Tuesday, June 24, 2008

James Hansen: "Time is Short' on Global Warming

Yesterday, NASA climate scientist James Hansen testified before Congress, 20 years after he first testified that global warming was a real and dire problem. Over the past 20 years, we have not only failed to make progress in dealing with this situation, we have gone backwards on almost every measure. Now, we are just about out of time. Here is the transcript, highlights of which I've reproduced here, of Dr. Hansen's testimony:
...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.

That's right, we have one more election to get this right. Choose wrong, and we will see "tipping points that lead to disastrous climate changes that spiral dynamically out of humanity’s control." Sadly, we've wasted the last 8 years under Bush/Cheney and their Big Oil buddies. Now, we have to work much faster to make up for lost time.

More from James Hansen's testimony:
The fossil-industry maintains its strangle-hold on Washington via demagoguery, using China and other developing nations as scapegoats to rationalize inaction. In fact, we produced most of the excess carbon in the air today, and it is to our advantage as a nation to move smartly in developing ways to reduce emissions. As with the ozone problem, developing countries can be allowed limited extra time to reduce emissions. They will cooperate: they have much to lose from climate change and much to gain from clean air and reduced dependence on fossil fuels.

We must establish fair agreements with other countries. However, our own tax and dividend should start immediately. We have much to gain from it as a nation, and other countries will copy our success. If necessary, import duties on products from uncooperative countries can level the playing field, with the import tax added to the dividend pool.

Democracy works, but sometimes churns slowly. Time is short. The 2008 election is critical for the planet. If Americans turn out to pasture the most brontosaurian congressmen, if Washington adapts to address climate change, our children and grandchildren can still hold great expectations.

But "our children and grandchildren" won't be able to hold onto those "great expectations" with "brontosaurians" like Frank Wolf in Congress. We need a major change in this area, as in so many other areas. We need representatives in Congress who "get it," and when I don't mean "get wads of money from Big Oil." We need smart leaders who understand the crisis we're facing, not ones who vote against renewable power and the environment, time and time again. In short, we need to replace representatives like Frank Wolf with smart people like Judy Feder. As James Hansen says, we've got one more election to get this right. Let's make it count.

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