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James Hansen: Spewing Sense

Dr. James E. Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, may not be the most visible proponent of global warming activism (how could he be with Al Gore flying around collecting Nobels), but he’s probably the most vocal. Some have branded him a radical because of his passionate pleas for change, but don’t be fooled. He’s not one of these heated nonsense-spewers. He’s heated alright, but what Hansen spews makes SENSE.

So, from now on when I get one of his e-mailed commentaries (which you can too, by signing up at Hansen’s Columbia University Web page), I’m going to share them. This whole warming thing is complicated, and he can help us understand. Dismiss him, embrace him, whatever you see fit, but at least know of him and what he’s saying. Because the people in charge just aren’t listening, Hansen says.

In his latest e-mail, Hansen talks about the “sobering degree of self-deception in countries that are among the best-educated on climate change.” Specifically he’s talking about his recent meetings with leaders in Germany, the UK and Japan, and how they continue to cling to climate policies that Hansen asserts are doomed to fail. His main contention is that focusing on annual carbon-emission reductions is an ineffective way to control climate change because emitted CO2 stays around so long in the atmosphere and there is so much already present that reductions will not stop “global disaster.” Hansen’s penchant for tossing around such Hollywood blockbuster catchphrases may turn you off, but don’t let the form distract you from the content. And there’s plenty of content.

Hansen uses research to convincingly show – what he calls the “stark policy implication of the data” – why he’s calling for a complete phase-out, not just reductions, of coal emissions (Hansen calls coal CO2 the “worst pollutant”). He says atmospheric CO2 levels can’t safely persist (we’re talking decades here; a basic tenet of discussing climate change is that we have to consider ramifications for generations from now) and must come down to 350 ppm, which we’re already past, at most. It would take a phasing out of coal emissions by 2030, with complementary actions such as reforestation, just to keep future atmospheric CO2 levels at no more than 400-425 ppm. It would then theoretically decline to get back down to 350 ppm within a century.

It all makes sense, as I say, but there certainly are assumptions. It’s these assumptions that are the soft points open to dissenting opinions to Dr. Hansen’s views, which can be found aplenty at ICECAP, probably the best counter-argument source I’ve found.

And a little postscript here: Despite the pro-Hansen feel of this post, the point is not to back any one person but to get answers. The discussion is so caught up in politics now it’s difficult to make progress on the issue. Whatever the truth turns out to be, the only thing I know with 100% certainty right now is that it won’t be found by politicizing the debate.

Also see my previous post on Dr. Hansen.

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“James Hansen: Spewing Sense”