May 17, 2013
Fresh off his resignation from NASA, leading climate scientist James Hansen is making the rounds this week, warning media and lawmakers that not only are we heading for a "tremendously chaotic" climate, but if we dig up and burn Canadian tar sands, the climate crisis will be rendered "unsolvable."
Hansen told a a panel of U.K. lawmakers, the Environmental Audit Committee, on Friday that "the potential amount of carbon in these unconventional resources is huge."
"If we introduce the tar shale and the tar sands as a source and exploit those resources to a significant extent, then the problem becomes unsolvable."
This week, scientists discovered that the atmosphere has surpassed the dreaded 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide -- a level of greenhouse gases many have said ensures irreparable harm to the planet.
If the world doesn't immediately curb its dependence on fossil fuels, we are sure to see a "tremendously chaotic" climate, Hansen warned in an interview with EurActiv.
If nothing is done to wean the world off of carbon-emitting fossil fuels, such as a hefty carbon tax, Hansen warned, we could eventually "warm the planet even to the levels of the last interglacial period," which will mean "an eventual sea level rise of several meters."
"Four degrees of warming would be enough to melt all the ice," Hansen told EurActiv. "It would take a while for it to happen, but you would have a tremendously chaotic situation as you moved away from our current climate towards another one. That's a different planet. You wouldn't recognize it."
In regards to the Keystone XL pipeline and adamant proposals to dig up and burn unconventional fossil fuels such as Canadian tar sands, we will easily reach these dangerous levels. Hansen said:
...there is an enormous amount of carbon in unconventional fossil fuels - tar sands, tar shale and even fracking for gas. If we open these up, you can easily see that we are going to shoot way past any targets for limiting global climate change. It's the first big step into unconventional oil which any rational assessment of the problem says we can't do.
However, as Hansen warned in a separate interview on BBC Radio 4 on Friday, climate deniers continue to mislead the public as to the near unanimous consensus among climate scientists that climate change is real and anthropogenic.
Hansen said that climate deniers are trying to divert climate science and confuse the public by claiming that climate change has stalled.
This, as Hansen shows, is easy to refute.
Since 1998, when the Nino climate phenomenon caused global temperatures to soar, the rate of increase in warming has slowed, causing some skeptics to suggest climate change has stopped or that the effect of rising carbon dioxide levels on climate is not as great as previously thought.
Prof Hansen, speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today program, rejected both arguments. "In the last decade it has warmed only a tenth of a degree compared to two-tenths of a degree in the preceeding decade, but that's just natural variability. There is no reason to be surprised by that at all," he said. "If you look over a 30-40 year period the expected warming is two-tenths of a degree per decade, but that doesn't mean each decade is going to warm two-tenths of a degree: there is too much natural variability."
Prof Hansen said the focus by some on "details" was a smokescreen. "This is a diversionary tactic. Our understanding of global warming and human-made climate change has not been affected at all," he said. "It's because the deniers [of the science] want the public to be confused. They raise these minor issues and then we forget about what the main story is. The main story is carbon dioxide is going up and it is going to produce a climate which is going to have dramatic changes if we don't begin to reduce our emissions."
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