19 December 2010

AGU hall of fame: Jim Hansen

At AGU there lurks a bigshot in every corner. And even the biggest of the big are around. So big that every educated person in the world should know who they are. I had the pleasure of attending presentations by a number of these. And I’ll try to share that.

A name that would be familiar to those who follow the climate debate is Jim Hansen. He has fought hard for getting his science to the public. And he’s suffered for it. He is an example of not letting yourself be shut up by the powers that be. It seemed he was silent for a while, until he realised he couldn’t justify his silence to his grandchildren. He spoke of a ban by his employer on talking to the media; he said ”I had that ban lifted by talking to the New York Times, who put my story on the front page...” Go Jim go!

Hansen pointed out that the problem with climate change boils down to political will. Science knows quite well what the problem is and what to do about it. I think I remember that politics says it wants to limit atmospheric CO2 to some ludicrous level as 550ppm or so. Maybe even more. If you’re a climate scientist that is a number that slaps you in the face. Hard. Hansen proposes 350; that’s LESS than what it is now! One may be puzzled by that; so far we are still surviving at ~390ppm. But the climate system has quite some inertia and these levels will turn around and bite us. And we can still limit the pain of that bite, but we don’t! We keep on exploiting tar sands and building coal fired plants and doing everything we can to make it worse quickly, and once in a while powerful people get together to say they’re very concerned and then do nothing. And if you want to know more about this aim to reach 350ppm: see http://www.350.org/.

Hansen has written a book for the general public as well. Buy it! Read it!

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