Hansen on why he became an activist: “Our planet is close to climate tipping points” and it is “clear that needed actions will happen only if the public, somehow, becomes forcefully involved.”

Top climatologist launches new website with graphs and analysis

60-month and 132-month running means of global surface temperature anomaly with a base period 1951-1980.

The nation’s leading — and most scientifically prescient — climatologist has a new website, Updating the Climate Science: What Path is the Real World Following? It “will present updated graphs and discussion of key quantities that help provide understanding of how climate change is developing and how effective or ineffective global actions are in affecting climate forcings and future climate change.”

He also has a new essay, “Activist”, for “J. Henry Fair’s upcoming book.”  As an aside I simply can’t imagine why Fair titled his book, “The Day After Tomorrow,” the dreadful, scientifically inaccurate 2004 climate movie that many folks, like director James Cameron, actually say set back the cause of informing the public about climate science and the dangers of unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions.

I’ll excerpt the essay and repost some of the graphs below:

Sea level change for 1870-2001, based on tide gauge measurements, from Church J.A. and White N.J. “A 20th century acceleration in global sea-level rise” Geophys. Res. Lett. 2006; 33: L01602. University of Colorado data are shifted to have the same mean for 1993-2001 as Church and White. The trends were computed for 1870-1920, 1920-1975, 1975-2001 for Church and White data, and 1993 – mid November 2009 for University of Colorado data. Figure also available in PDF. (Last modified: 2010/07/30)

Hansen explains how he became an activist:

“How did you become an activist?” I was surprised by the question. I never considered myself an activist. I am a slow-paced taciturn scientist from the Midwest. Most of my relatives are pretty conservative. I can imagine attitudes at home toward “activists”.

I was about to protest the characterization – but I had been arrested, more than once. And I had testified in defense of others who had broken the law. Sure, we only meant to draw attention to problems of continued fossil fuel addiction. But weren’t there other ways to do that in a democracy? How had I been sucked into being an “activist?”

My grandchildren had a lot to do with it. It happened step-by-step. First, in 2004, I broke a 15-year self-imposed effort to stay out of the media. I gave a public lecture, backed by scientific papers, showing the need to slow greenhouse gas emissions – and I criticized the Bush administration for lack of appropriate policies. My grandchildren came into the talk only as props – holding 1-watt Christmas tree bulbs to help explain climate forcings.

Fourteen months later I gave another public talk – connecting the dots from global warming to policy implications to criticisms of the fossil fuel industry for promoting misinformation. This time my grandchildren provided rationalization for a talk likely to draw Administration ire: I explained that I did not want my children to look back and say “Opa understood what was happening, but he never made it clear.”

What had become clear was that our planet is close to climate tipping points. Ice is melting in the Arctic, on Greenland and Antarctica, and on mountain glaciers worldwide. Many species are stressed by environmental destruction and climate change. Continuing fossil fuel emissions, if unabated, will cause sea level rise and species extinction accelerating out of humanity’s control. Increasing atmospheric water vapor is already magnifying climate extremes, increasing overall precipitation, causing greater floods and stronger storms.

Stabilizing climate requires restoring our planet’s energy balance. The physics is straightforward. The effect of increasing carbon dioxide on Earth’s energy imbalance is confirmed by precise measurements of ocean heat gain. The principal implication is defined by the geophysics, by the size of fossil fuel reservoirs. Simply put, there is a limit on how much carbon dioxide we can pour into the atmosphere. We cannot burn all fossil fuels. Specifically, we must (1) phase out coal use rapidly, (2) leave tar sands in the ground, and (3) not go after the last drops of oil.

Hansen has a nice chart showing what emissions path we are on.

Updates of Figure 16 in Hansen (2003), “Can we defuse the global warming time bomb?” (also in PDF).

Some confusionists have tried to create some semantic confusion about whether we are above the IPCC’s “worst-case scenario.”  The IPCC does have emissions scenarios higher than A1F1, as the figure shows, but in the Synthesis Report for policymakers, one of the few things non-scientists actually read, the worst-case scenario it models for impacts this century is A1F1.  And that’s the path we are currently on (see U.S. media largely ignores latest warning from climate scientists: “Recent observations confirm “¦ the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realised” “” 1000 ppm).

The question of whether we stay on this path — in the absence of domestic climate legislation and an international deal — will be determined primarily by whether China continues its recent pace of coal-based growth for the next two decades and beyond, which I doubt, and whether a number of countries keep the pledges they made in the months leading up to Copenhagen, which I suspect they will.

Back to Hansen’s move to activism:

Actions needed for the world to move on to clean energies of the future are feasible. The actions could restore clean air and water globally, assuring intergenerational equity by preserving creation – the natural world.

But the actions are not happening.

At first I thought it was poor communication. Scientists must not have made the story clear enough to world leaders. Surely there must be some nations So I wrote letters to national leaders and visited more than half a dozen nations, as described in my book, “Storms of My Grandchildren”. What I found in each case was greenwash – a pretense of concern about climate but policies dictated by fossil fuel special interests.

The situation is epitomized by my recent trip to Norway. I hoped that Norway, because of its history of environmentalism, might be able to stand tall among nations, take real action to address climate change, drawing attention to the hypocrisy in the words and pseudo-actions of other nations.

So I wrote a letter to the Prime Minister suggesting that Norway, as majority owner of Statoil, should intervene in their plans to develop the tar sands of Canada. I received a polite response, by letter, from the Deputy Minister of Petroleum and Energy. The government position is that the tar sands investment is “a commercial decision”, that the government should not interfere, and that a “vast majority in the Norwegian parliament” agree that this constitutes “good corporate governance”. The Deputy Minister concluded his letter “I can however assure you that we will continue our offensive stance on climate change issues both at home and abroad”.

A Norwegian grandfather, upon reading the Deputy Minister’s letter, quoted Saint Augustine: “Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.”

The Norwegian government’s position is a staggering reaffirmation of the global situation: even the greenest governments find it too inconvenient to address the implication of scientific facts.

It becomes clear that needed actions will happen only if the public, somehow, becomes forcefully involved. One way that citizens can help is by blocking coal plants, tar sands, and mining the last drops of fossil fuels from public and pristine lands and the deep ocean.

I’m gonna skip his digression into the policy approach he favors.  I’ve spent enough time responding to it.  The point is moot in this country for the foreseeable future — we’re not going to get an economy-wide bill that sets a price on carbon anytime soon no matter how it is constructed.

Stabilizing climate is a moral issue, a matter of intergenerational justice. Young people, and older people who support the young and the other species on the planet, must unite in demanding an effective approach that preserves our planet.

Because the executive and legislative branches of our governments turn a deaf ear to the science, the judicial branch may provide the best opportunity to redress the situation. Our governments have a fiduciary responsibility to protect the rights of young people and future generations.

To the young people I say: stand up for your rights – demand that the government be honest and address the consequences of their policies. To the old people I say: let us gird up our loins and fight on the side of young people for protection of the world they will inherit.

I look forward to standing with young people and their supporters, helping them develop their case, as they demand their proper due and fight for nature and their future. I guess that makes me an activist.

It is time for everyone to stand up and be heard.

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57 Responses to Hansen on why he became an activist: “Our planet is close to climate tipping points” and it is “clear that needed actions will happen only if the public, somehow, becomes forcefully involved.”

  1. Keith says:

    Hear, Hear!
    So, to the 20-somethings and those younger… what are you waiting for? Let’s go! You gotta be as loud and obvious as the T-baggers. NOW! The T-baggers want to leave you a ruined planet. You have many of the older generations with you. Shut off the technology. LET’S GO!

  2. Daniel Ives says:

    Joe, thank you for posting this. It gives me an idea of a future post you could do here on CP. I’d love to see a post explaining where we can go for information on proposed coal plants in our state/community and some suggestions for protesting their construction. I know that local movements have successfully ousted coal plants before, so you could touch on a few examples. What do you think?

    Thanks again,

    [JR: Yes, certainly one of my plans going forward will be to do more posts on the multiple efforts around the country to stop new dirty coal plants and shut down existing ones.]

  3. peter whitehead says:

    I like his use of the word CONFUSIONISTS. Remember, whatever a confusionist says, ask them ‘Did someone from BP tell you that?’. Let’s make things simple – most people can’t hold onto an idea of more than 7 words.

    [JR: That was me writing. I went back to add his caption to make that clearer.]

  4. Peter Mizla says:

    Its always great to hear from Dr. Hansen -no offense Dr. Joe Romm- for your great work from MIT- and your activist work now.

    Hansen’s Book ‘Storms of My Grandchildren’ is easy enough for a ‘Non-Physics’ hard scientist like me to easily understand.

    Well, hell I see so much, perhaps too much. We are in deep trouble.

    [JR: None taken — quite the reverse. I believe I have reposted or excerpted/discussed at length more of Hansen’s work than any science blog in the country. And I do plan to keep up that honor.]

  5. Jonah says:

    I so hate it when people appeal to the “young folk” to save them. As a member of such a class of folk, let me tell you in no uncertain terms: my generation is a direct product of the “greed is good” generation. Don’t count on us for anything. We’re ill-informed, selfish, and hedonistic, and have pretty much the same enlightened self-interest as any previous generation: none.

  6. Thanks for posting this.

    It is worth noting that Hansen first said “Our aim is to help people understand global climate change”

    And now his words are promises to fight for the protection of the world, fight for nature and the future. This is a significant shift in goals.

    Why do most of the climate models and scenarios stop at the year 2100? Is it just a calendar printing thing? Or do scientists really not want to look at the mess beyond that time? I hear that so many scientists have really checked out and are not engaging in politics, just because it is so grim and hopeless. Hansen is an inspiration, a real hero in many ways.

    We no longer need an explanation of climate, we need an explanation of human nature.

  7. catman306 says:

    Terry Gross is interviewing Jane Mayer, author of the New Yorker magazine article about the Koch Bros. on Fresh Air today.
    Jane Mayer seems to be one smart journalist.

    It’s on my local npr station from noon ’till 1pm edt.

    The interview will be available on line after 5 pm edt.

  8. Prokaryotes says:

    Is it correct that these “scenarios” do not include methane intake?

  9. Barry says:

    Thanks for the great post Joe.

    Hansen is a real hero. He was one of the first to see, decades ago, the climate-frying infernos that human fossil fuel pollution is unleashing. He not only saw it but resigned his NASA post studying Venus climate to embark on the new frontier of studying earth climate changes. His explanation of this current state of climate research in his book “Storm of my Grandchildren” is by far the best I’ve read…and I’ve read a lot. Read it if you want to understand why the path we are on is “dead certain” disaster.

    Hansen was also one of the first to break the scientific reticence and work to educate our political leaders to act in time. His tales about engaging congress, all our recent presidents, many world leaders and many business leaders is eye-popping and should be required reading.

    Then there is his explanation of where we are headed on current path: “Venus Syndrome”. That is the point when earth gets so warm water vapour becomes a forcing ghg…just like happened on Venus. It is a runaway tipping point. Hansen shows the earth has been close in the past. Now the sun is much brighter and our fossil fuel CO2 is at least 10 times greater warming shock than what set off near-runaway conditions in the past.

    The hope is that we are entering the stage where evolution finally is on our side. As E O Wilson points out, humans have evolved to care about local effects that will occur in a timeframe of a generation or two max. We are entering that zone rapidly with climate.

    I love Climate Progress because it is just the kind of readable and accessable climate info that speaks to these issues of impacts in our lifetimes and those of our kids. Many, many thanks Joe.

    We need a million seeds planted ready to grow rapidly into a non-fossil future so as humans start to feel the heat and look around for a cooler alternative there are saplings ready to nurture so we can live in their shade.

    The biggest threat is the impression that “it is too hard to change”. Not true. Educate yourself about the many reports about how quickly and easily non-fossil alternatives could be adopted and what they are. Then use that info to put out that “defeatest” fire whenever it crops up in others.

    Climate is not going to calm down. It’s going to get a lot hotter relentlessly. We, like Hansen and Romm, need to be educated and ready to show those awakening to it the many hopeful and existing alternatives to fossilgeddon.

  10. GFW says:

    Joe, there’s a typo in the sentence about the (awful) movie Day After Tomorrow. ” … that many folks, like director James Cameron, actually set back the cause … ” You need “think” or “believe” right before “actually”. Without that, the sentence is a mess in which Cameron is the bad guy, not Roland Emmerich’s terrible movie.

  11. pete best says:

    RE #1- lol and get very very real. Fossil fuels are the free lunch that everyone one requires regardless of their personal convictions of ACC/AGW. I know ACC/AGW is very real and worrying but it does not stop me from using some 17 MWhrs of energy every year driving to work and the same again on heating my house every winter along with cooking and hot water. This and I do not even fly anymore! My secondary energy consumption is possibly even larger with all that food, packaging, goods and services etc.

    In fact the average UK Citizen uses 125 KWhrs of energy every year and the average American double that. So how do the youth of today driven by their gadgets, wanting cars asap, the desperate need to travel around the globe and all them jobs they want to do in our present world protest exactly ?

    Its just staggering this issue and the disinformers know it and hence continue to lobby the weak mindedness of human fallability.

  12. Andy says:

    @Daniel Ives #2,

    One thought: Coal plants typically require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) be developed. This is a long process with lots of room for public engagement. If you can get enough of the public to raise enough noise, you can certainly delay a coal plant and help build momentum to kill one.

    I would also suggest, for anyone living in Wyoming and Montana, that you get a lot of angry people in the room every time an expansion of coal mining is proposed. 40% of our nation’s coal comes from a single coal field (the Gillette Coal Field) in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming, and it is *all* on federally owned land. Seems like potential for a real campaign there. Let’s force the Obama administration’s hand and go after the source.

    The Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign is a fantastic place to start. Check their website out and give them a call.

    For info on the campaign in your state:

    And be sure to click on Wyoming for info on Wyoming and the Powder River Basin mining. And it looks like lots of new Powder River Basin coal was recently leased by the gov’t with plans for two coal-to-liquids facilities (those are absolutely *terrible*) in Montana as well: Sierra club is fighting it.

  13. Jeff Huggins says:

    Bravo! and an important thing to realize . . .

    First, Bravo to Dr. Hansen! Well put.

    And now …

    Many people have a paradigm of human social-moral dynamics, morality, ethics, and related matters that is dramatically incorrect in an important sense that is highly relevant to the present situation that Dr. Hansen describes.

    Perhaps the dramatically incorrect understanding, having to do with what I’ll mention, has come about (in part) because of Cartesian dualism, because of the frequent discussion of “reason” these days as a mere abstraction, and also because of misinformed and overextended notions of “forgiveness”. Another factor: the view of “stay out of other person’s business”.

    These factors and others have led, among many people, to the notion that morality/ethics are entirely to be worked out, and dealt with, via reason and writing and talk and more talk and more talk. Business as usual goes on as usual, as people have Socratic dialogues on the sidelines. (I admire and love dialogue, but action at some point becomes vital.)

    This (mis)understanding entirely ignores what was actually necessary to make moral/ethical progress historically, and to address injustices — a mixture of thought and ACTION. Major real advances in the world generally do not occur without ACTIONS that prompt society to take note and to shift course to more moral/ethical pathways. Key word: ACTIONS.

    This is not just an unfortunate and inconvenient historical pattern. It is part of the very nature of human social-moral dynamics. Although the book is slightly outdated by now, an excellent book to read is “The Evolution of Cooperation”, by Robert Axelrod.

    Being ethical, and helping society move to more ethical (and sane and healthy) pathways, often — usually — almost always — involves taking ACTION. Ask Martin Luther King Jr. Ask Gandhi. Ask Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Ask Lincoln. Ask Rosa Parks. Ask Susan B. Anthony. Ask etc. etc. etc.

    With 97 percent of relevant scientists saying that we have a problem, that’s plenty enough information to call for actions to encourage and prompt us (society) to change what we are doing that contributes to that problem. Dr. Hansen is correct.

    I listened to one of the conference calls not long ago that was positive in some ways but that seemed to be calling us to “redouble” efforts as if “redoubling” efforts meant to send twice as many e-mails, make twice as many phone calls, send twice as many letters to editors, and attend twice as many once-every-nine-month climate events.

    To be clear, that’s NOT going to get the job done.

    People who are not accustomed to calling for (ethical and civil and effective) actions are gonna have to start doing it, soon and loudly. Events that draw thirty or fifty or two hundred people, once every six months, aren’t going to do it. Events that draw 20,000 people, at single universities, and at many of them, and frequently, will begin to raise the profile of the problem and the need for effective solutions.

    I wonder sometimes, do young people these days think that e-mail messages alone will do the trick? So many people seem to be insistent that they are serious about change, and yet so many of them don’t want to mount large-scale boycotts of the worst-offending companies, don’t want to participate in events, and seem to think that redoubling the number of e-mails we send will be sufficient to the task. I’m on the side of young people, and I’m concerned about their futures, and because of that, if I were them, I’d be screaming out the window by now the famous “I’m mad as H and I’m not going to take it anymore!”, or something like that. Unfortunately, most of the “adult leadership” is fumbling away the future for young people, and messing it up.

    What are our present generations “about”, anyhow? Messing up the climate? What happened to us, really?

    Yet there’s still time. Dr. Hansen is on the right track.

    Be Well,


  14. Peter Mizla says:

    Roland Emmerich

    the German Film Director–I saw ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ bad science, decent Sci Fi

    Emmerich also did the not so good film ‘2012’.

  15. Thank you Dr. Hansen and JR for publicaly stating what many scientists privately think. It is critical that scientists not divorce themselves from the politics.

  16. ToddInNorway says:

    Good folks, it is not enough to be against coal and oil. We must be for the alternatives, or we will be reading by candlelight in cold or oppressively hot homes. I challenge each of you who read this to implement every energy saving action that works for you and that you can afford. I challenge you to make your next car purchase the most energy-efficient choice possible, and to carpool or use public transit, ride a bike or an electric bike however possible. I challenge you to find out what the local support program for solar PV or solar thermal installations are for home and business owners, and to crunch the numbers to find out what works for you, and take the plunge. If enough of us do this, very many of those coal power plants will have NO MARKET for their filthy product, and they will shut down.

  17. Michael W says:

    Two quick points:

    First- Why is suggesting we can geoengineer this planet by convincing 6 billion people to alter their lifestyles given such serious thought here? Is everyone so caught up in the scuffle, they don’t see how silly it has gotten?

    Second- Human welfare has risen to the highest levels in history in the same century that fossil fuel use has skyrocketed. Suggesting we can roll back fossil fuel use without rolling back human progress is, well, unprogressive.


  18. Michael W says:

    Why is suggesting we can geoengineer this planet by convincing 6 billion people to alter their lifestyles given such serious thought here? Is everyone so caught up in the scuffle, they don’t see how silly it has gotten?


  19. Michael W says:

    Second- Human welfare has risen to the highest levels in history in the same century that fossil fuel use has skyrocketed. Suggesting we can roll back fossil fuel use without rolling back human progress is, well, unprogressive.


  20. Prokaryotes says:

    Michael W, #18 “Suggesting we can roll back fossil fuel use without rolling back human progress is, well, unprogressive.”

    No, this just shows a) your intention or b) you’re uninformed. Clean energy and environmental accountability results in higher life quality. Waste management can transform plastic back into oil. There is no reason to burn fossil energy.

  21. t_p_hamilton says:

    “Second- Human welfare has risen to the highest levels in history in the same century that fossil fuel use has skyrocketed. Suggesting we can roll back fossil fuel use without rolling back human progress is, well, unprogressive.”

    Second- Human welfare has risen to the highest levels in history in the same century that pollution has skyrocketed. Suggesting we can roll back pollution without rolling back human progress is, well, unprogressive.

    Yeah, right.

  22. Peter Mizla says:

    Any Human progress that destroys a planetary system- with the use of fossil fuels until they are depleted is sheer madness.

    The Progress of human civilization since the late neolithic till the industrial revolution- all the learning from the reformation, the scientific method- all lost?

    NO- not for fossil fuels.

  23. #18 Michael:

    Denmark says you are wrong. Google it.

  24. Michael W says:

    Prokaryotes (19) “no reason to burn fossil energy”
    Reasons to burn petroleum products: energy density, portability, availability, cleanliness. Here’s a big one – the Airline industry.

    The idea that we as a fossil fuel culture are not environmentally conscious or environmentally responsible is simply not true. How do you explain catalytic converters, CFC ban, the EPA, recycling programs, endangered species lists, etc.?
    We all know oil spills happen, and CO2 is a greenhouse gas, but we continue to live like we do because relatively speaking fossil fuels are harmless.

  25. Michael W says:

    Scott A Mandia (21) There are exceptions to every rule. Can we phase out fossil fuels without reducing our capacity to provide energy to people who need it? Yes. Every time? No.

    As a general rule reducing energy choices increases energy costs, and therefore reduces peoples access to that energy.

    Most of the people of the world live in horrible conditions. We need to increase their energy choices, not limit them.

  26. Michael W says:

    Scott A Mandia (21) There are exceptions to every rule. Can we phase out fossil fuels without reducing our capacity to provide energy to people who need it? Yes. Every time? No.

    As a general rule reducing energy choices increases energy costs, and therefore reduces peoples access to that energy.

    Most of the people of the world live in horrible conditions. We need to increase their energy choices, not limit them. This is progress.

  27. Barry says:

    Michael W (24): You present many of the “too hard to change” arguments that have been repeated shown to be false by everyone from top economists to major think tanks to energy planners.

    First, even the most concerned climate scientists like Hansen are not calling for an end to fossil fuels. Read his book or papers. They call for leaving most of what we know about in the ground…while burning the remainder in a way that helps move our infrastructure to other fuel choices.

    Secondly the idea that we have to keep burning fossil fuels in the rich world because there are poor people is a proven false argument. People who have studied the distribution of fossil fuel burning, like Pacala’s team at Princeton, show that it is the top 15% of humanity that burns 75% of the fossil fuels. Pacala says explicitly that you could give the poorest billion people their own diesel generators and not change the carbon output of humanity in any significant way.

    Finally, study after study shows that the industrial economies would actually be improved if energy costs more. That is because the cheapest form of energy at this point is efficiency and conservation but they require actual energy to be priced higher to encourage the capital spending needed to realize long term ecomonic benefits. Read reports by McKinsey group.

    Fossil fuel pollution is destroying the lives and economies of the poorest people who have reaped very little of their benefits. Using the poor of the world as an argument to continue our fossil fuel assualt on them is like saying we have to destroy the village to “save” it.

    Fossil is going away one way or the other…the choice now is simply whether we will be grownups and manage a graceful transition to post-fossil…or whether we will fiddle away while the biosphere burns and takes the world’s poorest down first.

  28. Allen Varney says:

    Does Dr. Hansen have a first name, or is he one of those one-name people like Cher? I ask because this article doesn’t at any point give a full name.

    [JR: James. Sorry, I blog so much about him and he is the top climatologist in the country (in my book), but you are right, I should spell out his full name.]

  29. Michael W says:

    Peter Mizla (21) “Destroys a planetary system”
    This is hyperbole.

    Google “global catastrophe” and come up with a top ten list. (rank them however you think they should be ranked)
    Catastrophic global warming is only one of many threats. To push for solutions for only one at the exclusion of all others is advocacy.

    Bringing the entire population of this planet closer to having greater control of their lives (like we do in the in the developed world) is the best way to prepare for any threat.

  30. PeterW says:

    Michael W says: Reasons to burn petroleum products: energy density, portability, availability, cleanliness. Here’s a big one – the Airline industry.

    Really cleanliness, no I mean really. Tell that to the people in the Gulf. Maybe we should ask some of the people of Iraq, Ecuador and Nigeria about this. The Tar Sands don’t look too clean to me. What parallel dimension did you just arrive from?

  31. Mike Roddy says:


    You and Dr. Hanson have done an excellent job in communicating the science and in leading by example. Thanks.

    What about the two of you working to motivate scientists to act more forcefully on the dangers of global warming? We appreciate the various signed letters from scientific organizations on the subject, but communication to the public is messier than that. We’re up against handsomely paid pros, who road test every catch phrase with focus groups.

    Scientists need only speak the truth from the heart, since the public will sense their sincerity. Disclaimers and codicils are giving the oil companies room to operate, so the kind of language that the evidence dictates is called for.

    Scientists also need to fight back against being portrayed as greed crazed grant seekers, promoters of world government, or whatever weird charges the Right dreams up next. There’s a lot more at stake than scientists’ jobs or peace of mind. The knowledge that they have developed carries a grave responsibility. Delegating action to groups like our Senate (ouch!), and scientists saying things like “I’m not a politician” could result in their being marginalized and ignored even further.

  32. Daniel Ives says:

    @ Andy #12

    Thank you very much. That is exactly the kind of information I’m talking about. I appreciate you passing that on.

  33. Michael W says:

    Barry (25) I’m sorry, but the idea that the poor of the world won’t benefit from the energy choices we have in the developed world is just flat out wrong.

    What would it take to provide roads, homes, schools, hospitals, security, etc to the people of the world who don’t have it? A diesel generator? Seriously? I’m sorry, but your studies don’t pass the smell test. Making energy cheaper and more readily available increases their access to the basics of life. The idea that you will increase their quality of life by decreasing their energy choices is just flawed logic.

    Thought exercise: China is rising out of poverty at an increasing pace. What happens to that rise if you ban all coal power plants in China right now?

  34. Ryan T says:

    Hmmm, so we have the “fossil fuel culture” to thank for catalytic converters, CFC ban, the EPA, recycling programs, and endangered species lists? Wow, you learn something new every day. But the reality is that quitting oil & coal isn’t going to be cold turkey. All the more reason to get a real start, and put as much effort as practical into maximizing efficiency and developing economies of scale for alternatives. Many people don’t really “need” as much energy as they consume. Lots of it is wasted. If fossil carbon prices better reflected externalized costs and those funds were used for incentives, change could accelerate quite a bit, and probably without huge lifestyle hits in most cases.

  35. Ryan T says:

    I should add that the difference between the rare (on human timescales) natural global catastrophe and accelerated holocene climate change is that we can at least do something about the latter. A big part of the problem is a continued lack of awareness (that seemingly smallish things over billions of people and decades of time can have huge cumulative effect), and lack of impetus.

  36. Joe,

    So which of the GISS scientists share the mild-mannered activism of the esteemed Dr. Hansen? The pugnacious Gavin Schmidt?


  37. Jeff Huggins says:

    To Joe and Dr. Hansen

    I completely, deeply, and enthusiastically agree with Mike Roddy’s comments (and his question) in his Comment 31. His idea/question is a great one.

    You two — Joe and Dr. Hansen — would be great folks to help get scientists and others more responsibly “activated” and more aware of their responsibilities as humans to express themselves and get more active. Many scientists may simply need a greater understanding of, and confidence in, the ethical case for speaking out and for responsible activism. If so, I’ll bet that you can get clear help with that case (if you need it) from the folks at ClimateEthics, i.e., Donald Brown. And, another great person to have involved would be Dale Jameison (spelling?).

    The four of you — Dr. Hansen, Joe Romm, Donald Brown, Dale Jameison — could do a very great deal by “combining forces” periodically, in some clear and compelling way, to help the scientific community understand the VITAL importance of — and strong ethical case for — outspokenness and activism on the part of scientists and scientific organizations. Sometimes people just need understanding and valid “permission” to act.

    I think Mike’s question and idea is great. A Cal guy. Bravo!



  38. Jeff Huggins says:

    Correction: In my recent comment, I spelled Dale Jamieson’s name wrong. Sorry. Cheers, Jeff

  39. Peter Mizla says:

    Michael W #29

    Peter Mizla (21) “Destroys a planetary system”
    This is hyperbole.

    If you read James Hansen’s book- hyperbole might be considered to easy a word to use-unless you feel A ‘Venus Syndrome’ outcome is a day at the beach for the planetary system :-)

  40. Michael Tucker says:

    Dr Hansen calls out to young people and old people to take a stand. I wonder why only the young and the old?

    Anyway, his call to young people has to be motivated by HIS experience as a young person. I think he is remembering back to when young people protested vehemently to end a war they did not want to fight in. The reason they were so motivated was personal self-interest. The draft motivated them in a very big way that global warming just does not do. At this time I do not see a large motivated group of young people calling for a change.

    The melting ice, sea level rise, and ocean acidification are alarming but not to everyone. There is no sense of urgency in spite of the fact that terrible things will eventually happen by the end of this century. I won’t see it and my grandchildren will be 90 years old or older. If we continue with BAU we will suffer the terrible consequences of global warming by 2100 but I think very few of us here today will be around to experience it and very few are worried enough to demand change now. Sea level rising at 3mm per year is still slower than movement along the San Andreas Fault. When it raises enough to change the break at the local surf spot maybe some young folks will take notice.

    Stop talking about what will happen after I am gone and after most of today’s young people will be too; I have. If you want urgent action you must make it clear that action must happen now! Very bad things will happen in the next 20 to 25 years and we will either be ready to meet that challenge or it will kick our ass. Even with preparation the challenge will be daunting. I may not make it another 20 years but my children and grandchildren will certainly have to deal with it.

    I am very glad that Dr Romm has this site and I am very glad Dr Hansen is not quietly watching the policy war grind on (as most climate scientists do). I certainly hope the young, old, and everyone in between become involved and demand a legislative solution very soon.

  41. Barry says:

    The climate heat unleashed by the average American is equal to the heat coming off an 8,000 barrel a day oil fire.

    Remember the Kuwaiti oil fires? We each are unleashing that much climate heat 24/7 from our fossil fuel pollution. See climate progress article about Caldiera at Stanford showing that CO2 traps 100,000 times the heat than was given off when it was formed by burning the fossil fuel. Then do the math on 20 tonnes CO2 a year.

    Major cities have millions of these climate pyres burning around the clock.

    A tiny part of each of our climate infernos is melting away the planet’s ice…half a tonne per personal inferno per DAY.

    Driving a high-mileage subcompact like Yaris or Fit unleashes climate heat equal to the heat coming off the BP deepwater rig when in full flame.

    A single 747 unleashes climate heat equal to what comes off a hundred million barrel a day firestorm. Think major forest fire.

    There are dozens of ways each of us can switch our infrastructure and consumption from fossil fueled infernos to cool alternatives. It is just a choice of energy sources.

  42. Barry says:

    Michael W (33): You misunderstand what I’m saying. Of course the poor would benefit from using more energy like we do.

    The reality is that are not using all that energy…we in the wealthy world are using. The data shows the wealthiest 15% of humanity consume 75% of the fossil fuels.

    Your point about China also misses the reality of the world. If you look at the economic data of China you see that it is a nation of a huge number of very wealthy people surrounded by an unimaginable sea of desperate poor people. The wealthy use the fossil fuels…not the poor.

    The point about the diesel generators is simply that we could give the poorest people of the world access, for the first time, to a huge leap in energy consumption…even if all fossil fuels…and it wouldn’t effect the climate challenge in any meaningful way.

    The reality is the wealthy of the world are using almost all the fossil fuels. The cost of fossil fuels is rising worldwide because the wealthy are burning all the cheap easy stuff up.

    The fight to preserve a livable climate starts and stops with the wealthiest quarter of humanity changing their energy choices. Period. What the poor do…and what we decide to provide to the poor beyond what they have now…is irrelevant to climate.

    It is a classic delayer talking point that the wealthy must keep using all the fossil fuels because of the poor who use none. You’ll need to do better than that if you want to preserve fossil fuel pigginess as a “virtue” by the wealthy.

  43. paulm says:

    Unfortunately Government is but a reflection of the people.

  44. Scenario #1: We keep doing business as usual and we get to +4C or warmer by 2100. 4C is a society-buster so the poor will not need energy because they will either be without food to cook or, more likely, dead.

    Scenario #2: The major users of energy (US and China, for example) stop using fuels from hell (below ground: oil, natural gas, coal) and start using fuels from heaven (above ground: wind, solar, wave, etc.). Guess what happens to the price of gas in that world? The poor would be getting very cheap energy and would prosper all the while the climate would begin to stablize thus allowing them to grow their crops and eat.

  45. mike roddy says:

    Thanks for noticing, Jeff, and for your always well informed contributions. There must be plenty of scientists who are tired of the nonsense and potshots, and just want to communicate the evidence once and for all.
    It doesn’t matter if politicians and Fox ignore and deride them. Plenty of Americans need only more quality education on this critical issue.

  46. Leif says:

    There are many individuals in the world that have a carbon stomp of a thousand or even ten thousand first world people. That carbon stomp is disproportionately and adversely affecting the lives of the third world. People are dying because those same rich folks tooling around in their 100 gallon per hour yachts do not want to pay a mitigation fee to bring sustainable energy to the world. Because fossil fuel corporations make more money selling a product if they are allowed to pollute the air, earth, and water on the tax payers dime. If the costs of human suffering and species extinction are conveniently defined as “someone else’s problems.”

    Well, that cannot be the way forward. Continuation along this path is and will produce an unrecognizable earth and the destruction of countless lives.

  47. Prokaryotes says:

    Scott A Mandia, #44 “the poor will not need energy because they will either be without food to cook or, more likely, dead.”

    Why do people think that the “rich” folks will have it any better?
    Maybe they can survive a little bit longer – but it will not change the outcome if we do not start to suck carbon out of the atmosphere.

    There are NO other options to combat CC.

  48. #47 Prokaryites:

    I agree but the richer folks will be better able to migrate north and to survive longer. The rich caused the problem and they will be the last to suffer. We all will suffer of course.

    I suggest everybody here check out this interesting blog called Climate Ethics.

  49. Chris Winter says:


    Here’s an example of progress eliminating fossil fuels.

    An entrepreneur figured out how to modify solar-powered lamps with a socket to recharge cell phones. Now villagers in rural India can get up to 12 hours of light per night and talk to neighboring villages. During the day they just put the lamp on their roof, or otherwise in sunlight, and it recharges its own battery.

    The lamp costs $34 but lasts ten years and replaces $2 spent on candles and kerosene each month. It’s not hard to see the advantage. Also, there are fewer fires, less respiratory trouble, and of course less CO2.

  50. Prokaryotes@47 & Scott@48,

    As climate disasters of all shapes & sizes seed instability & escalate havoc in poorer reaches of the globe, richer nations will surely share the harvest of devastating economic & human costs from conflicts & wars of all shapes & sizes.

    Rich or poor, north or south, mountains or beachfront, we’re all in this together for bad or for worse.


  51. Andy says:

    @Daniel Ives #32,

    Glad it was helpful!

    The more I read about coal, the more it pisses me off. Example: it is *unreal* to me that coal-to-liquid processing plants are getting approved in Montana by the Federal Gov’t. That is a crime against the environment, and I hope that decision is sued to high-heaven.

    The Bureau of Land Management (responsible for the majority of those federal lands containing all the coal and gas) are by-and-large a pretty conservative, industry-friendly bunch – more by habit/culture than anything else I think. They’re nice people, but pressure from the regional public can help give the land managers at BLM pause before they go ahead with the routine “approve whatever the industry wants (with some minor adjustments)” decision-making process. And, of course, the threat of litigation (and successful litigation) makes an even bigger splash!

    Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign is right on – trying to stop these coals plants in the permitting phase (i.e. where BLM and other Federal agencies are involved). It’s a great approach and has yielded several victories.

  52. Roger says:

    Dr. Jim Hansen is indeed a climate hero. We applaud his inspiring continued activism.

    With Dr. Hansen’s encouragement for others to follow his example of activism, we invite Joe, and all Climate Progress readers to take off their gloves, take to the streets, and join with the many concerned groups planning worldwide climate events on October 10th.

    In fact we’ve invited numerous climate celebrities, such as President Carter, Dr. Hansen, Dr. Romm, climate documentary star Rick Piltz, and others to speak at a “White House Work Party” taking place in Washington, DC at noon on Sunday, October 10th, 2010. We’ll be asking President Obama about when he plans to lead Americans by example, by putting President Jimmy Carter’s solar panels back on the White House roof.

    More information and event sign up available at

    Also, President Obama, with sufficient encouragement, could do much more to help preserve a livable climate for posterity through his greater use of appropriate executive orders. Please sign our “educate and lead” petition to Obama and help us reach our goal of 10,000 signatures by 10.10.10! Just go to Thanks!

    Warm regards,


  53. JeandeBegles says:

    The hansen paper about activism is a vibrant message for all of us to get involved for changing the course of the global warming events.
    It is a pity that Joe has removed the passage about what Hansen considers as “the only realistic path to global action”, so I copy it in my message:

    However, fossil fuel addiction can be solved only when we recognize an economic law as certain as the law of gravity: as long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy they will be used. Solution therefore requires a rising fee on oil, gas and coal – a carbon fee collected from fossil fuel companies at the domestic mine or port of entry. All funds collected should be distributed to the public on a per capita basis to allow lifestyle adjustments and spur clean energy innovations. As the fee rises, fossil fuels will be phased out, replaced by carbon-free energy and efficiency.
    A carbon fee is the only realistic path to global action. China and India will not accept caps, but they need a carbon fee to spur clean energy and avoid fossil fuel addiction.
    Governments today, instead, talk of “cap-and-trade-with-offsets”, a system rigged by big banks and fossil fuel interests. Cap-and-trade invites corruption. Worse, it is ineffectual, assuring continued fossil fuel addiction to the last drop and environmental catastrophe.

    Joe Romm is an insider of the US politic world and has the knowledge to state that such carbon price looks unfeasable. But, as stated by Hansen, we cannot negotiate with the gravity law, nor with the green house effect, nor with the cheaper energy the more used one; so let us negotiate with humans representing people and companies; it is our only available option.

  54. Prokaryotes says:

    Scott A Mandia, #48 “I agree but the richer folks will be better able to migrate north and to survive longer. ”

    No, they will only extend while hiding in shelters – deep in the earth.
    Why do people think that it is so easy? Atmospheric destabilization – more microburst, could create situation when “flying will become” impossible or to risky.
    What do people expect up in the north? Once the ice is gone all the pole area will become unstable – more seismic activity. Maybe they will build a big shelter there – like Lovelock insisted. But what should happen during the event of methane spikes – which hover the land and ignite?

  55. CitizenPlusPlus says:

    The 5 easy steps to being green, creating local jobs, and mitigating the worst effects of climate change and peak oil.

    1) Stop population groWtHH & SprawL!!!
    2) VeganLife!! / FoodForest / VirginForest!
    3) R.R.Recycle!
    4) Wind! / GeoThermal Exchange!! / Solar
    5) Electric &OpenSource: Trains!! / Cars / Media!

  56. CTF says:

    Bravo to Mr. Hansen (although I do wish you had included his digression about a revenue-neutral carbon tax!)

  57. Whatshisname says:

    I understand where you are coming from with regard to “The Day After Tomorrow” but it still had the effect of a 2×4 in getting the public’s attention on climate issues. Movie goers were not parsing the science. They got the bigger message and were inspired to begin the educational process from science fiction to science. They took a closer look at Al Gore’s documentary, began to listen to Dr. Hansen and seek out web sites like Climate Progress.

    Science fiction has a courageous tradition of asking questions and raising awareness with “The Day the Earth Caught Fire,” “Planet of the Apes,” “Soylent Green,” etc. “The Day After Tomorrow” served that purpose and (to the despair of deniers who haven’t been able propagandize the movie) brought its audience to scientists. It’s been a long, agonizing process but here’s perhaps your last, best chance…….