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Why I must speak out about climate change

James Hansens
What do I know that would cause me, a reticent, Midwestern scientist, to get myself arrested in front
of the White House protesting? And what would you do if you knew what I know? Let's start with how
I got to this point. I was lucky to grow up at a time when it was not difficult for the child of a tenant
farmer to make his way to the state university.
0:40And I was really lucky to go to the University of Iowa where I could study under Professor James
Van Allen who built instruments for the first U.S. satellites. Professor Van Allen told me about
observations of Venus, that there was intense microwave radiation. Did it mean that Venus had an
ionosphere? Or was Venus extremely hot? The right answer, confirmed by the Soviet Venera
spacecraft, was that Venus was very hot -- 900 degrees Fahrenheit. And it was kept hot by a thick
carbon dioxide atmosphere.
1:22I was fortunate to join NASA and successfully propose an experiment to fly to Venus. Our
instrument took this image of the veil of Venus, which turned out to be a smog of sulfuric acid. But
while our instrument was being built, I became involved in calculations of the greenhouse effect here
on Earth, because we realized that our atmospheric composition was changing. Eventually, I
resigned as principal investigatoron our Venus experiment because a planet changing before our
eyes is more interesting and important.Its changes will affect all of humanity.
2:06The greenhouse effect had been well understood for more than a century. British physicist John
Tyndall,in the 1850's, made laboratory measurements of the infrared radiation, which is heat. And he
showed that gasses such as CO2 absorb heat, thus acting like a blanket warming Earth's surface.
2:28I worked with other scientists to analyze Earth climate observations. In 1981, we published an
article in Science magazine concluding that observed warming of 0.4 degrees Celsius in the prior
century was consistent with the greenhouse effect of increasing CO2. That Earth would likely warm
in the 1980's, and warming would exceed the noise level of random weather by the end of the
century. We also said that the 21st century would see shifting climate zones, creation of droughtprone regions in North America and Asia, erosion of ice sheets, rising sea levels and opening of the
fabled Northwest Passage. All of these impacts have since either happened or are now well under
way.
3:19That paper was reported on the front page of the New York Times and led to me testifying to
Congress in the 1980's, testimony in which I emphasized that global warming increases both
extremes of the Earth's water cycle. Heatwaves and droughts on one hand, directly from the
warming, but also, because a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor with its latent
energy, rainfall will become in more extreme events. There will be stronger storms and greater

flooding. Global warming hoopla became time-consuming and distracted me from doing science
-- partly because I had complained that the White House altered my testimony. So I decided to go
back to strictly doing science and leave the communication to others.
4:13By 15 years later, evidence of global warming was much stronger. Most of the things mentioned
in our 1981 paper were facts. I had the privilege to speak twice to the president's climate task
force. But energy policies continued to focus on finding more fossil fuels. By then we had two
grandchildren, Sophie and Connor. I decided that I did not want them in the future to say, "Opa
understood what was happening,but he didn't make it clear." So I decided to give a public
talk criticizing the lack of an appropriate energy policy.
4:54I gave the talk at the University of Iowa in 2004 and at the 2005 meeting of the American
Geophysical Union. This led to calls from the White House to NASA headquarters and I was told that
I could not give any talks or speak with the media without prior explicit approval by NASA
headquarters. After I informed the New York Times about these restrictions, NASA was forced to end
the censorship. But there were consequences. I had been using the first line of the NASA mission
statement, "To understand and protect the home planet," to justify my talks. Soon the first line of the
mission statement was deleted, never to appear again.
5:40Over the next few years I was drawn more and more into trying to communicate the urgency of a
change in energy policies, while still researching the physics of climate change. Let me describe the
most important conclusion from the physics -- first, from Earth's energy balance and, second, from
Earth's climate history.
6:03Adding CO2 to the air is like throwing another blanket on the bed. It reduces Earth's heat
radiation to space, so there's a temporary energy imbalance. More energy is coming in than going
out, until Earth warms up enough to again radiate to space as much energy as it absorbs from the
Sun. So the key quantity is Earth's energy imbalance. Is there more energy coming in than going
out? If so, more warming is in the pipeline. It will occur without adding any more greenhouse gasses.
6:40Now finally, we can measure Earth's energy imbalance precisely by measuring the heat
content in Earth's heat reservoirs. The biggest reservoir, the ocean, was the least well
measured, until more than 3,000 Argo floats were distributed around the world's ocean. These floats
reveal that the upper half of the ocean is gaining heat at a substantial rate. The deep ocean is also
gaining heat at a smaller rate, and energy is going into the net melting of ice all around the
planet. And the land, to depths of tens of meters, is also warming.
7:20The total energy imbalance now is about six-tenths of a watt per square meter. That may not
sound like much, but when added up over the whole world, it's enormous. It's about 20 times
greater than the rate of energy use by all of humanity. It's equivalent to exploding 400,000 Hiroshima
atomic bombs per day365 days per year. That's how much extra energy Earth is gaining each

day. This imbalance, if we want to stabilize climate, means that we must reduce CO2 from 391 ppm,
parts per million, back to 350 ppm.That is the change needed to restore energy balance and prevent
further warming.
8:11Climate change deniers argue that the Sun is the main cause of climate change. But the
measured energy imbalance occurred during the deepest solar minimum in the record, when the
Sun's energy reaching Earth was least. Yet, there was more energy coming in than going out. This
shows that the effect of the Sun's variations on climate is overwhelmed by the increasing
greenhouse gasses, mainly from burning fossil fuels.
8:40Now consider Earth's climate history. These curves for global temperature, atmospheric CO2
and sea level were derived from ocean cores and Antarctic ice cores, from ocean sediments and
snowflakes that piled up year after year over 800,000 years forming a two-mile thick ice sheet. As
you see, there's a high correlation between temperature, CO2 and sea level. Careful examination
shows that the temperature changes slightly lead the CO2 changes by a few centuries. Climate
change deniers like to use this fact to confuse and trick the public by saying, "Look, the temperature
causes CO2 to change, not vice versa."But that lag is exactly what is expected.
9:31Small changes in Earth's orbit that occur over tens to hundreds of thousands of years alter the
distribution of sunlight on Earth. When there is more sunlight at high latitudes in summer, ice sheets
melt.Shrinking ice sheets make the planet darker, so it absorbs more sunlight and becomes
warmer. A warmer ocean releases CO2, just as a warm Coca-Cola does. And more CO2 causes
more warming. So CO2, methane, and ice sheets were feedbacks that amplified global temperature
change causing these ancient climate oscillations to be huge, even though the climate change was
initiated by a very weak forcing.
10:18The important point is that these same amplifying feedbacks will occur today. The physics does
not change. As Earth warms, now because of extra CO2 we put in the atmosphere, ice will melt, and
CO2 and methane will be released by warming ocean and melting permafrost. While we can't say
exactly how fast these amplifying feedbacks will occur, it is certain they will occur, unless we stop the
warming. There is evidence that feedbacks are already beginning. Precise measurements by
GRACE, the gravity satellite,reveal that both Greenland and Antarctica are now losing mass, several
hundred cubic kilometers per year. And the rate has accelerated since the measurements
began nine years ago. Methane is also beginning to escape from the permafrost.
11:17What sea level rise can we look forward to? The last time CO2 was 390 ppm, today's
value, sea level was higher by at least 15 meters, 50 feet. Where you are sitting now would be under
water. Most estimates are that, this century, we will get at least one meter. I think it will be more if we
keep burning fossil fuels,perhaps even five meters, which is 18 feet, this century or shortly thereafter.

11:50The important point is that we will have started a process that is out of humanity's control. Ice
sheets would continue to disintegrate for centuries. There would be no stable shoreline. The
economic consequences are almost unthinkable. Hundreds of New Orleans-like devastations around
the world.What may be more reprehensible, if climate denial continues, is extermination of
species. The monarch butterfly could be one of the 20 to 50 percent of all species that the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates will be ticketed for extinction by the end of the
century if we stay on business-as-usual fossil fuel use.
12:36Global warming is already affecting people. The Texas, Oklahoma, Mexico heatwave and
drought last year, Moscow the year before and Europe in 2003, were all exceptional events, more
than three standard deviations outside the norm. Fifty years ago, such anomalies covered only twoto three-tenths of one percent of the land area. In recent years, because of global warming, they now
cover about 10 percent --an increase by a factor of 25 to 50. So we can say with a high degree of
confidence that the severe Texas and Moscow heatwaves were not natural; they were caused by
global warming. An important impact, if global warming continues, will be on the breadbasket of our
nation and the world, the Midwest and Great Plains, which are expected to become prone to extreme
droughts, worse than the Dust Bowl, within just a few decades, if we let global warming continue.
13:42How did I get dragged deeper and deeper into an attempt to communicate, giving talks in 10
countries, getting arrested, burning up the vacation time that I had accumulated over 30 years? More
grandchildren helped me along. Jake is a super-positive, enthusiastic boy. Here at age two and a half
years, he thinks he can protect his two and a half-day-old little sister. It would be immoral to leave
these young peoplewith a climate system spiraling out of control.
14:19Now the tragedy about climate change is that we can solve it with a simple, honest approach of
a gradually rising carbon fee collected from fossil fuel companies and distributed 100 percent
electronicallyevery month to all legal residents on a per capita basis, with the government not
keeping one dime. Most people would get more in the monthly dividend than they'd pay in increased
prices. This fee and dividendwould stimulate the economy and innovations, creating millions of
jobs. It is the principal requirement for moving us rapidly to a clean energy future.
15:03Several top economists are coauthors on this proposition. Jim DiPeso of Republicans for
Environmental Protection describes it thusly: "Transparent. Market-based. Does not enlarge
government. Leaves energy decisions to individual choices. Sounds like a conservative climate
plan."
15:24But instead of placing a rising fee on carbon emissions to make fossil fuels pay their true cost
to society,our governments are forcing the public to subsidize fossil fuels by 400 to 500 billion
dollars per year worldwide, thus encouraging extraction of every fossil fuel -- mountaintop
removal, longwall mining, fracking, tar sands, tar shale, deep ocean Arctic drilling. This path, if
continued, guarantees that we will pass tipping points leading to ice sheet disintegration that will

accelerate out of control of future generations. A large fraction of species will be committed to
extinction. And increasing intensity of droughts and floods will severely impact breadbaskets of the
world, causing massive famines and economic decline. Imagine a giant asteroid on a direct collision
course with Earth.
16:29That is the equivalent of what we face now. Yet, we dither, taking no action to divert the
asteroid, even though the longer we wait, the more difficult and expensive it becomes. If we had
started in 2005, it would have required emission reductions of three percent per year to restore
planetary energy balanceand stabilize climate this century. If we start next year, it is six percent per
year. If we wait 10 years, it is 15 percent per year -- extremely difficult and expensive, perhaps
impossible. But we aren't even starting.
17:10So now you know what I know that is moving me to sound this alarm. Clearly, I haven't gotten
this message across. The science is clear. I need your help to communicate the gravity and the
urgency of this situation and its solutions more effectively. We owe it to our children and
grandchildren.
17:34Thank you.
17:36(Applause)

Climate Controversy: Does the 2


Degree Goal Need to Go?
By Stephanie Pappas, Live Science Contributor | October 01, 2014 01:00pm ET

It's time to ditch the goal of keeping Earth's warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6
degrees Fahrenheit), researchers argue in a new opinion piece a suggestion likely to
receive pushback from many in the climate science and policy community.
In 2009, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, international negotiators
drew a line in the sand: Humanity must not let the planet get hotter, on average, than 2
degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. This number has been the focal point of
international agreements and negotiations ever since, but it has also been controversial.
Former NASA climate scientist James Hansen, who retired from the agency in order to
pursue climate change activism, has long argued that2 degrees of warming is too much,
and will still lead to catastrophic consequences. [8 Ways Global Warming is Already
Changing the World]
Now, David Victor, a professor of international relations at the University of California,
San Diego, and Charles Kennel, an atmospheric scientist at the Scripps Institution of
Oceanography, in La Jolla, California, want to get rid of the 2-degree goal, too, but for
different reasons. The goal is unobtainable and scientifically oversimiplified, Victor and
Kennel wrote in an opinion piece published today (Oct. 1) in the journal Nature.
"This has been part of this delusion that has happened in the climate policy
community for the last 10 to 15 years, where people have been able to pretend that
what they are doing is going to make an impact," Victor told Live Science.
2 degrees
The argument against the 2-degree goal is twofold. First, Victor said, "It's become very
clear to me over the last few years that this goal is not achievable."
Victor isn't alone in this view. In February, for example, researchers from the Union of
Concerned Scientists wrote in the journal Nature Climate Change that the time has
come to acknowledge that the world won't manage to keep warming below 2 degrees.

Meeting the goal is technically possible, Victor said, but would require a massive,
coordinated international effort, plus the immediate availability of technology that isn't
yet ready for prime time.
The goal also oversimplifies the complexity of the climate system, Victor and Kennel
argue. There is no question that carbon dioxide (CO2) warms the atmosphere, trapping
heat near the surface of Earth in the same way a glass windshield bakes the interior of
a truck parked in the sun. But the climate is complicated. Some heat gets absorbed by
the ocean. Natural variability means that the rise in temperatures is not even, but occurs
in fits and starts. High latitudes are more sensitive than the rest of the planet, which
explains why the Arctic is melting rapidlyeven as the average global temperature has
remained fairly stable since 1998, rising less quickly than in the years before.
"Most of the energy is going into the oceans, so it is not being measured as temperature
in the air," Victor said. [Top 10 Surprising Results of Global Warming]
To better capture this complexity and to create more effective policies to deal with
ongoing carbon emissions Victor and Kennel suggest a switch from the single 2degree goal to a set of Earth "vital signs" that will better assess the planet's health.
Among these, they recommend considering concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere,
which recently hit 400 parts per million (ppm); ocean temperatures, which are measured
with a network of automatic submersibles; high-latitude temperatures; and extreme
events. Most of these are already being monitored, Victor said, with the exception of
extreme events. It can be difficult to link particular weather events to overall climate
change, because of natural variability, but more researchers are working to do so.
A controversial plan
A shift away from 2 degrees would be complex, Victor said, but multiple measures are
the norm in policy circles. The U.N.'s Millennium Development goals, for example, relied
on eight economic indicators.
"The public does this all the time in other areas, whether it is crime policy or urban
development or infrastructure spending," Victor said. But he acknowledged that the
suggestion is likely to be controversial.
Interviews with experts contacted in advance of the paper's publication suggest he's
right.

"I wish I could say more supportive things about the piece, but I'm afraid it is rather
misguided." The comment to Live Science came from Michael Mann, a climate scientist
at Pennsylvania State University, famous for his "hockey stick" graph showing rising
global temperatures.
Mann argued that the "pause" in global temperature increases over the past 16 years is
a manifestation of short-term variability, a problem that would plague any measurement
of the climate system, including Victor and Kennel's alternatives. Other complexities
make the vital-signs index too simplistic, Mann said. Small particles called aerosols can
cool the atmosphere, while other greenhouse gases, such as methane, can warm it
more than carbon dioxide. [Earth in the Balance: 7 Crucial Tipping Points]
"These are critical components in any assessment of future climate change," Mann
said. "There are fundamental reasons that experts in this field havent proposed such a
simplistic metric for climate stabilization."
Most of all, the suggestion is "dangerous," Mann said, because it would give the public
and policymakers an excuse to kick the can down the road on climate change.
"Its possible that we will fail to stabilize temperatures below 2 [degrees] C warming
even given concerted efforts to lower our carbon emissions, but simply discarding this
goal would make failure almost certain," he said.
The members of the public are also unlikely to connect with Earth's "vital signs" any
more than they do to the notion of 2 degrees of warming, said Anthony Leiserowitz,
director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, who was also not
involved in the original op-ed.
"Most of the public don't know or understand the 2-degree goal or target," Leiserowitz
said. "Most of them have never heard of it and don't know anything about it."
Nor are people any more informed on metrics such as the concentration of carbon
dioxide in the atmosphere. In a recent study, Leiserowitz and his colleagues surveyed
Americans on carbon dioxide concentrations. Only 7 percent knew that it was 390 ppm
at the time (preindustrial levels were 280 ppm), and "I would guess a fair number of
those were guessing," Leiserowitz said.
Leiserowitz said he agrees that measurements of climate change need to be more
varied, particularly because the 2-degree goal gives the impression that everything will
be fine until then, after which the planet becomes a complete disaster zone. In fact, he

said, the change is gradual, with more and more impacts for every fraction of a degree
of warming. But to engage the public, scientific measurements aren't likely to do the
trick.
"Lives lost, illnesses and injuries caused, dollars lost to a variety of impacts that climate
change is going to have, species lost at least in part due to climate change those are
the indicators that most people in the general public are going to be the most interested
to know about, not the concentrations," Leiserowitz said.