Why we can’t wait

Bit-by-bit, when Americans hear “Jim Hansen“, they think Global Warming and not the Muppets (Jim Henson).  While Henson cared about warming our hearts and getting smiles from kids while educating them, Hansen hopes to educated us so that we’ll act forcefully enough when it comes to Global Warming so that tomorrow’s kids will have reasons to smile and we’ll do a little less warming of the heartland. 

Jim Hansen, perhaps America’s top scientist on climate change issues, is forcefully out of the closet.  A version of a February 26 National Press Club speech has just been published by The Nation.  In Why We Can’t Wait, Hansen lays out five recommendations for action to address global warming challenges.

As Hansen starts the article,

There’s a huge gap between what is understood about global warming by the relevant scientific community and what is known about global warming by those who need to know: the public and policy-makers. We’ve had, in the past thirty years, one degree Fahrenheit of global warming. But there’s another one degree Fahrenheit in the pipeline due to gases that are already in the atmosphere. And there’s another one degree Fahrenheit in the pipeline because of the energy infrastructure now in place–for example, power plants and vehicles that we’re not going to take off the road even if we decide that we’re going to address this problem.

Quite basically, roughly three degrees Fahrenheit of embedded warming from human action from 30 years ago to, perhaps, 30 years from now.  Just 3 degrees … sort of like saying “just a 101.6 degree fever”, except there isn’t any aspirin to take. And, well, the effects would be level balanced.

The Energy Department says that we’re going to continue to put more and more CO2 in the atmosphere each year–not just additional CO2 but more than we put in the year before. If we do follow that path, even for another ten years, it guarantees that we will have dramatic climate changes that produce what I would call a different planet–one without sea ice in the Arctic; with worldwide, repeated coastal tragedies associated with storms and a continuously rising sea level; and with regional disruptions due to freshwater shortages and shifting climatic zones.

Here are Hansen’s five recommendations:

  1. A “moratorium on building any more coal-fired power plants until we have the technology to capture and sequester the CO2. That technology is probably five or ten years away …”  Stop the emitters before they can emit.  Hansen doesn’t address whether this includes India, China, and other nations … we would hope it does.
  2. Politicians need to develop the courage to begin “putting a price on emissions.” Hansen argues that it should be a slowly rising rate “to avoid economic problems” to allow the consumer (at all levels) to make investment choices moving forward.
  3. “We need energy-efficiency standards.”  Well, really have to wonder how anyone can agree with moving toward constantly improving energy efficiency — on a much faqster scale than has occurred.
  4. “Congress should ask the National Academy of Sciences … on ice-sheet stability” as there are serious changes occurring that suggest “it’s a very nonlinear process that could accelerate”.
  5. “Reform of communication practices” to reduce the walls between government scientists and Congress (and the American people).

With all due respect to Dr. Hansen, the gravity and impact of the first three overwhelm those last two. 

How about, as a fourth, institute national programs to move toward carbon-free energy (such as a national Renewable Portfolio Standard) ?

And, as a fifth, a redoubled commitment to the science related to understanding and responding to Global Warming (from the ice study to scientific openness to research on new energy technologies to …)

In any event, Hansen’s is a powerful and stern call even if his recommendations might merit reworking.


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