Global Warming: Warning the Public is Nothing New

A lot of people think warnings about global warming started in the late 1980s when Dr. James Hansen first addressed Congress about the threats to our planet. But it goes back much further than that—by at least another thirty years in fact!

This clip is from a well known educational documentary entitled “Unchained Goddess” that some of you may have seen when you were in school. It was produced by Frank Capra (“It’s a Wonderful Life”—that Frank Capra!) for Bell Laboratories, specifically for a television show they had on the air back then called “The Bell Telephone Hour.” It was so well done and so well received that it was shown in science classrooms for decades afterwards.

So what? Well it helps show that our scientists have known for generations that our emissions are a threat to our planet. It was at this same time that Keeling and Revelle started to measure carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere to accurately measure the levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, only to document a steady climb of about two parts per million annually.

Despite what is now very old information, politicians and much of the the public have continued to ignore the ramifications of staying the course with business as usual. Hopefully it won’t take another 50+ years before the world will listen enough to actually make the changes needed to stop this ever-worsening trend.

Here’s a brief clip that illustrates what we really have known for a very long time.

Sea Level Rise: It's Worse Than We Thought

“This is substantially more persuasive than anything previously published about just how dangerous 2°C will be.”
—James Hansen

From bad to worse. New research suggests that even if we limit global warming to two degrees Celsius, it won’t stop a devastating rise in sea level. It all boils down—no pun intended—to a positive feedback loop. As freshwater from land-based sources of ice melt into our oceans, it accelerates melting even further because the freshwater is able to trap warmer sea water, melting more ice in the process. The data show this isn’t just conjecture: it’s already happening.

It will be interesting to see what the scientific community thinks of the study which has yet to be peer-reviewed. However, Michael Mann who is the director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University stated the following:

Hansen and colleagues make a plausible case that even 2°C planetary warming (something we commit to in just a few years given business as usual fossil fuel burning) could indeed be very bad. On that basis alone, the article serves as a sobering wake-up call to those who still dispute the threat posed by our ongoing burning of fossil fuels.

With the United Nations’ climate talks in Paris this coming December, Hansen is hoping that world leaders will appreciate the significance of even trying to reach a two degree Celsius cap. The paper puts it this way:

High emissions will make multi-meter sea level rise practically unavoidable and likely to occur this century. It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization.

What’s the solution if we hope to avert such disaster? We need to cut our emissions by three percent each and every year. Not everyone is optimistic that this year’s meeting in Paris will achieve two degrees Celsius let alone something more aggressive. But when push comes to shove and the evidence becomes irrefutable to even the greatest doubters among us, perhaps then we’ll achieve some real change.


What Planet Are We Leaving To Our Grandchildren?

“It is crucial for all of us, especially young people, to get involved. This book, I hope, has provided some assistance in understanding what policies we need to be fighting for—and why this will be the most urgent fight of our lives. It is our last chance.”
—James Hansen

Today is the third Monday in February. In Canada we call it Family Day, the first long weekend of the year. I’ve made sure we had family events every day of the weekend which included playing card games with the kids and seeing a movie with my Dad. But today I’m feeling a bit more reflective: I’m thinking about my family’s future generations: the children that my children will have. My grandchildren. And then of course I start to think about the planet my grandchildren will live in.

Of course, I’m not the only person who has expressed concerns about the planet our grandchildren will inherit. In fact, someone’s even written a book about his concerns. Dr. James Hansen is one of the most respected climatologists on Earth so his words have significance. He was among the first to bring attention about the threats posed from greenhouse gas emissions to a U.S. Senate committee back in 1988. And although he would much prefer to just continue to work as a scientist rather than an activist or an advocate, he’s been affected by what he sees around him. It’s hard to sit idly by when you see the harm happening before your eyes and you think about what your children and grandchildren are going to face. As Hansen explains in his book, he didn’t want to ever be accused by younger members of his family that he didn’t speak out when he knew the extent of the problem better than almost anyone.

Storms of My Grandchildren” is Hansen’s first and only book.  Continue reading

James Hansen Continues to Fight the Fight

In keeping with this week’s theme, I think I should round it out with another one of my science heroes who have helped shape my attitudes toward global warming and our planet. James Hansen was the first climatologist to take this issue on seriously, talking to government officials about the situation more than a quarter of a century ago.

This clip is longer than the ones I usually show, but it’s an important message and helps to explain why someone like Dr. Hansen continues to fight this fight.

How Can Governments Tackle Global Warming?

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”
—George Bernard Shaw

Often people ask what measures governments and world leaders can take to tackle our emissions. After all, as a civilization our history for the last 12,000 years or so has been one of moving forward with nonstop progress: progress in society, progress in technology, and progress in scientific understanding.

So keeping that in mind, setting limits on our greenhouse gas emissions as the only measure isn’t a very realistic (read: practical) way to deal with the problem of global warming and climate change because it doesn’t allow us to progress and advance as a species, and doesn’t take the basic framework of society (read: politics and economics) into account.

To that end, the most obvious area where we can move forward and solve this problem at the same time is through research and development into areas that will get us off of our addiction to fossil fuels. presently the cheapest and easiest source of energy for the planet, albeit not the healthiest.

So how do you possibly do that? How do you encourage research, move forward in technology, all the while working within the economic and political framework our planet’s governments have set up? Continue reading