James Hansen Warns It May Be Too Late To Halt Global Warming


This story was first published on Planet Save. Reprinted with permission. 

James Hansen is perhaps the world’s most most vocal proponent for remedial action on global warming. The former NASA director held a press conference on October 3 in which he said the last time the world was this warm, the oceans were 20 feet higher than they are at present. That was 125,000 years ago. Despite the Paris climate accords and the greening of the electrical grid and the gradual changeover to electric cars, Hansen says we are fooling ourselves if we think the world is doing enough to address global warming and climate change.

global warming requires immediate action

“There’s a misconception that we’ve begun to address the climate problem,” Hansen told reporters on Monday. “The misapprehension is based on the Paris climate summit where all the government leaders clapped each other on the back as if some great progress has been made, but you look at the science and it doesn’t compute. We are not doing what is needed.”

Hansen has co-authored a new research paper along with 11 other climate scientist which suggests that the earth is already 1.3º Celsius warmer than it was prior to the Industrial Revolution. It says that the concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide  have been accelerating in recent years.

The COP21 conference in Paris last December set a target of limiting global warming to just 1.5º Celsius. Hansen and his colleagues say that won’t be possible unless we find ways to actually remove some of the carbon dioxide presently stored in the atmosphere. Is such a thing even possible?

Yes, says Hansen, but he says current proposals — such as carbon capture and storage  — could cost anywhere from $104 to $507 trillion this century with “large risks and uncertain feasibility.” There’s a better way, Hansen argues. He told reporters that achieving negative carbon emissions could be done by sequestering carbon dioxide in the earth’s soil. The earth currently stores three times as much carbon as there is in the atmosphere. Studies suggest that better management and restoration practices could allow the soil to sequester the majority of fossil fuel emissions that have been generated by humans.

Hansen’s paper on global warming has been submitted for publication to the Earth Systems Dynamics Journal but has yet to be peer reviewed. It was written in part to support lawsuits brought in all 50 states and against the federal government by Our Childern’s Trust. Collectively, they argue that governments are violating young peoples’ constitutional rights by failing to act on climate change.

They are all based on a legal theory known as atmospheric trust litigation developed by University of Oregon law professor Mary Wood. It argues that the atmosphere is a crucial natural resource that the government must hold in trust for future citizens. By failing to pass policies that stop climate change, the reasoning goes, the government is failing to preserve the natural environment for future generations.

Hansen and his granddaughter are parties to a suit filed in federal court in Oregon, where judge Thomas Coffin has ruled it may proceed to trial, despite vehement protests from the likes of ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, and Koch Industries. They argue that the a decision in favor of the plaintiffs would require an “unprecedented restructuring of the economy.”

Well, d’uh. Of COURSE it will, you idiots. Global warming and climate change are the ultimate proof that globalization and unfettered capitalism are inherently unsustainable. ExxonMobil and the others argue that they have a right to continue making profits even if their actions cause the death of millions of people. Good luck selling that argument to the courts, Charles and David.

A state court in Washington has already ruled in favor of the young plaintiffs and ordered the state of Washington to reevaluate its laws and policies to better protect future generations from being devastated by global warming and climate change. Hansen thinks the courts will be an essential part of the fight against climate change, especially since the US Congress is in the grip of stooges for the fossil fuel industry who refuse to act responsibly.

“I think it is essential that the third branch of government, the courts, get involved in the climate story,” Hansen says.. “We need to quantify what is needed in an understandable way so that the judicial system can make an evaluation and step in and have some effect where the other branches of government have failed us.”

Voters in November will have a chance to send a message to Washington that they are tired of the stupid games Congress plays with people’s lives. Most of our duly elected representatives are ignoring the needs of their constituents to line their pockets with cash provided by the fossil fuel crowd. It is time for them to be duly unelected, If your senator of congressman is blocking action on climate change, vote for a different candidate. Simple. Problem solved.

The times they are a’changing, as Bob Dylan liked to say. In an article published on our sister site, Ecopreneurist, Carolyn Fortuna reports that millenials strongly favor aggressive action on global warming. She writes, “81% of millennials believe business has a key role to play in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the guiding business practices shaped by world leaders from 193 nations as outcome from the COP21 summit in Paris.”

The only question now is whether millenials have enough political power to force the federal and state governments to stop taking the side of business and start taking the side of the people — and the earth. The time to act is growing short. There is a very real chance that the changes needed will come too late. We the people own the country, not business interests. Stand up for your rights in November. We may not get many more chances.

Source: Think Progress     Photo credit: The Library of Congress via Foter.com / No known copyright restrictions

About the Author

I have been a car nut since the days when Rob Walker and Henry N. Manney, III graced the pages of Road & Track. Today, I use my trusty Miata for TSD rallies and occasional track days at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. If it moves on wheels, I’m interested in it. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.

  • roseland67

    The planet is hotter right now than it has been in over 115 years all due to carbon emissions.
    I guess I want to know how it got so hot 115 years ago?

    • dogphlap dogphlap

      I want to know where you got a figure of 115 years from.

    • Steve Hanley

      I think you have misread the information. Hansen says the planet is as hot now as it was when sea levels were 20 feet higher. That was not 115 years ago. It was during the Eemian inter-glacier age about 125,000 years ago.

      What he DID say, which you failed to pick up on, is that the planet is already 1.3 degrees C hotter than it was prior to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

      I have gone back and hot linked his report so others can have the full document at their disposal.

      • super390

        In other words, once temperatures rise to a certain level, a certain amount of sea level rise is inevitable, even though it may take centuries to catch up to the added heat. It reached a similar average 125,000 years ago and then sea level rose so fast afterwards that we can’t currently tell exactly how long it took but there was clearly causality. This is the difference between geological time and human time scales.

    • Arthur

      Actually, Alaska was warmer 100 years ago. Also, water level in Venice was higher 50 years ago. Finally, most of Africa is a little cooler than average this year.

  • Ed

    At the core of this discussion is that in such matters we see how representative government does not work well. Its about getting re-elected. Give us liberty…..in the form of term limits and banning of all lobbying.

    • Steve Hanley

      When I become king, lobbying will be an offense punishable by death!

      • Ed

        Well….at least apply the RICO Act

    • super390

      The problem here is that the Founding Fathers pretty much looked at the Roman Republic as their model. Only rich people could get into the Roman Senate. The Founding Fathers were rich. They were their own business lobbyists.
      And with term limits, running for Congress again becomes strictly a hobby for businessmen, who take turns with each other while shutting out the reviled “career politician” whom we actually have a chance of influencing with small donations.

      • Ed


  • Steve Hanley

    Most interesting information. Thanks for sharing.

  • Arthur

    Hansen is a liberal socialist…..hates oil and gas. He’s all politics…..just like the other liberal socialist Varmus…..all politics….very evil politics.