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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

James Hansen et al.: The Case for Young People and Nature: A Path to a Healthy, Natural, Prosperous Future

The Case for Young People and Nature: A Path to a Healthy, Natural, Prosperous Future

James Hansen, Pushker Kharecha, Makiko Sato, Paul Epstein, Paul J. Hearty, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Camille Parmesan, Stefan Rahmstorf, Johan Rockstrom, Eelco J.Rohling, Jeffrey Sachs, Peter Smith, Konrad Steffen, Karina von Schuckmann and James C. Zachos


We describe scenarios that define how rapidly fossil fuel emissions must be phased down to restore Earth's energy balance and stabilize global climate.  A scenario that stabilizes climate and preserves nature is technically possible and it is essential for the future of humanity.  Despite overwhelming evidence, governments and the fossil fuel industry continue to propose that all fossil fuels must be exploited before the world turns predominantly to clean energies.  If governments fail to adopt policies that cause rapid phase-down of fossil fuel emissions, today's children, future generations, and nature will bear the consequences through no fault of their own.  Governments must act immediately to significantly reduce fossil fuel emissions to protect our children's future and avoid loss of crucial ecosystem services, or else be complicit in this loss and its consequences.

1.  Background 

 Humanity is now the dominant force driving changes of Earth's atmospheric composition and thus future climate on the planet.  Carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted in burning of fossil fuels is, according to best available science, the main cause of global warming in the past century.  It is also well-understood that most of the CO2 produced by burning fossil fuels will remain in the climate system for millennia. The risk of deleterious or even catastrophic effects of climate change driven by increasing CO2 is now widely recognized by the relevant scientific community.

The climate system has great inertia because it contains a 4-kilometer deep ocean and 2-kilometer thick ice sheets.  As a result, global climate responds only slowly, at least initially, to natural and human-made forcings of the system.  Consequently, today's changes of atmospheric composition will be felt most by today's young people and the unborn, in other words, by people who have no possibility of protecting their own rights and their future well-being, and who currently depend on others who make decisions today that have consequences over future decades and centuries.


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