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Well, ok--not just to me. But Jim Hansen--renowned climate scientist and patriot--came to a little community meeting down the street from me to talk about the climate crisis.  

The Lexington Global Warming Action Coalition hosted a tremendous event.  Mark Bowen, author of Thin Ice and Censoring Science, and Jim Hansen spoke to a room full of (mostly) interested, aware, active, and informed neighbors of mine.  I love to go to events like this, because it reminds me that there are a lot of people paying attention.  And, of course, there were a couple of trolls.  But most people were eager to hear this message.

Great news: the whole thing was taped by CSPAN, and is slated to appear on BookTV one of these days.  I'll keep an eye out for that so you can see the whole thing.

You are going to get my notes here--any errors in science or transcription are mine.  And like Jim Hansen says on the title slide for his talk, it is probably wise for me to add that "any statements relating to policy are personal opinions."
--mem from somerville

The event began with a fun exercise--we did a panoramic shot for the campaign!  Everyone got a sign to hold (including the authors) to express our support for that new project from Bill McKibben and his allies to help us get to where we need to be to hope to stabilize our environment and prevent even more damage. And by the way--Bill's mom was sitting in the front row, so look for her when that photo comes out :)  It is supposed to be on the site soon.

Mark Bowen started by offering kudos to this group in Lexington that organized this event--they are a really pro-active and effective group, it sounds: "A beacon of positive activity on this issue." He said that Jim hasn't often spoken at community events like this--because he's pretty busy with that science stuff :)  But that the appeal of giving a talk just a few blocks from the location of a major Revolutionary event was too much to resist--because we are facing a very real issue of Democracy here.  What the Feds have done to suppress science which they dislike is a subversion of our democracy.

Through his work, Mark became deeply involved in the science and issues around the climate crisis.  And there were 2 main ideas he wanted to convey to us {I paraphrase}:

  • We have to get to 350 ppm C02
  • This is a problem created by wealthy people.  We need to take the lead on righting this ship.

Mark acknowledged that the group in Lexington was a bit above average in terms of level of wealth on this planet.  PhotobucketHe referred to a talk by Steven Pacala at IIASA that demonstrated the impact of people on the globe as based on their income.  He also pointed to a recent book review in Nature on Energy in Nature and Society that illustrates the impacts of energy on aspects of life such as poverty, infant mortality, and life expectancy.  The data shows that asking other countries to cut back--when they aren't even close to our impact yet--is really not right.  We need to take the lead on cutting back.  

He tells us that our consumer mentality is destroying the environment.  23% of the emissions in China are for making western consumer products.  That's us, folks.  We need to be regulating our consumptions.  Think Thoreau (some guy from down the street) and living deliberately and simply.  

Then we turned to the topic of Censoring Science.  The last time Mark had spoken to this Lexington group Jim Hansen had just made those statements that shifted this frame--and cracked the censoring aspect of this administration wide open.  Mark called Jim an unflinching speaker of the truth, and quipped that people have said that what Jim says today the IPCCwill be saying in 20 years....

I bought the book at the event, but I haven't gotten very far yet. As a practicing scientist this is an aspect that I want to know more about.  I was hoping for more of that discussion at this event, but the hosts were, of course, interested in the climate change science--so we spent most of the rest of the time on that.  However--great news: Mark will be attending Netroots Nation!!  I hope we can go into this aspect more at NN08.  I'll be there.  With questions!

PhotobucketWhat Jim Hansen said to me

Ok, to everyone.  But it was such a treat to be in the room to get a sense of the guy. The introduction led to a standing ovation for Jim.  He looked a little sheepish and uncomfortable with that, I have to say.  I had the sense that he just wanted to get to the science.  And off we, there was science.  (Note: click the slides for bigger versions)

So, there's a title for ya.  In the question section I would have asked him to go over the "bright side" again because I may have missed it, but there were too many people in line for questions.  
He turned quickly to an assessment of where we are right now with this little warming problem we have.  The basic points are:

  • Knowledge Gap:  there is a gulf between what scientists know, and what the public and the policy makers know. We need to bridge this.

  • Planetary Emergency: we are approaching tipping points that could lead to unstoppable changes. Unstoppable. Irreversible.  Gulp.

  • Good News in Bad News: we haven't tipped yet, and some of the things we can do are quite good for us.  I guess this was the sentence about the good news--that we can have cleaner water, energy independence, green jobs...but we don't have much time.

This talk was loaded with information.  Some of it was remarkably detailed for a general public audience, I thought.  PhotobucketI mean, personally, I LOVE a four-panel graph with three axes and 5 plot lines....but I worry that some of the folks near me weren't quite following that.  

And I don't want to go into the scientific detail here.  It is in the peer reviewed literature.  RealClimate can help you out with all of it. And I'm sure I couldn't do it full justice.  When the CSPAN video comes along you can go deeper on those aspects if you like.  But I imagine here that I don't need to convince you guys with the data--you want the messages.  So I will focus on that.  

Tipping Points:Photobucket
We are approaching tipping points. If you hear about the Antarctic ice shelves (the land-based ones) or the Greenland ones breaking up, we're hosed {I paraphrase, of course}.  There's no putting the genie-back-in-the-bottle at that time.  

We are out of energy balance--there were formulas to show the energy units per square unit of earth that were were out of balance, leading to this instability.  We need to lower our CO2 levels back to 350ppm to get back to some stability.  Clearly, where we are now--at 385ppm, ice sheets are unstable.  He described the stability of the ice sheets are "very serious" and "increasing."

Mountain glaciers. Coral reefs.  Polar bears. There's trouble already everywhere.  We have to get under 385ppm.  Fast.  There are feedback loops that will certainly bite us if we don't.  And what we already have in the CO2 atmospheric-bound pipeline is pushing us upwards.  We cannot afford to put the rest of the fossil fuels on the planet into the atmosphere.  We just can't.  If you hear about coal-fired plants being proposed near you--without sequestration--you have to stop them. No new coal without capture: or we go "off the chart."  

Improved agriculture and forestry techniques can help us out.  But those aren't enough.

Jim acknowledged that it is hard to convince people of this imperative, because weather does vary.  Some places are warmer one season, drier one period, etc.  But when you average all the data we are getting over many years, it is clear.  Change is occurring.

We need to do something to change behavior and drive innovation.  Jim favors a cost for carbon, or carbon price--where the dividend goes to everyone. {by the way, this got a huge round of applause in this room} So if you are a "light" user, you can build up your piggy bank.  A heavy user would use all of their dividends up to pay for their behavior, and more, of course.  

Fossil fuels are going to be running out anyway--why not move away from them now.

There were many more slides about the Climate Sensitivity--that we are forcing changes on the system, with the data.  We have seen only a fraction of what we can expect already.  Jim acknowledged that there are natural imbalances like volcanos or weathering that affect the climate over time.  But human-made change is 4 TIMES larger than those natural phenomena, and on a MUCH shorter time scale. He says that we are in charge of the climate, even if we don't know how to control it at this point.  

Like most scientists, Jim seemed to have way more slides than he had time for.  As he started to clip through a few more, he made an ominous sounding statement that I need to re-watch on the video.  He said something like: "I'm a little concerned that we aren't getting warning of..." the sea level rising, the ice melting....I missed the detail there.  But it was a bit disconcerting to me.  Why is Jim concerned?? I MUST KNOW!!  

PhotobucketThere was a question session at the end, with a mixed barrel of good questions, personal causes with statements, and trolls.  One good question was: what can we do at the local level?  And Jim responded that actually some of the best action was going on at the local level.  But we need big policy changes.  The public has to influence the policy.

I got my book signed at the end, and told Mark that I would see him at Netroots Nation.  He told me he had seen my diary about the announcement of this event and became a Kossack to reply to me--but because of the comment waiting period he couldn't help me out.  Maybe we'll see him in the threads in the future.  We'll certainly see him in Austin.  Have your questions about Censoring Science ready.  I will.


Local news coverage of the event:
Controversial author speaks on global warming (with some video)

Author: Jim Hansen's critical role in tracking global warming

Originally posted to mem from somerville on Mon Jun 02, 2008 at 03:22 PM PDT.

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