moot in this country for the foreseeable future — we’re not going to get an economy-wide bill that sets a price on carbon anytime soon no matter how it is constructed.
It becomes clear that needed actions will happen only if the public, somehow, becomes forcefully involved. One way that citizens can help is by blocking coal plants, tar sands, and mining the last drops of fossil fuels from public and pristine lands and the deep ocean.
Stabilizing climate is a moral issue, a matter of intergenerational justice. Young people, and older people who support the young and the other species on the planet, must unite in demanding an effective approach that preserves our planet.
Because the executive and legislative branches of our governments turn a deaf ear to the science, the judicial branch may provide the best opportunity to redress the situation. Our governments have a fiduciary responsibility to protect the rights of young people and future generations.
To the young people I say: stand up for your rights – demand that the government be honest and address the consequences of their policies. To the old people I say: let us gird up our loins and fight on the side of young people for protection of the world they will inherit.It is time for everyone to stand up and be heard.
I look forward to standing with young people and their supporters, helping them develop their case, as they demand their proper due and fight for nature and their future. I guess that makes me an activist.
- Right for 27 years: 1981 Hansen study finds warming trend that could raise sea levels
- Stabilize at 350 ppm or risk ice-free planet, warn NASA, Yale, Sheffield, Versailles, Boston et al
- Drilling off-shore is a “crazy thing” says Hansen on 20th anniversary of his famous testimony
- ‘Tipping Point’ — A non-technical Hansen piece
- NASA’s James Hansen on hacked emails: “The contrarians or deniers do not have a scientific leg to stand on. Their aim is to win a public relations battle, or at least get a draw, which may be enough to stymie the actions that are needed to stabilize climate.”
- More swiftboating of James Hansen
- Another “Must Read” from Hansen: ‘Long-term’ climate sensitivity of 6°C for doubled CO2
- A Must Read: “Global Temperature Change,” by James Hansen et al.
- Hansen 1: Sea Level Rise
- Hansen 2: Iowa Edition of Declaration of Stewardship
- Hansen on “civil disobedience”
- Hansen on “Fossil Fuel Subsidies”
- NASA’s Hansen on Live Earth, Gore, and Coal