Published on Feb 17, 2013
James Hansen while working for NASA, was one of the first scientists to connect greenhouse gases, like C02, with global temperature rise, warning a congressional hearing back in the 1980’s of the dire consequences. I asked him for the latest science, he started in on his most recent journal paper to be published soon – but then suddenly stopped, remembering, that he was embargoed from talking – until publication. So I told him to just talk about the science and not mention the Journal name — which is very old, prestigious and Royal. (UPDATE The paper to be published mid summer 2013 by the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A (Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A)) see http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment…
He says that if we burn up 100% of the earth’s fossil fuels, we’ll make 50% of the earth humanly uninhabitable. So it seems it’s not the end of the world, like some predict — well maybe the end for half the world! But for most of those left the earth wouldn’t be such a nice place to live.
Hansen more precise statement on CO2 emissions and climate can be found here
Hansen started his career at NASA back in the 1980’s specialized in understanding the Venusian atmosphere. NASA scientists were trying to figure out why the surface temperature of the planet Venus was hotter than Mercury’s, despite being nearly twice as far from the Sun and receiving only 25% of the solar energy then Mercury. Instrumentation showed the atmosphere of Venus composed mostly of CO2, with some water vapor and sulfur dioxide all working together to trap heat like a huge greenhouse and super-heat the planet. Another peculiar thing, about Venus, was that there was not much difference between night and day temperatures, unlike Mercury, where temperatures at night were colder by a factor of 6-7 times. Meaning that the atmosphere on Venus, conducts heat – so the more greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere the less cooling at night!. So when Hansen looked at earth’s atmosphere, and saw atmospheric Co2 concentration rise along with global earth temperatures, he sounded the alarm and still is.
Though, had space scientists discovered an asteroid on trajectory to wipe out half the earth, I think we would likely be doing more to head that off. The USA seems likely to approve the XL pipeline, that in the short term will make us more dependent on the dirtiest fossil fuels.
The so called global economic recession has not significantly cut down emissions. China surpassed the US as the top Co2 emitter (2011 data) — though when population is factored in, China, per-capita, emits 3-4 times less Co2 per person, and has invested almost a third more in renewable energy research then the U.S. (2009 -10). Which is all to say that things are going to get a lot worse before they get any better.
Hansen: Well, I think the most important thing my colleagues and I have come up with in recent years is the fact that if we burn all of the fossil fuels, more than half the planet will be uninhabitable by humans. So it makes absolutely no sense to be going after every fossil fuel we can find.
We are going to have to leave the dirtiest ones like the tar sands, tar shale, fracking for gas. We are going to have to leave those in the ground. Otherwise we are going to create a situation in which we will have an unlivable planet for our grandchildren and future generations.
Interviewer: So how far along are we in burning half the fossil fuels that are in the ground?
Hansen: We’ve burned only a fraction; only about a tenth of the fossil fuels. But we’re trying to get all of them out of the ground. It makes no sense. We have got to move to clean energies.
We are already beginning to see the impacts with increased storms, increased droughts. But the long range consequences will be even worse. It makes no sense to continue down that path. We have got to move to clean energies. We have got to put a price on fossil fuels by collecting a fee from the fossil fuel companies and distributing the money to the public so the public can make the changes that are necessary to move to more energy efficiency and clean energy.
Interviewer: What do you think about today?
Hansen: This is great. This is by far the biggest crowd we have ever had and finally I think the public is waking up to the fact that our governments are working for the fossil fuel industry. Our governments are well oiled and they are coal fired. The public has got to begin to put the pressure on the governments to serve the people, not the special interests.
Global Climate Change