Hansen on climate change

Written By: - Date published: 8:04 am, June 4th, 2011 - 36 comments
Categories: activism, climate change, International - Tags:

Visionary climate change scientist James Hansen recently toured New Zealand, giving several public lectures. I’m told that on at least two University campuses the audiences were the largest ever seen for a talk, with Hansen’s presentation broadcast to about 1000 people in several different lecture rooms simultaneously. In short, crowds were huge. Not that you’d know it from the media attention mind you. Coverage was sporadic at best. I guess a world authority speaking to record audiences on the greatest challenge facing our civilisation isn’t the right kind of news then. Hmmmm.

The University of Otago has put a podcast of Hansen’s talk on line (bravo!). So if you have some time to spare on long (and wet?) weekend, do yourself a favour and find an hour to watch it. After introductions Hansen starts at about 5:15 in the clip:

http://www.otago.ac.nz/news/itunesu/podcasts/otago018640.mp4

Right out of the gate Hansen sets climate change as a moral issue of intergenerational injustice. He calls on us to force our governments to protect the future of young people, and future generations.

As anyone who is not wilfully blind to the evidence knows, we have a crisis on our hands. Hansen highlights the gulf between what the scientists know, and the general level of public understanding. Our climate has a lot of inertia, there is already significant warming “in the pipeline”, and several possible tipping points (where runaway effects become self reinforcing) are in play. Hansen notes that humans are 10,000 times more significant than current natural sources of C02. In other words, it is humanity that is driving the future climate.

Focusing on the important limit of 350ppm C02 in the atmosphere (see 350.org), Hansen stressed that we have to leave the coal in the ground. Specifically, in New Zealand, we must not mine the extensive lignite reserves in Southland. (That call at least got some media attention, and see related here and here.)

On the current state of the global response, Hansen discusses the huge gap between our rhetoric and our actions, that the “greenwash” / disinformation campaign is winning, and the failures of Kyoto and Copenhagen. As a solution (45:05 in the clip) Hansen favours a simple universal price on carbon emissions (oil gas and coal at first point of sale). This carbon tax should be paid directly and equally to every member of the public to compensate for rising energy costs and so on. In this way alternative energy sources will become cheaper than fossil fuels – Hansen is strongly in favour of letting the marketplace make the decisions.

Closing on notes of optimism (54:00), Hansen stresses that China “gets it”, and is making enormous investment in carbon-free energy. He also recommends that citizens adopt a legal approach, using the judiciary to force governments to action (57:10). The atmosphere is a public trust asset, which government has a “fiduciary obligation” to manage. Fascinating stuff.

One interesting, and depressing factoid to emerge from the post-talk questions, was Hansen’s reaction to his meeting with Nick Smith, our Minister for Environment and Climate Change. That, Hansen said, was “a very unpleasant discussion” (1:14:20). Yeah, that sounds like Nick Smith all right – makes me so proud to be a New Zealander.

Anyway, that’s my quick summary, but as I said, do yourself a favour and watch the whole talk. Tell your friends. Unless we the public demand action from our politicians, our kids are pretty much screwed.

36 comments on “Hansen on climate change”

  1. Saturday, 14 May 2011

    I Listened to Hansen’s interview with Kim Hill [Details] . Here are a few notes.

    He gave an excellent scientific outline of climate change.

    He is pro carbon tax, ………. but did not consider the problems.

    Climate change is the moral issue of the 21st century. ………………. No, it is part of a big picture including overpopulation, water and food shortages, end of oil, species extinction due to settlement, war. Much of that is under way and the storm will break by 2030 so he is dodging the big question.

    NZ greenhouse gas emissions went up by 20%. ………….Energy greenhouse gas emissions went up by 70%.

    NZ could become carbon neutral.NZ has enormous potential. ………………………Kim Hill knew better than that. He does not know, he is another oversees expert taking on establishment crap.

    Economic growth is possible. Need to have economic incentives to get change……………………….. He is miles from recognising that economic growth must stop.

    Just 5% per year reduction will do the job. ……………………… Pull the other leg.

    His talk of efficiency had no numbers.

    China has been largely successful in limiting its population. ……………………. He is far from recognising the overpopulation problem NOW.

    Have to be optimistic. ………………………….. The usual cop-out.

    I was not impressed. I will raise the big question (just part of a storm we are in now) if possible at his talk. I hope others will speak out – on NZ 70% increase in energy emissions for example.

    Regards, John

    From the IEA
    “I am very worried. This is the worst news on emissions,” Birol told the Guardian. “It is becoming extremely challenging to remain below 2 degrees. The prospect is getting bleaker. That is what the numbers say.”

    Me now

    CO2 hangs around for about 1,000 years so at best (if we stop adding 2 ppm per year), we will see 350 ppm in about 900 years
    IT IS ALL BULLSHIT we are way pasted the point of no return, there is NOTHING we can do to reverse what is set in motion, we are locked into 2 – 3.5 (at best) degree temp rise before 2050, well the planet is, we will be long gone by then …. but fuckwit humans will not listen, they will keep pumping out victims (more humans) until the very end, as fucking is about all we are capable of.
    The only ‘nice’ way I see out of this is suicide.

    It is The End Of The World As We Know It http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4Czw3Y_ARE&feature=channel_video_title

    But I feel fine 😉

    • http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/may/29/carbon-emissions-nuclearpower
      Worst ever carbon emissions leave climate on the brink

      Greenhouse gas emissions increased by a record amount last year, to the highest carbon output in history, putting hopes of holding global warming to safe levels all but out of reach, according to unpublished estimates from the International Energy Agency.

      The shock rise means the goal of preventing a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius – which scientists say is the threshold for potentially “dangerous climate change” – is likely to be just “a nice Utopia”, according to Fatih Birol, chief economist of the IEA. It also shows the most serious global recession for 80 years has had only a minimal effect on emissions, contrary to some predictions.

      Last year, a record 30.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide poured into the atmosphere, mainly from burning fossil fuel – a rise of 1.6Gt on 2009, according to estimates from the IEA regarded as the gold standard for emissions data.

      Me-
      As I have been saying for years humans will eat or burn everything on this rock, until it looks like one.;)

      Hale the earth worm, it has far more importance than human trash.

      Quote –
      “Last week a reporter called to ask me if I had really said that earth worms are more important than people. I answered that yes I had. He then asked how I could justify such a statement.

      “Simple,” I answered. “Earthworms can live on the planet without people. We cannot live on the planet without earthworms thus from an ecological point of view, earthworms are more important than people.”
      Captain Paul Watson http://oilcrash.com/articles/earthday.htm

      • Draco T Bastard 1.1.1

        Unless over-population is addressed, there is absolutely no way of slowing down global greenhouse gas emissions.

        But how do you do that within the context of economic systems that require larger and larger numbers to perform the essential task of consuming products?

        This. Capitalism absolutely requires increasing market size because the only way to pay the interest on the loans is to sell more and the only way to do that is to increase the number of people.

    • ianmac 1.2

      Yesterday Micky Savage pointed out Mr Key’s approach to burning fossil fuels. “Prime Minister John Key has no objections to lignite being dug up and turned into briquettes near Mataura and thinks a balance can be struck between environmental impact and economic development. ………“At the moment companies like Solid Energy are growth companies and we want them to expand in areas like lignite conversion,” Mr Key said.

      How does that measure up after watching the “It is The End Of The World As We Know It” interview? The burning of fossil fuels is critical.
      I expect that Mr Key would disagree with that and dismiss the science behind it as just one man’s opinion. Economy at all costs even your life and those of your kids and grandkids.

  2. Nick K 2

    If ever anyone wanted a dictionary definition of Chicken Littles they need only come to this post and the first comment by Robert.

    Imagine someone saying that the government holds the atmosphere in trust for the public. That is really barmy stuff. No wonder Nick Smith gave him short shrift – he deserved it.

    • And if anyone wants to understand the thinking behind why we are so fucked they only need to read your comment Nick.

      • Robert Atack 2.1.1

        I feel like an Auschwitz inmate, except everyone else thinks they are in a holiday camp, and I am the only one that has worked out what the chimneys are for.

    • John D 2.2

      Is the card guy having the weekend off?

    • Draco T Bastard 2.3

      So tell me Nick K, what will you do when the reality that is Climate Change and Peak Oil hit in the next few years? Still going to do your best to deny it then? or are you going to deny that you ever denied that such things could happen? Given that you’re a RWNJ that takes no responsibility for your actions I’d guess that it’ll be the latter.

  3. lefty 3

    The moment he sees the market as being able to provide the solution he becomes part of the problem.

  4. Moist von lipwig 4

    Would this be the same James Hansen that predicted in 1986, that within 15 years, temperatures will be hotter than the past 100,000 years, and 25 metre rises in sea level, tropical temperatures in England, and widespread crop failures would follow?

    [lprent: Pretty sure that he did not.]

    [MvL is repeating this stuff, where predictions from 1982 and 1986 data are spun in the most alarmist possible way, see also my next comment. — r0b]

    • r0b 4.1

      Yup.  Hansen was miles ahead of most commentators in understanding what was coming.  

      The catastrophic stuff you cite Hansen predicted for 2050 or later.  His predictions from 1986 data may not have been perfect, but now in 2011 we know that they were mostly correct.

      Hansen saw all this in 1986 – that’s why he deserves the label of visionary.

      • lprent 4.1.1

        That’s what I thought. Hansen’s stuff is reasonable, if at the high end of the projections (which I think are low), but the idiot author of that site is busy reading stuff into them. The searise by the end of the century at the end is just a classic lie made up by the idiot. Hansen never said it would be there by the end of the century. It would take some time to get to that level under the tempature conditions outlined.

        Of course the even bigger limpwit a few comments up, then proceeded to muddle up even the idiots bull to come up with a new lie. Sounds like a ACToid from the style.

        • Gareth 4.1.1.1

          If you want to know the scientific consensus on global warming, read the reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But if you want to know what the consensus will be ten years from now, read Jim Hansen’s work.

          Dr. Chuck Kutscher, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, quoted by Jason Box.

          I have another Hansen update in the works, but the more scientifically inclined might enjoy my interview with Hansen for The Climate Show here (starts at about 22 mins) in the meantime.

          • r0b 4.1.1.1.1

            Thanks Graeth.

          • Afewknowthetruth 4.1.1.1.2

            It is worth noting that the UNIPCC reports are always several years behind the actual science because of the time delay in collecting and analysing data, and discussing it. And UNIPCC reports always understate the rate of warming, due to political interference. UNIPCC cannot annnounce ‘numerous major cities will under water in a matter of decades’ or ‘positive feedbacks could result in temperatures 2 to 5oC above those p[redicted by non-feedback models.within decades’.

            As many of us know, a lot of natural systems do not follow nice straight line projections, but tend towards exponential.

            Presumably the peaking of oil extraction will result in ever greater attempts use of low quality coal, with the consequent surge in emissions above and beyond that the IEA reported recently – a new recond of 30.6 billion tonnes CO2 added to the atmoshphere in the midst of the biggest downturn since the Great Depression. That’s a clear indication of where we are headed.

            As Robert noted, humans will consume or burn everything they can get their hands on, and keep doing it until they can’t. That’s exactly what the economic-political system requires them to do. Growth at any cost… incluing the habitability of the planet we live on.

            And then there’s acidicfication of the oceanes. Acidified oceans = dead planet.

            And we’ve only got four times as much plastic as plankton in the Pacific gyres. I’m sure we can do a lot better job of putting plastic into the oceans and killing off the plankton than we are at the moment.

  5. Julian Haworth 5

    I see Key endorsed a Southland lignite briquette factory this week

  6. Afewknowthetruth 6

    Keeling rang the alarm bell in the early 1960s, and Arrhenius rang the alarm bell in 1896. Tyndall had most of it worked out in 1859.

    How dare Hansen attempt to interfere with the profitability of global corporations and the international banksters that own them. Shame on him, He should be a good slave to the system like Nick K, and never question the banksters Ponzi scheme or the desperation attempts to prop it up that we are witnessing.

    After all, climate-related disasters are only three times as frequent now as they were in the 1980s. No worries. Torandoes in Massachusets -they’ve probaly got too many houses anyway. Just like Joplin. Who needs a habitable planet to live on when you’ve got money?

    Anyway, as everyone knows, you should never listen to alarms. They go off all the time for no reason. If you hear a fire alarm, carry on with whatever you are doing -watching tv, eating, sleeping, digging up coal, boring holes in the earth. Always wait until you can actually see the paint on door turning black before even thinking about planning your escape.

    Or in the case of BP Texas, Deepwater Horizon, Pike River, Fukishima etc, ignore all the warnings and hope the explosion doesn’t occur on your shift.

    • “ignore all the warnings and hope the explosion doesn’t occur on your shift.”

      Just like Labour, they managed to squeeze out just in time, hence the reason they lost the last election, they sucked Nation in big time, … and I’m sure they don’t want to be on the treasury benches this next time round, hence the charismatic leader.

      Now which shell did I but that pea under?

      • locus 6.1.1

        Why do you (AFKTT and RA) bother to air your views if you believe (know?) that it’s too late for humankind? It seems a bizarre pleasure to say “I told you so” before it’s too late to have the chance. Where is your hatred of humans taking you? I am sure you are aware of how much CO2 is generated in the production, transportation and use of computers, and to some degree this blog is contributing to the problem. Do you think that the way you express your views is helping and on balance the related CO2 output doesn’t it matter?

        • RedLogix 6.1.1.1

          @locus,

          If you had been as passionately and actively engaged on this topic for as long as Robert and AFKTT have been… you too might be as bitterly disillusioned as they are.

          The fact is that humanity has allowed itself to be disasterously sidetracked on the consequences of unlimited population growth, carbon emmissions and fossil fuel consumption. It will have bad consequences. Consequences that could have been largely mitigated if we had taken action a decade or so ago when this issue first came to the mass public conciousness.

          When you truly understand, and sincerely care… then you get hurt. Personally I cope by hoping against hope. It’s probably a fool’s delusion on my part, but it gets me through the days. But ask my partner… she sees what it is like on the days when the dark shows through the cracks. It’s so very tempting to dismiss most of humanity as contemptible morons; but I also understand that such a feeling (and that’s all it is) achieves nothing.

          So I go back to rose-tinted optimism….

          • locus 6.1.1.1.1

            Thanks RedLogix, active engagement on climate change means facing up to some aggressively entrenched views, and I didn’t realise AFKTT and Robert have been in the thick of this for such a long time. I hope they realise that there are many, many people who are are keeping up the pressure and many who are combating this from within and behind the scenes. We will keep using fossil fuels until they are all mined and burnt, but whatever the consequences, the driving force that makes us all strive to survive and make things better will prevail.

            • Afewknowthetruth 6.1.1.1.1.1

              Just so you know, I have been ‘screaming at the top of my voice’ since 1999 on the topic of emissions and positive feedbacks, have made dozens of submissions to councils, government and other forums, have four pubished books on energy and the environment, plus DVDs.

              And most of the time the vital information I presented was greeted with apathy and denial. I made a major presentation to my local council just a few days ago, pointing out their continuous failure to address any of the factors that will determine the future in their so-called 10 year plan. They appear to not care about their own children’s/grandchildren’s futures, and ignored everythings I said. Some are still mocking. And most people are totally oblivious, I’m afraid.

              Robert and I have spent a decade attempting to minimise the suffering to come with little effect, whilst most official bodies have been busy exacerbating all our dilemmas, thereby increasing future suffering enormously.

              The comments I now make acknowledge that most people are scientifically illiterate and ‘don’t want to know’, whilst our so called leaders are simply local agents of the global corporations and money-lenders who are running the show. Since I have grandchildren, I am morally obliged to keep speaking the truth for their sakes, even though I suspect the battle is already lost. I hope against hope that I may be wrong about the positive feedbacks.

              If you are genuinely interested in the NZ scene, I suggest you spend a few hours checking out what is on the http://www.oilcrash.com website. And if you have a good stomach for the truth, visit Nature Bats Last. The articles Extinction Event and This Must Be Nightmare may provide you with a new perspective.

              • weka

                I also think it’s likely that it’s too late to do much about CC, not least because the political and public will is lacking to do anything beyond tinkering.
                 
                I don’t think that is because humans are  morons. I think it’s because we’re not adapted psychologically to manage such massively traumatic issues. How do most people cope with the reality that the lives of their grandchildren and possible children are going to involve trauma and suffering? They just don’t believe it. Denial may be bad for the species, but it’s very useful for short and medium term survival. I’m not saying this is good or right.
                 
                Myself, I cope by being involved in proactive preparation. I also find it helps alot not to expose myself to too much bad news but that’s a personal thing. It’s good that people are still trying to wake other people up. I’m in two minds about your tactics though.

        • Draco T Bastard 6.1.1.2

          Generally speaking, I think it’s too late to change the consequences of our past actions. Climate Change will happen and it won’t be pretty. Peak Oil already has happened and that change alone will bring about catastrophe as the fuel needed to ship food around the globe decreases.

          But all that doesn’t mean that I think there is nothing to be done. We need to prepare for what is coming and not go on as if Business as Usual will stay with us. Continuing with the Business as Usual approach will cause even more suffering than what is already in the pipeline and that means trying to get people to change their views, their beliefs about how the world works and to get people to start to change and to demand plans for those changes both from themselves and from government.

  7. Hence the reason I changed my middle name back in 2000 ish to Thankyoufornotbreeding, because I saw no way out and the only way to reduce suffering was not to ad sufferers ……….. since early 1999 to about 2009 I gave it my best ‘uneducated’ shot, my frailer was realizing to late that people did not want to know, and the so called ‘leaders’ know and understand this, so they just play the game. IE the green party voting pro Kiwi Saver, and producing the most babies (per capita) over the term they have been in parliament.
    So I retired a bit better educated as to the pointlessness of it all. It is not my fault, I didn’t ask to be borne, I just tried to make the best of a fucked situation. http://oilcrash.com/articles/struggle.htm
    So good on the newbies, If only we had the luxury of time, for you guys to work out how pointless it all is.
    If the Greeds hit 1% this time round, maybe I will feel someone was listening, after all they have been part of the problem from day one.

    • John D 7.1

      So remind me again, why are we planning to rebuild Christchurch?

      • Afewknowthetruth 7.1.1

        Why rebuild Christchurch [in the wrong place]?

        Because the dominant culture demands perpetual economic growth [on a finite planet] in order to maintain the bankers’ Ponzi scheme, even if only for few more months. And that requires ever greater consumption of resources. Also because ‘Disaster Capitalism’ is particularly ‘good for the economy’.

        In the monetarist system we currently endure the only factor of importance is how quickly we consume the planet we live on; there are no inlet or outlet portals for factors that actually relate to life.

        Until the ‘ignorant masses’ wake up to this, everything that actually matters must inevitably get worse at an accelerating rate.

        The exceedingly low level of interest in this article is a sure sign the ‘ignorant masses’ will not wake up this side of apocalypse.

  8. Kevin Campbell 8

    I read somewhere that he is a railway engineer by trade.

  9. Maurice Juddd 9

    From: Maurice

    I think we need to start continue focusing on the solution side. Yes I know it is going to be tough.

    We need to work on population, reducing per capita affluence, and the technology aspects all together. The Princton Wedge approach makes sense to me, technology side and can be extended to the other aspects. I attended one of the Hansen talks and I think he is correct. A straight carbon fee makes sense, certainly better than an emissions trading scheme that leaves the key emitters out for decades; and he had a diplomatically blunt reply to a denier. The sooner the externalities are in the market price of just about everything the better.

    Until the macro leadership catches up to what many of us already accept (world wide not just nationally), we all need to do what we can. My hope is that we will see a crystallization from the grass roots, the pieces are being put in place up-to and including required steady state economic approaches. Tipping points can be positive too.

    Another source of positive approaches is the UN-IPCC third working group which looked to answer the question, “What can we do?” The answer is “plenty”. It is worth looking at the summary and individual chapters for your own industries, including the chapter on NZ and Australia. (http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg3/en/contents.html)

    Last year the signs-of-change e-conference had plenty of good ideas too. Another source of positive ideas is a book “Geography of Hope (Chris Turner)”.

    The point is, we need to talk about the opportunities and solutions at every opportunity.

    • Kevin Campbell 9.1

      Do it in your country and on your own planet. In other words fuck off and do it.

  10. John D 10

    Maybe someone would like to comment on Mark Lynas’s observations:

    http://www.marklynas.org/2011/06/questions-the-ipcc-must-now-urgently-answer/

    Quote:

    Well, if the ‘deniers’ are the only ones standing up for the integrity of the scientific process, and the independence of the IPCC, then I too am a ‘denier’.

    • Draco T Bastard 10.1

      He has some valid points. It certainly looks like corruption on the part of the Exxon Mobil staffer. Gets himself into a high position on the IPCC and then uses that position to promote the interests of Big Oil.

    • RedLogix 10.2

      Nah… he’s falling into the old trap that says the bad guys and good guys should get equal time. The bad guys are the fossil fuel industry and they’ve had their way for a decade or more.

      If you are working in the renewable’s energy sector you are one of the good guys and drawing and equivalence between them and the fossil fuel industry, as is done in the first para is a classic trap.

      • John D 10.2.1

        You guys really do need to read a bit more into this.

        It has nothing whatsoever to do with “Big Oil” of Exxon.
        It has everything to do with the corruption within Greenpeace, IPCC and the renewable energy sector.

        Steve McIntyre’s blog post covers it (it was Lynas, of “Six Degrees” fame, that was singing the praises of McIntyre).

        http://climateaudit.org/2011/06/14/ipcc-wg3-and-the-greenpeace-karaoke/

        Now, for you folk of The Left, you presumably like to stick up for the little people, yes?

        This absolutely stinks of corporate corruption, and it is only going to hurt those “little people” (though escalating fuel costs, etc)

        I am in no way being an apologist for the FF industry. But at some stage there has to be some acknowledgement that all is not well in the state of Denmark (as they say)

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