Hansen on Climate: I Need Your Help

Climate Scientist and Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, James Hansen decided early in his career that investigating a planet with a changing climate was a more interesting and important area of study.  So, he changed his focus from Venus to Earth.

Studying global warming on Earth was nothing new to science. British physicist, John Tyndall, studied the greenhouse effect in the 1850s.

When Hansen began speaking out during the Bush Administration of the lack of government action to address climate change, NASA censored him. He, then, used the first line of NASA’s mission statement, “to understand and protect the home planet” as his justification for speaking out. The first line of NASA’s mission statement was deleted, never to appear again.

Hansen discusses the most important conclusion from the physics of climate change. First, related to energy balance, adding CO2 to the atmosphere is like throwing a blanket on the bed, it reduces Earth’s heat radiation to space. More energy is coming in than is being radiated back out. That creates an energy imbalance.  Then more warming will occur without adding any more CO2 to the pipeline. We can measure this precisely by measuring Earth’s heat reservoirs, such as the oceans.

“This imbalance is equivalent to exploding 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs per day 365 days per year,” says Hansen.

This imbalance means we must reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from 391 ppm (where we are presently) to 350 ppm (where we haven’t been since the mid-1980s), if we want to stabilize climate and prevent further warming.

See his full talk below:

Dr. Hansen describes the role of feedback looks in climate change. Greenland and Antarctica are losing mass and methane is escaping from the permafrost. The last time that atmospheric CO2 was 390 ppm (current levels), sea level was higher by at least 15 meters (50 feet). Dr. Hansen thinks that a 5 meter (18 feet) sea level rise could happen if we keep burning fossil fuels the way we do (business as usual or BAU). What this means is that we will have initiated a process that is out of the control of humanity.

“The tragedy about climate change,” laments Hansen, “is that we can solve it with a simple honest approach of a gradually rising carbon fee collected from fossil fuel companies and distributed 100% electronically every month to all legal residents on a per capita basis with the government not keeping one dime. Most people would get more in the monthly dividend that they would pay in increased prices.” This would stimulate the economy and create jobs.

But instead of making fossil fuels pay their true costs to society our governments are forcing the public to subsidize the fossil fuel industry– by $400-500 billion worldwide. This encourages every kind of fossil fuel extraction from mountain top removal to fracking to tar sands to deep-ocean drilling. This path guarantees that we will pass tipping points leading to ice sheet disintegration, species extinction, increasing drought and flood causing massive famine and economic decline.

“I need your help to communicate the gravity and the urgency of this situation and its solutions more effectively,” Hansen concludes, “We owe it to our children and grandchildren.”

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