Posted by: JohnnyRook | December 18, 2008

Dr. James Hansen: “How do we make them understand how serious this is?”

Science writer, Jeff Goodell has been reporting on events at the American Geophysical Union’s annual fall meeting in San Francisco for Joe Romm’s Climate Progress blog. Yesterday he reported on the presentation by Dr. James Hansen.

“I think we could solve this problem if we would just tell the truth,” Hansen said during the Q & A session after the talk. “But politicians aren’t willing. How do we make them understand how serious this is?”

Dr. Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and probably the world’s preeminent climate scientist, gave the Bjerknes Lecture at the AGU meeting. Full text of Dr. Hansen’s remarks do not yet seem to be available, but the abstract of his presentation can be found on the AGU meeting web site. I have reproduced it below. I will update with Dr. Hansen’s full remarks when and if they become available.

TI: Threat to the Planet: Dark and Bright Sides of Global Warming
AU: * Hansen, J E
EM: jhansen@giss.nasa.gov
AF: The Earth Institute at Columbia University, 405 Low Library, 535 West 116th Street, New York, NY 10027, United States
AU: * Hansen, J E
EM: jhansen@giss.nasa.gov
AF: NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, 2880 Broadway, New York, NY 10025, United States
AB: Abstract. Earth’s history reveals that climate is sensitive to forcings, imposed perturbations of the planet’s energy balance. Human-made forcings now dwarf natural forcings. Despite the climate system’s great inertia, climate changes are emerging above the ‘noise’ of unforced chaotic variability, and greater changes are ‘in the pipeline’. There is a clear and present danger of the climate passing certain ‘tipping points’, climate states where warming in the pipeline and positive feedbacks guarantee large relatively rapid changes with no additional climate forcing. The fact that we are close to dangerous consequences has a bright side: we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a level that will minimize many impacts that had begun to seem almost inevitable, including ocean acidification, intensification of regional climate extremes, and fresh water shortages. Actions required to stabilize climate, including prompt phase-out of coal emissions, are defined well enough by our understanding of the climate system, the carbon cycle, and fossil fuel reservoirs. These actions would also yield cleaner air and water, with ancillary benefits for human health, agricultural productivity, and wildlife preservation. Yet the actions required to stabilize climate are not being pursued. Denial of climate change by the fossil fuel industry and reactionary governments has been replaced by ‘greenwash’. The policies of even the ‘greenest’ nations are demonstrably impotent for the purpose of averting climate disasters. I conclude that inaction stems in large part from ‘success’ of special financial interests in subverting the intent of the democratic process to operate for the general good. The consequence is intergenerational inequity and injustice, affecting negatively the young and the unborn. The defense of prior generations, that they ‘did not know’, is no longer viable. Indeed, actions by fossil fuel interests that served to deceive the public about the dangers of human-made climate change raise questions of ethics and legal liabilities. Youth, at least those who are not too young or unborn, have recourse through democratic systems, but continued failure of the political process may cause increasing public protests.

Dr. Hansen has been giving a similar presentation with the same title for several months now. In the video that follows, you can watch a version of Dr. Hansen’s presentation from May 2008 that he gave when accepting the 2008 Nierenberg Prize for Science in the Public Interest from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Also, a PDF version of the presentation from October is available here.

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