Tag Archive | "james hansen"

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James Hansen: A “Fittest” to Remember

Posted on 05 July 2013 by Jerry

If you were a scientist, what would you do if you discovered your planet was following the fate of Venus whose water evaporated creating a runaway greenhouse effect that left a 900°F atmosphere of sulfur dioxide and sulfuric acid droplets?  What if your next forty years of research supported your fears and you knew that people on planet Earth had to make dramatic changes in order to survive?  What if decades passed and nothing was done?

You would be frustrated like Dr. James Hansen, now just retired, who headed the Goddard Institute for Space Studies for thirty-two years.  Dr. Hansen has continually warned the world of the impending disaster known as climate change.  Over many years he has spoken out in academic and scientific, governmental/congressional settings and the public press to transfer his knowledge to others.

Follow this link to the tape of James Hansen’s presentation at a 2012 TED conference.  Go to http://www.ted.com/speakers/james_hansen.html move to the right of the page and next to Dr. Hansen’s picture select “James Hansen: Why I must speak out about climate change”.  This exceptional presentation summarizes in a clear and straightforward way what Dr. Hansen knows about climate change.

Among many things he describes the changes he and his associates foresaw and forewarned about in 1981 that have all come to pass.  He elaborates on how CO2 allows heat energy to come to the planet from the sun and yet will not let it escape.  He explains the energy imbalance of the planet (more energy coming in than going out) that is gaining extra energy each day equivalent to 400,000 Hiroshima type bombs exploded 365 days per year. He concludes we must reduce our CO2 from today’s atmospheric 400 parts per million (see post of May 26, 2013 “Déjà Vu – 400PPM 2.2 Million Years Ago”) back to 350 parts per million to restore the planet’s proper energy balance.

In this month’s posting of Chapter 16 – Transcending Egocentricity from Beyond Animal, Ego and Time, we observe that evolution is forward looking and comment on the true meaning of “survival of the fittest”.  We suggest a completely different reading of the phrase based on the evolutionary process.  Further, the “fittest” are those people that “can demonstrate mastery in the present and future…who exhibit an ability to work with and lead others” and “have achieved the greatest level of consciousness and prescience by establishing future directions and taking actions that produce the greatest good for the greatest number.”

These “fittest” are the people we revere and remember.  Dr. James Hansen, will be one of those people.  Although he has much left to do, he should be listed with the other people who have dedicated their professional and personal lives to the betterment of the rest of us and all following generations.

Use for following links for further information:

http://www.ted.com/speakers/james_hansen.html (Select “James Hansen: Why I must speak out about climate change”)

http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/presentations.shtml (this gives you a link to the presentations and testimony of Dr. Hansen from 2004 to 2012)



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The Good, Bad & Ugly of Obama’s Climate Speech

Posted on 30 June 2013 by Jerry

In a major speech on climate change at Georgetown University Barack Obama showed us the risks that lie in our future.  While hailed as long overdue and somewhat underwhelming but positive, it outlined steps he is taking to reduce climate change.  Some people were enthusiastically supportive.  Al Gore was quoted in his blog as saying the Obama speech was “historic” and “the best address on climate by any president ever.”

His speech should give us pause however to see the political challenge that lies ahead.  He laid out steps he could directly order with his administrative powers.

Among the good things he said was that he would order the following:

  • the Environmental Protection Agency to develop and implement new pollution standards for new and existing U.S. power plants
  • the Interior Department by 2020 to use public lands and funds to install new green energy power sources that equal the power use of more than 6 million homes
  • the Department of Defense to install 3 gigawatts of renewable power on its bases
  • and that a budget be sent to Congress that contains funds to help with community projects and insure that they protect citizens from the negative effects of climate change

These are not the only steps the president has taken on climate change.  Without fanfare he logged positive accomplishments in his first term.  See our past post of 11/1/12 “Obama Stealth Objective: Reduce Greenhouse Gases.”

Among the bad things referred to in his speech were the positions taken by the climate deniers.  He argued, citing the scientific evidence and consensus that climate change is real, that human beings are contributing or causing our climate to deteriorate.  Further he said, “I don’t have much patience for anyone that denies this challenge is real.  We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.”

Unfortunately the ugly reality underlying the entire speech is that he does not expect the Republican controlled House of Representatives to allow any legislation to pass that would alter the present course we are on.  In fact, he acknowledged the significant pressure on him to allow the building of the Keystone XL pipeline.  This pipeline would provide a path for Canadian oil developers to get oil extracted from Canadian tar sands to market.

An article in the July issue of Scientific American entitled “Oil Sands May Irrevocably Tar the Climate” gives an excellent description of the entire project. These Canadian tar sands encompass an area that is about the size of the State of Florida.  Tar sand processing has created vast lakes of toxic water residues, with its bright yellow sulfur, that are so large they can be seen from space.

The article describes the open pit mining of the tar sands, the numerous Caterpillar 797Fs each carrying 400 metric tons of tar sands to conveyors to separation cells.  It explains multiple processes in use to show how it is cooked at high heat to remove carbon and create a hydrocarbon stew or mixed with lighter hydrocarbons to produce diluted bitumen.  Both processes make the tar sand oil liquid enough to flow in the long distance Keystone XL pipeline.

The environmental damage is not the critical issue however.  Physicist Myles Allen with six of his associates calculated in 2009 a “carbon budget” we must stay within in order to keep the worldwide climate change average temperature rise to just two degrees.  This budget sets a one-trillion-metric-ton limit on the amount of carbon human beings can burn by the year 2050.  Since CO2 lasts for centuries in the atmosphere, it doesn’t matter what (coal, oil or natural gas) we burn, where we burn it or when it is burned as long as it is before 2050 to affect the budget.

These facts have prompted James Hansen, a retired NASA climatologist, to be arrested multiple times at protest rallies opposing the building of the pipeline.  In an April 2013 op-ed he wrote in the Los Angeles Times he said, “Researchers now say that the Alberta tar sands contain 360 to 510 billion tons of carbon – more than double that of all oil burned in human history.  While only a fraction is considered economically recoverable right now, we humans are genius at finding new and better ways to dig junk out of the ground.”

Further his op-ed stated that “mainstream financial analysis and industry documents….show the Keystone XL is the linchpin for tar sands expansion in the next decade.”  He sums up by saying “The science on climate change has been in for a quarter of a century.  There are no more mixed messages, just catastrophe after catastrophe.  The president stands at a fork in the road: Rejecting the pipeline will show the world we are serious and determined to be on the right side of history.  Approving it will signal we are too entrenched with business-as-usual to do what’s right by the people, planet and future generations.”

Hansen argues it is time to draw a firm line in the sand beyond which we will not go.  We are fighting the avarice of capitalists we have encouraged.  They admit in private that climate change is real.  Their only hope however is that they can convince us to do nothing long enough for them to profit.  It is time to tell the buggy whip manufactures of our energy industry that their time has passed and they are being left behind by today’s better technologies, their own past plundering of our planet and our present need to insure a positive future for our children.

Use the following links to obtain more information on these subjects:

For a complete transcript of the President’s speech go to http://ens-newswire.com/2013/06/25/president-obamas-climate-change-speech-full-text/






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Rising Heat, Decreasing Water

Posted on 06 March 2013 by Jerry

As a result of climate change supported by a consensus of the scientific community, extremely hot temperatures are being experienced more frequently around the world.  James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute in a recent report shared that extreme heat which used to strike about .02% of the world’s land area in any given summer now strikes about 10%.  The estimate is that within 10 years this will rise to 16.7%.

An article in the September 8, 2012 issue of Science News quotes John M. Wallace of the University of Washington as saying he sees a shift toward more extremely warm days and hotter extremes within those days.  He said there is good reason to believe global warming elevates extremes.

For a preview of areas of the world where water shortages will be significant by 2050 look at the accompanying chart which is reprinted from an article that appeared in Nature Magazine.  If you live in an area of the world where the human population is using water at a faster pace than it can be replenished you may need to follow the water and relocate to an area which still has a robust aquifer to support its population.  If you haven’t looked at the current technology and cost of desalinization, you may be in a place that will not be able to get water from the ocean.

At first glance, the surprise in the chart is the identity and number of areas with large ground water resources.  After some thought you may conclude the plentiful water supply correlates with relatively small human populations and/or areas which do not have large agricultural production and irrigation.  The authors of the article indicate the hyper water consuming nations are India, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Mexico and the United States.

Focusing on just one of the areas of water shortage, an article in the February 8, 2013 issue of Science explores China’s worries about rising temperatures and the shrinking aquifer in the eastern rim of the North China Plain, China’s breadbasket.  In a country that already has 20% of the world’s population and only 7 percent of its arable land, which is shrinking due to urbanization, there is increasing demand for greater food consumption.  This added to rising temperatures which will further shorten the traditional growing seasons, will inevitably lead to lower crop yields. 

Northern China depends on the Yellow River and natural water table for irrigation.  Unfortunately, pollution of the river and diverting water for urban uses has caused the region to rely more heavily on its aquifer.  This has led to a steady shrinkage of available water as more water is consumed than can be replaced by rainfall.  The last four decades have seen the area use approximate 120 billion cubic meters more water than have been replenished in the aquifer. This coupled with rising sea levels in the traditional rice growing areas will put significant pressure on China to solve its water shortages and long term threats to its food supply.

After a few years of significant droughts in the United States, early signs from the nation’s snowpack show the droughts will continue.  With very light snow fall in the Rocky Mountains, the Western states reservoir water levels are still only half full.  This indicates the soil in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada is drier than normal once again.  In a New York Times article a Colorado farmer, Mike Hungenberg states “It’s approaching a critical situation.  A year ago we went into the spring season with most of the reservoirs full.  This year, you’re going in with basically everything empty.”

Some areas of the United States have benefited from a good winter snow which will ease their water shortages.  Some parts of Montana, Oregon, Utah, Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri have reason for hope as a result of new rains and snows. Other areas are anticipating another year of drought.

Climate change leads to higher average temperatures which cause shrinking water supplies.  Increasing urbanization adds pressure on present aquifers.  The need to protect water supplies and/or plan for acquisition of water from other sources is a clear and present need for the areas affected.  We all should be mindful of what is causing this shortfall and what each of us needs to do to help fix it.  We should all embrace actions which conserve water even in areas where it is plentiful.

For additional information use the following links:







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Ozone, Climate Change: Harbingers and Victims

Posted on 09 August 2012 by Jerry

For many decades canaries in coal mines were used for early warning of carbon monoxide, methane or carbon dioxide which would kill the canary before affecting the miner. It appears that fish may have replaced the canary in providing warning of ozone depletion and effects of these same deadly gasses on climate change.  This is of course, in addition to prescient scientists and climate activists who have provided similar early warnings that have been largely ignored.

A study entitled “Evidence of Melanoma in Wild Marine Fish Populations” in the August 1, 2012 issue of PLoS ONE, describes the first known cases of melanoma skin cancer in wild fish populations, in this case coral trout which inhabit the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP) off Australia.  One hundred and thirty six fish were sampled and photographed and twenty fish, or roughly 15%, showed evidence of skin cancer.  Numerous other affected fish were sighted by divers.  The study however was performed only on fish captured via fishing.

Elaborate tests were performed on the affected tissues attempting to identify likely causes including bacterial, fungal, and ciliates or protozoan agents.  The observed dark growth lesions on the fish were similar in appearance to those reported in laboratory induced melanomas (cancers) using ultraviolet (UV) radiation.  See the identified link below.  In the absence of other identified causes, knowledge that the area is subject to high UV radiation as a result of the Antarctic ozone hole, and that UV radiation penetrates the ocean to a depth of 60 meters (200 feet), the scientists concluded the likely cause of these cancers was environmental exposure to UV radiation as a result of ozone depletion.

Scientists are surprised at the waning interest in depletion of the ozone above the planet.  This is thought to be because the world believed it had dealt with the problem with the signing of the 1987 Montreal Protocol where developed countries agreed to phase out use of chemicals that are damaging to the ozone.  Scientists moved on to study climate change and left ozone depletion as yesterday’s news.  Recent studies of ocean algae, coral, crustaceans and fish larvae and eggs however are showing a steep increase in the marine death rates from UVB radiation.

Moving to the Northern Hemisphere, fish are paying the price extracted by climate change, which accentuates weather highs and lows.  In the midst of the warmest 12 month period on record (see blog April 5, 2012 article “Record Warmest Year in U.S.”) and a nationwide drought with over half of the counties in America declared disaster areas, fish are dying by the thousands as rivers and lakes dry up and there are fatal increases in water temperatures.

Many scientists, who have become intimidated by the climate change deniers of the legacy energy industry and the political right, are reluctant to label this record drought a result of global climate change.  Instead, because of fierce criticism and pressure, they use the politically correct response which is “It is impossible to determine if any single phenomenon is a result of climate change.”   Only a few stalwarts and truthsayers have the courage to stand up to the intimidation.  They are our human harbingers.

A notable example of these brave scientists is James Hansen who directs the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.  In a recent NY Times Op-ed he warned that the Obama administration should oppose any effort of Canada to exploit the oil in its vast tar sands reserves.  He stated we should not cooperate in building a cross country oil pipeline giving Canada access to our Gulf Coast Refining.  He suggested instead that the U.S. and other countries should create incentives that rewarded countries like Canada for leaving their resources in the ground and choosing renewable energy sources instead.

In a long term outlook he stated, “Canada’s tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history.  If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control.  Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities.  Global temperatures would become intolerable.   Twenty to 50 percent of the planet’s species would be driven to extinction.  Civilization would be at risk.”

In a subsequent paper presented to the National Academy of Sciences entitled “Perception of climate change” he focused on an element of basic statistics looking at recent higher temperature summer outliers of more than three standard deviations.  He stated “This hot extreme, which covered much less than 1% of Earth’s surface during the base period, now typically covers about 10% of the land area.  It follows that we can state, with a high degree of confidence, that extreme anomalies such as those in Texas and Oklahoma in 2011 and Moscow in 2010 were a consequence of global warming because their likelihood in the absence of global warming was exceedingly small.”

We need but look around us and listen to our scientists to know that the negative developments we are seeing are real and do not bode well for our future.  We must react as human beings have always reacted by recognizing the trends and deciding to change our course and minimize future negative outcomes.

Use the following links to access additional information on these topics:








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