Hansen: Earth at Crisis Point

by Nancy Atkinson on April 7, 2008

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NASA’s lead climate scientist says Earth has reached a “tipping point” in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at 385 parts per million. But James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies believes there are ways to solve the problems of excess greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. Hansen submitted a paper to Science magazine today, which outlines a plan for phasing out all coal-fired plants by 2030 and taxing their emissions, as well as banning the building of any new plants unless they are designed to trap and segregate the carbon dioxide they emit. This plan would need the support of policy makers around the world. But Hansen believes policy makers in the US are ignorant about the significance and gravity of climate change because oil companies influence the executive and legislative branches of the US government. Oil interests are also trying to sway the public’s perception of global warming, Hansen said. “The industry is misleading the public and policy makers about the cause of climate change,” he said in an article published by the AFP news agency. “And that is analogous to what the cigarette manufacturers did. They knew smoking caused cancer, but they hired scientists who said that was not the case.”

Hansen, who testified before Congress in 2007 that the current Bush administration has interfered with his reports on the climate, said government public relations officials filter the facts in science reports to reduce “concern about the relation of climate change to human-made greenhouse gas emissions.”

Hansen has come under fire for “crying wolf” about how humans are affecting Earth’s climate, but he continues to speak out on the subject because he believes he has to. “It’s analogous to an engineer who sees that there’s a flaw in the space shuttle before it is to be launched. You don’t have any choice. You have to say something. That’s really all that I’m doing,” he said.

The AFP article reported that in a recent survey of what concerns people, global warming ranked 25th.

90% of energy needs on Earth are currently met by fossil fuels. Hansen has said that if we continue to use fossil fuels at the current rate, the Earth will warm 3 degrees Celcius by the end of the century. Hanson predicts this would mean ice sheets melting, and 50% of the species on earth would become extinct from the disruptions of regional climate change – for example, northern latitudes would get much warmer, the American Southwest would turn into a desert.

But, Hansen has said that if fossil fuel emissions would be just 25% less than at present by the middle of the century and 75% by the end of the century, Earth’s warming could be kept to less than 1 degree C.

Since the U.S. contributes 3-4 times the amount of atmospheric CO2 of any other country, U.S. involvement in change is critical.

Original News Source: AFP

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

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