is the title of this MUST-READ op ed by James Hansen in this morning's New York Times It comes from the 2nd paragraph. In the first, Hansen reminds us of the President's words that Canada will develop its oils sands "regardless of what we do." He then write
If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.Why? Let me put into bold his very next sentece: 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.
The implication of fulling using this source of CO2 on top of our current use of carbon-based fuels would be, according to Hansen, that atmospherice CO2 would eventually
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.By now I hope you are shocked. That is blunt, as it needs to be.
On this Hansen, who directs the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and is considered by most reasonable people as our foremost expert on the subject, is providing a clarion call and not for the first time.
Please keep reading.
Hansen reminds us that in 1981 he warned that our continued reliance on carbon-based fuels would eventually lead to a point where the global warning signal would be louder than noise. Concentrations of atmospheric CO2 have risen "from 280 parts per million to 393 p.p.m. over the last 150 years." The Canadian tar sands, if fully exploited would add another 12o p.p.m. American tar shale would if similarly exploited add even more.
Hansen argues that it is not YET too late to prevent the coming catastrophe. He wants to see us impose a gradually rising carbon fee that the government would pass through to the American people to offset the cost of energy, thereby using market forces to discourage further use of carbon-based sources of energy such as those we are about to develop and thereby encourage by making competitive alternative sources of energy that do not add CO2. This would make fossil fuels pay for their real cost. Yet instead governments around the world, including our own, continue to subsidize and encourage the development of fossil fuels.
The President has, Hansen acknowledges, talked about a planet in peril. He wants Obama to provide actions to match that acknowledgement, to provide the leadership necessary to change the outcome.
And his conclusion is blunt, and sobering:
The science of the situation is clear — it’s time for the politics to follow. This is a plan that can unify conservatives and liberals, environmentalists and business. Every major national science academy in the world has reported that global warming is real, caused mostly by humans, and requires urgent action. The cost of acting goes far higher the longer we wait — we can’t wait any longer to avoid the worst and be judged immoral by coming generations.avoid the worst - the worst is the destruction of civilization. We would not have to see sea levels rise by anything close to 50 feet to see major world disruption. Some island nations would begin disappearing. Others, including the US, would see their heavily populated coastlines inundated. The changes in climate and precipitation would totally disrupt agriculture, wipe out species, deprive many populated areas of their sources of water (here think of the disappearance of mountain snows and glaciers, whose melt is the source of many great rivers).
The science is clear. To know and not to act immediately is to be immoral.
Some on the political right try to disparage the science, because they economically benefit from the current patterns of energy use. Too many corporations think only of their own immense - even obscene - profits.
Here I think of those who attempt to lambast the idea of government stimulus by claiming we are ignoring the long-term debt burden we are passing on to future generations. They claim that is immoral. It would be if we did not know that stimulating the economy is the only tool available to prevent economic disaster for nations and for many within our own borders, and that over the long term it means a lesser debt burden for the future. Besides, had we not done two unfunded wars and continued unfunded and unjustified tranfers to wealth to the already wealthy through abusive tax policy, much of our national debt could already have been paid off. What we do financially is not irreversible.
What we do to the world may soon be irreversible.
The title of the piece is Game Over for the Climate. It could as easily be Game Over for Civilization.
We need to listen to Hansen.
This piece should be required reading for everyone.
Which is why I wrote about this subject today, on a day when another subject may seem of more immediate interest. What happened yesterday is important. I wrote about it then.
What Hansen writes about is already almost past critical. We cannot wait. We cannot afford to dither, or he will be correct, we will be judged immoral by coming generations - that is, if we do not make it impossible for there to be coming generations.