Climate & Energy

Twenty years later

The new testimony before Congress

The following is a guest post from climate scientist James Hansen, taken from his briefing to the House Select Committee on Energy Independence & Global Warming. ----- My presentation today is exactly 20 years after my June 23, 1988 testimony to Congress, which alerted the public that global warming was underway. There are striking similarities between then and now, but one big difference. Again a wide gap has developed between what is understood about global warming by the relevant scientific community and what is known by policymakers and the public. Now, as then, frank assessment of scientific data yields conclusions that are shocking to the body politic. Now, as then, I can assert that these conclusions have a certainty exceeding 99 percent. The difference is that now we have used up all slack in the schedule for actions needed to defuse the global warming time bomb. The next president and Congress must define a course next year in which the United States exerts leadership commensurate with our responsibility for the present dangerous situation. Otherwise it will become impractical to constrain atmospheric carbon dioxide, the greenhouse-gas produced in burning fossil fuels, to a level that prevents the climate system from passing tipping points that lead to disastrous climate changes that spiral dynamically out of humanity's control. Changes needed to preserve creation, the planet on which civilization developed, are clear. But the changes have been blocked by special interests, focused on short-term profits, who hold sway in Washington and other capitals. I argue that a path yielding energy independence and a healthier environment is, barely, still possible. It requires a transformative change of direction in Washington in the next year. --- On 23 June 1988 I testified to a hearing, chaired by Sen. Tim Wirth (D-Colo.), that the Earth had entered a long-term warming trend and that human-made greenhouse-gases almost surely were responsible. I noted that global warming enhanced both extremes of the water cycle, meaning stronger droughts and forest fires, on the one hand, but also heavier rains and floods. My testimony two decades ago was greeted with skepticism. But while skepticism is the lifeblood of science, it can confuse the public. As scientists examine a topic from all perspectives, it may appear that nothing is known with confidence. But from such broad open-minded study of all data, valid conclusions can be drawn. My conclusions in 1988 were built on a wide range of inputs from basic physics, planetary studies, observations of on-going changes, and climate models. The evidence was strong enough that I could say it was time to "stop waffling." I was sure that time would bring the scientific community to a similar consensus, as it has. While international recognition of global warming was swift, actions have faltered. The U.S. refused to place limits on its emissions, and developing countries such as China and India rapidly increased their emissions. ---

A modern-day Cassandra

Thoughts on the 20th anniversary of James Hansen’s historic Congressional testimony

In Greek mythology, Cassandra was given the gift of prophecy -- of seeing the future. But she was also cursed to have no one believe her. For far too many years, Dr. James Hansen has been a modern-day Cassandra. Gifted with a scientific training that allowed him to see the forces at work that are warming the planet, for too many years he was also not believed by many who chose to ignore or deny the scientific reality of global warming. Today, it is my pleasure to welcome Dr. James Hansen back to Capitol Hill on this 23rd of June 2008. It was twenty years ago today in 1988 that Dr. Hansen first came to Congress to deliver his message about global warming. He stated: "The greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now." Dr. Hansen, who currently serves as the director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and a professor of the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department at Columbia University, is a pioneer in modeling research and showed rising greenhouse gas levels would cause "temperature changes sufficiently large to have major impacts on people and other parts of the biosphere." Dr. Hansen has been more than just a leader within the global warming research community. He has served as a spokesperson communicating the global warming science to the public. Dr. Hansen has stood up to pressure to change the tone of his scientific research for political reasons in order to ensure that the pubic receives the most accurate information possible about climate change. Over the past twenty years, the body of evidence Dr. Hansen and his colleagues began has only continued to grow. It recently resulted in the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report showing how rising concentrations of man made pollutants are changing the climate of our planet. The debate is over. Global warming is here. Dr. Hansen was right.

Paul Revere rides again

Hansen marks 20th anniversary of landmark testimony to Congress with renewed call to action

James Hansen. Photo: It was a sweltering June 23 in Washington, D.C., when climatologist James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, …

Maximum impact

Will California’s climate change regulations mandate maximum emission reductions?

[This post is follow-up to a David Roberts post from Jan. '08: "What does California's climate bill mandate?"] Sometime later this month, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) will release its draft "Scoping Plan" on implementation of the state's Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32), which requires that statewide GHG emissions be reduced to or below 1990-level emissions by 2020. AB 32 also requires that the regulations "achieve the maximum technologically feasible and cost-effective greenhouse gas emission reductions." Furthermore, the regulations must be designed "in a manner that is equitable, seeks to minimize costs and maximize the total benefits to California, and encourages early action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions". The law authorizes a variety of regulatory measures, but CARB's Scoping Plan effort has focused primarily on cap-and-trade, following the precedent set by the U.S. Acid Rain program. Cap-and-trade can be effective at achieving a specific emission target at minimum cost -- but how does the requirement for maximum emission reductions fit in with this approach?

Krupp responds

EDF chief rejects oil drilling as response to energy woes

This is a response to this post. ----- I had the pleasure of appearing on PBS' Charlie Rose last week for a wide-ranging conversation about climate change and how we can reinvent our energy economy with cap-and-trade. As Grist readers know, EDF has been pushing hard for a strong cap on greenhouse gases to fight global warming and help break our addiction to oil.  

Sustainable economy 101

Lessons from Europe and Japan

The following article appeared in Foreign Policy in Focus, and was reposted at When New York City wanted to make the biggest purchase of subway cars in U.S. history in the late 1990s -- more than $3 billion worth -- the only companies that were able to bid on the contract were foreign. The same problem applies to high-speed rail today: Only European or Japanese companies can build any of the proposed rail networks in the United States. The U.S. has also ceded the high ground to Europe and Japan in a broad range of other sustainable technologies. For instance, 11 companies produce 96 percent of medium to large wind turbines (PDF); only one, GE, is based in the United States, with a 16 percent share of the global market. The differences in market penetration come down to two factors: European and Japanese companies have become more competent producers for these markets, and their governments have helped them to develop both this competence and the markets themselves.

'New and cleaner'

McCain ad touts energy policy, including the not-so-new ideas

John McCain released a new ad today touting his plan for energy independence. “We must shift our entire energy economy toward new and cleaner power …

There will be flood

The Midwest will suffer if we don’t change our approach to flood protection

We've heard a lot this week about how the floods in the Midwest might be an act of humans -- or an act of City Council, as one Iowan leader put it. We can start the futile cycle of fighting Mother Nature again if we want to: spend billions of dollars on levees and flood control infrastructure, encouraging development of river floodplains and low-lying wetlands, then watch those homes and businesses be overrun by flood water.  

Climate change ideas for On Day One

A UN Dispatch-Grist collaboration

This week marks the twentieth anniversary of NASA Scientist James Hansen's groundbreaking Congressional testimony on global warming, an event that put climate change squarely on the political agenda. In honor of the anniversary, UN Dispatch, On Day One, and Grist are partnering to discuss ideas the next president can adopt to take on climate change. We are joined by a panel of experts who will weigh in on ideas submitted to On Day One by everyday users concerned about the climate crisis. Our first idea comes from On Day One user wise old owl, who suggests we decentralize energy production. Decentralized energy production through use of renewables (roof-top solar as well as solar farms, together with geothermal, tidal, and wind) can be transferred across our national grid to areas where it is needed from areas with higher productivity and/or lower need, which would change on a dynamic basis. This would eliminate centralized generating facilities as "targets" for terrorists, and eliminate the "control mentality" of large, centralized for-profit utilities. Grist writers Kate Sheppard and David Roberts; President of Climate Advisers Nigel Purvis; and Timothy B. Hurst of Red, Green and Blue and EcoPolitology, each respond below the fold.