How Does It Feel? The annual increase in GHG forcing is increasing, not decreasing, notes James Hansen. Who are the real criminals?

By  | 04 October 2017 Columbia University Blog 

On a long trip from Helsinki to Cavalier, North Dakota.  As Yogi supposedly said, “you can’t get there from here.”  It’s not so far on a great circle route.  But there are no such flights.

How does it feel to be on the way to the trial of a really brave conscientious objector?  Civil disobedience arrests are not new.  I have been arrested five times myself.  Good causes: draw attention to an issue, be taken away in handcuffs, pay a fine and get released.  No real risk – usually.  Once, with Larry Gibson, protesting mountaintop removal, I refused to pay the fine and was threatened with one year in prison.  One year was a period I was willing to risk – for the sake of drawing attention to the situation in West Virginia, where elected officials and even (some of) the judiciary were crooked, bought off by the coal industry.  Somehow, after years, West Virginia quietly dropped the case, so I escaped punishment.

There was one serious conscientious objector in the Bush/Obama era – Bidder 70, who disrupted an auction of public property for fossil fuel exploitation.  The science shows that we can’t burn those additional fossil fuels, unless young people extract the CO2 from the air (unlikely) or suffer the consequences.  President Obama let Bidder 70 go to jail and cook there for a couple of years – sending a message.  The Clean Power Plan will be Obama’s legacy – a tiny short-term dent that at best encouraged widened use of natural gas.  Some legacy!  Obama blew the enormous opportunities that he had, both early and late.

Relevant interlude re “make America America again”: Our two major political parties are competing to see who can do more damage.  In Sophie’s Planet I will argue the need for a new, centrist, party, with the objective to “make America America again.”  That sure won’t happen with either of our present two elitist political parties, both of which have gone off the rails.

Representatives of the party dominated by deniers, are honest crooks.  They don’t hide the fact that they are on the take from the fossil fuel industry.  Science be damned; it’s all about money.

History may find the other party to be more destructive.  They fool the public and themselves.  They are the Neville Chamberlain party.  They pretended that the Kyoto Protocol would do something.  Now they pretend that the Paris Agreement does something.  Kyoto and Paris are analogous to what Churchill described as “half-measures,” and “soothing and baffling expedients.”  As a result, young people will be “entering a period of consequences”.

Have you heard the hogwash about the world turning the corner, moving to clean energies, phasing out fossil fuels?  You heard it in 2015 with all the politicians clapping each other on the back in Paris.  You can read it daily in “Big Green” propaganda machines, such as EcoWatch, just to pick on one of them.  Let’s look at real-world data for the quantity that matters.

Figure 1 shows the annual increase of greenhouse gas climate forcing.  The annual increase is increasing, not decreasing!  That growth continues up to the present The figure appears to go only through 2015, because we smooth data to minimize effects of short-term variability, mainly the Southern Oscillation.  The figure is from the EGU video on the Young People’s Burden paper, for which observations of atmospheric gas amounts are updated monthly on our website.

Fig. 1.  Greenhouse gas (GHG) climate forcing annual growth rate.  IPCC scenario RCP2.6 keeps maximum global warming <1.5°C.  Annual addition to future warming (right hand scale) assumes climate sensitivity 3°C for 2×CO2.  Actual GHG growth exceeds RCP2.6 by at least 0.01 W/m2 in both 2015 and 2016. The added forcing each year is increasing, rather than following the black line (RCP2.6).  The gap now exceeds 0.01 W/m2 each year.

The added forcing each year is increasing, rather than following the black line (RCP2.6).  The gap now exceeds 0.01 W/m2 each year.  Failure to reduce emissions as per RCP2.6 in principle can be offset by extracting CO2 from the air, but, for example, the gap of 0.0127 W/m2 in 2015 would require atmospheric CO2 to be reduced about 1 ppm.  Such a reduction requires extraction of about 3.5 GtC.  Using the optimistic extraction cost estimate of $150-350/tC implies a cost of $525-$1225B.  See Young People’s Burden paper for further explanation.

Why are CO2 and CH4 increasing faster than a decade ago? It’s not surprising. Slow (amplifying) feedbacks are likely greater with recent global warming. Wetland CH4 emissions seem to have increased; CH4 leaks during fracking may contribute.  However, the main point is that emissions of CO2 and CH4 are not decreasing rapidly, as they must if we are to avoid leaving young people climate change running out of control.

Wait a minute!  Didn’t Jerry Brown just renew cap-and-trade, with hoopla?  Isn’t California leading us on the right track!  Hogwash.  That scheme locks in fracked gas for decades, freely allocates allowances to polluters, provides offsets that virtually ensure carbon prices hug the floor, and thus does vanishingly little to reduce emissions.  That is no model for our nation or any other.  I once called Brown’s cap-and-trade approach half-baked and half-assed to Jerry’s face at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.  Some in the audience gasped, but Jerry took it in stride – he is, after all, a tough guy with a sense of humor.  Jerry defended his program as “pretty darned good.”  In truth, it’s pretty damned bad.

It is not plausible to get rapid phasedown of global fossil fuel emissions without an across-the-board global carbon fee, and the public will not accept ensuing price increases unless the money is distributed to the public, not grabbed by government for pet projects.  A “cap” approach cannot achieve rapidly declining global emissions.  What is the “cap” on India?  Jerry likes the cap approach; it allows backroom deals with the fossil fuel industry and he is able to grab the people’s money for a monument: a 20thcentury LA-SF railroad.  If Jerry Brown had chosen a simple honest carbon fee-and-dividend, California could have led the world to a climate solution.  Instead, baffling half-measures.

Cavalier, North Dakota: Michael Foster trial.  Crime: turning valve of Keystone 1 pipeline near Canadian border, stopping flow of 590,000 barrels per day of tar sands oil.  Potential sentence: up to 20 years.  Foster is a model citizen who put in years doing everything he could think of to influence the government in ways allowed in our democracy, undertaking the pipeline action only when it was clear that the government would never act responsibly.  He does not deserve prolonged jail time.

The trial is still underway, so I will get into details in a future Communication.  I have to wonder whether my words about the danger of unlocking unconventional fossil fuels (tar sands, fracking) didn’t help spur his pipeline action.  So I’m on my way to North Dakota, though it seems increasingly unlikely that the judge will allow my testimony on Foster’s behalf.

One cannot attend a trial such as that of Michael without asking discomfitting questions.

Who are the real criminals?

This story is complicated, with calamity around the corner.

How does it feel?  Like a rollin stone.  Like a rollin stone.

August 2017 Global Temperature Update

To sign up for our monthly update of global temperature (Maps and Graphs), click here.

Additional figures are on our global temperature web page.

Globally August 2017 was the second warmest August since reliable measurements started in 1880, 0.85C warmer than the 1951-1980 mean.  The warmest August was in 2016 at +0.99C.  (See the figure above.)

Compared to the 1880-1920 mean (which is also our best estimate for the pre-industrial average temperature) global temperature is now about +1.2C (see figure below).  The warming rate since 1970 is 0.17C/decade.

July 2017 Global Temperature Update

To sign up for our monthly update of global temperature (Maps and Graphs), click here.

Additional figures are on our global temperature web page.

The GISS global temperature analysis now uses NOAA’s newest Sea Surface Temperature version, ERSSTv5, which has improved spatial and temporal variability.  The effect on global temperature of the change from ERSSTv4 to v5 is small compared to the uncertainty in the temperature change itself (above figure).  For more detailed comparisons please see

Globally July 2017 was the warmest July (+0.83C relative to the 1951-1980 mean) in the record, with July 2016 second at +0.82C.  See figure below.

OK, US government — see you in court

By James Hansen and Sophie Kivlehan   AUGUST 14, 2017 The Boston Globe

We are a 76-year-old grandfather and his oldest grandchild, who just graduated from high school in Pennsylvania. We are among 22 plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by Our Children’s Trust on behalf of young people and future generations against the federal government.

The suit will show that the government, by authorizing and subsidizing production, transport, and burning of fossil fuels, is substantially responsible for growing climate disruptions that could lead to irreparable harm to young people. These federal actions, we assert, violate young people’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, property, and equal protection of the law.

The reality and intergenerational nature of human-made climate change are undeniable. It takes decades and centuries for the ocean to warm and ice sheets to melt in response to changes of atmospheric composition. Benefits of burning fossil fuels occur today, but the principal climate effects will be felt by young people and their offspring.

If high fossil fuel emissions continue, eventual effects include loss of coastal cities on time scales as short as 50 to 150 years. Regional climate extremes are already increasing. Growing numbers of climate refugees are a harbinger of the future, if we let low latitudes become too hot for outdoor activity.

We expect to win the lawsuit, but that will not be enough. We could win the battle in court, but lose the war. Indeed, unless the public understands the situation, and asserts its potential to use the democratic process, young people will be consigned to diminishing prospects for their future.

Civil rights provide a relevant example. The Supreme Court ruled in 1954, in Brown v. Board of Education, that segregation was unconstitutional. Yet the government dithered. Only with public outrage in the 1960s did the civil rights war begin to be won.

A similar delay in the climate case would be deadly. Continued high emissions for decades will lock in a warmer ocean, likely pushing the system beyond a point of no return, as the warmer ocean melts the ice shelves around Antarctica and Greenland. Loss of coastal cities would become likely. Other climate disruptions would be magnified.

Our well-oiled, coal-fired Congress and president, predictably, will try to dither. The court may require “all deliberate speed,” as it did with civil rights, but it cannot usurp roles of the executive and legislative branches. It may even require the president to report on progress in reducing emissions. But that guarantees almost nothing about solving the global climate problem.

The fundamental fact is that as long as fossil fuels are cheap, as long as they are not required to pay their costs to society, somebody will burn them. The United States alone has the leverage to address the global issue, but the court cannot order that.

The economics is not rocket science. The price of fossil fuels should be made to rise steadily by collecting a rising carbon fee from fossil fuel companies at the domestic mine or port of entry. All of the funds should be distributed equally to all legal residents. Economic studies show that this would spur the economy, increase gross national product, and create millions of jobs.

The United States burned five billion tons of fossil fuel CO2 last year. A carbon fee of $55 per ton yields $275 billion, or $1,000 for each adult, $3,000 to a family with two or more children, if children get half a share, for up to two per family. This market-based approach provides incentives for the public and businesses, rapidly phasing down fossil fuel use and modernizing infrastructure.

The United States would quickly make the carbon fee near-global by imposing a border duty on products from countries that did not have an equivalent carbon fee or tax. Most countries would prefer to have their own fee, rather than let us collect the money at the border.

The best thing citizens can do is join the Citizens Climate Lobby, even start a local chapter. There are 425 chapters with over 78,000 members in the United States, and chapters in 30 other countries. The members write op-eds and visit lawmakers, being polite but persistent.

Senators Barbara Boxer and Bernie Sanders adopted the carbon fee-and-dividend idea, but their Senate bill would grab 40 percent of the money for the government. In that case, it won’t work — it becomes a tax that depresses the economy. Most people would lose money. The public would not allow the fee to rise.

James A. Baker III, George P. Shultz, and leading conservative economists have come out in favor of a carbon fee with 100 percent dividend, exactly as we propose. Unfortunately, Republicans are afraid that they will be challenged in their primaries if they appear to admit that climate change is real.

Citizens Climate Lobby needs to grow bigger and stronger, so that, when we win the court case, politicians and the public are aware of the centrist political compromise that would work. Incidentally, it would restore America’s leadership and address domestic economic issues.

Why are we confident of winning our lawsuit, which surely would need to survive scrutiny by a conservative Supreme Court? Our case is based on the rock-solid foundation of our Constitution.

Thomas Jefferson, in correspondence with James Madison in 1789 about the proposed Bill of Rights, wrote, “The question whether one generation of men has a right to bind another . . . is a question of such consequences as not only to merit decision, but place also among the fundamental principles of every government. . . . I set out on this ground, which I suppose to be self-evident, ‘that the earth belongs in usufruct to the living.’ ”

Jefferson was saying that the present generation can enjoy the fruits of the land, but with an obligation to leave comparable conditions for the next generation. A reasonably stable seashore, our nation’s Founders would agree, is an asset that should not be stolen from young people.

The young plaintiffs, and all youth today, confront a gathering storm. They have at their command considerable determination, a dog-eared copy of our beleaguered Constitution, and rigorously developed science. The courts will decide if that is enough.

James Hansen, former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, is director of the Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions program at the Columbia University Earth Institute. Sophie Kivlehan will be a freshman at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., this fall.