Over thirty years ago, James Hansen was lead author of a scientific paper titled Climate Impact of Increasing Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide. They estimated that doubling the amount of CO2 in the air would raise global temperature about 2.8 degrees (C, equal to about 5 degrees F). They projected that from 1980 to 2010, earth would warm a little more than 0.4 degrees C. High northern latitudes, however, would warm at a much faster rate. We would likely see the start of melting of the great ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland. They further suggested that we could start to lose much of the sea ice in the Arctic, which might even open the Northwest and Northeast passages.
That was over thirty years ago. What has happened since then?
From 1980 to 2010, earth warmed about 0.5 degrees C. High northern latitudes, however, warmed at a much faster rate. We’ve seen rapid melting of the great ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland. We’ve already lost much of the sea ice in the Arctic, which has opened the Northwest and Northeast passages.
The science is clear. Those who don’t want to believe it are fond of screaming that “the science isn’t settled, science is never settled!” That’s a lie. Certainly not all the science is settled, it never is. But we know some things for sure, like gravity works and smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer. And — the globe is warming, it’s caused by human beings, and it’s dangerous. Very dangerous. Extraordinarily dangerous.
James Hansen is NASA’s chief climate scientist, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies. He describes himself as a conservative Republican. He was born and raised in Iowa, and is now in his 70s. Yet in recent years he has actively protested against policies that threaten to put even more CO2 into our atmosphere from burning even more fossil fuels. In spite of numerous arrests during his protests, he continues to warn, repeatedly, that we’re playing with fire and it’s gonna blow up in our faces.
That part of the science really is settled. Yet there’s a powerful movement to deny it. Some stems from political ideology, some from mistrust of government, and yes, a heckuva lot of it is spread by the fossil fuel industry — because it’s their product that is the cause of the problem. They make immense profits, and they see any interference or accountability — any at all — as a threat to their already bloated wealth. So, rather than accept that something has to change, rather than adapt to the situation, they deny reality and fight tooth-and-nail to preserve the status quo.
Wake up! We can’t afford to let them build their wealth on our misery. The science really is clear. Stop letting PR pundits and politicians in denial send our future down the toilet. Stop letting them sucker you.
And for those of you who haven’t been suckered, who trust the climate scientists more than the oil companies — stop fooling yourself into thinking that this problem isn’t urgent. It is. If we act now, we can deal with it, without too much misery. If we wait two years, it’ll be much more expensive, much more difficult, and much less successful. If we wait until 2020, then an outright crisis is unavoidable. If we wait any longer than that … game over.
Why would a conservative Republican in his 70s endure arrest to protest about the urgency of the climate problem? Because he fears for the safety and the future of his grandchildren. Yes, he is genuinely afraid. You should be too.
I know we’re in a very difficult economic situation. I know we’re hard hit by gas prices, that jobs are hard to come by, that a lot of you are struggling just to keep your heads above water. It’s very hard to think of something as abstract as global warming as a crisis, when real problems are staring you right in the face. But think about this: if you were tired, and hungry, and desperate for work, and then you saw your own child playing on the railroad track while a locomotive sped toward him — what would you do? Would you think, “That’ll wait while I deal with these other problems”? Or would you move heaven and earth to get your own kid to safety?
That’s really how urgent, how dangerous, climate change is. It’s why James Hansen recently delivered a talk about why he must speak out about climate change. It’s well worth listening to. His reasons are the same as mine.