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James Hansen’s ‘Target CO2’

Dr. James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has published again. As I said previously, I like to hear what he has to say so I’m going to post about it whenever he presents something.

His latest paper, “Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?,” is 15 pages of pure common sense (at least the parts of the pages I could comprehend are, anyway).

Since Hansen is so vociferous about global warming, he’s a popular target of opponents (the squeaky wheel gets the vitriol). But attacking him is indefensible. He has an obligation to inform us about what he’s seeing, because his data shows him some VERY BAD things are likely to happen. And how is some anonymous lab worker going to get heard unless he’s loud? Go ahead, name me one government scientist. You can’t. No one can! No one (by no one I mean the vast majority of us who have no stake in academia) generally cares what Dr. so-and-so has to say. So when he has something that needs to be heard, he has to be … well, vociferous.

The “bad things” in Hansen’s (and his colleagues’) report? The end of the world as we know it. Yes, it sounds like a Hollywood tagline and thus laughably foolish to some. But the only foolish thing is to ignore what science is telling us. If you want to dispute Hansen’s techniques or his readings of the science, fine. There are some salient counterarguments. But don’t dismiss it simply because it’s difficult to hear. I think a lot of the refuting of Hansen’s findings is due to the fact that we simply don’t want to believe humanity could be responsible for its own downfall, or, in a solipsistic, quintessentially American sense, that ANYTHING could be our downfall.

Here’s how Hansen sums it up, from the “Target Atmospheric CO2” abstract:

“Decreasing CO2 was the main cause of a cooling trend that began 50 million years ago, the planet being nearly ice-free until CO2 fell to 450 ± 100 ppm; barring prompt policy changes, that critical level will be passed, in the opposite direction, within decades. If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm, but likely less than that.”

We are headed toward an atmospheric condition not seen in millions of years. That is a scary scenario. So scary we may want to put it out of our minds, to dismiss it as alarmist, the findings of a politically motivated quack.

But look at who’s behind these findings. Does it make sense that they’re part of an underhanded plot – these are Ph.D.’s who have dedicated their lives to finding out some truth about our world – to fool us all into becoming concerned about the environment? To me, what’s a lot more plausible is that we simply don’t want to think about it, to face up to the implications. Because it means we’re responsible for all this, and it means we need to make major changes. And we just don’t have time for that. (I have two kids, a house and yard that constantly need attention, bills to pay. I’m saddled with daily changes of the diaper and battery variety; I don’t have room for ‘major changes.’)

Anyway, if you do want to make the time, Dr. Hansen makes it a bit easier by automatically sending you info if you sign up at his Columbia University Web page.

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“James Hansen’s ‘Target CO2’”