“needed actions will happen only if the public, somehow, becomes forcefully involved.” - Dr. James Hansen, NASA

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Thu, 08/26/2010 - 16:45.

Dr. James Hansen, Director, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, considered by many to be foremost climatologist in the world

As Northeast Ohio leadership MUST forcefully involve citizens as activists against the harm caused in our community and worldwide by pollution here, and address the resulting economic and public health damage here, it is important to reflect on what is an environmental activist, and how people may become actively engaged in community redevelopment through environmentalism.

I've been called an environmental activist for acting to stop the Medical Center Company from burning coal in my neighborhood, and for charging the Ohio EPA and their contractors with faulty air pollution monitoring and processes. To me, supporting good economic, social and environmental causes is just good citizenship... investing significant time and money to drive change through such causes is certainly activism.

I care enough about the environment, and am an activist to forcefully involve citizens in changing our environmental policies and strategies here, to the point of going public with my concerns on realNEO, and escalating my concerns up through the branches of the federal government, to the White House, driving to change our leadership here... even as my activism causes my family harm from retaliation.

My explanation for why I am thus an activist about our environment goes something like "I look forward to standing with young people and their supporters, helping them develop their case, as they demand their proper due and fight for nature and their future. I guess that makes me an activist." That quote is actually from Dr. James Hansen, Director, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, considered by many to be foremost climatologist in the world, on why he is an environmental activist.

Hansen was driven to environmental activism by his knowledge of climate science - I was driven to environmental activism as an economist and information scientist, isolating and analyzing data that shows there is significant harm to human health and regional economics from our air pollution here, and that important public data about our air pollution is hidden from public view.

I have focused attention on such environmental econometrics because failure to effectively monitor and control pollution causes real human and economic harm - there is real harm to citizens living in Northeast Ohio from pollution and political ill will to cause excessive pollution here, and the results are catastrophic for the region.

How I became an activist about our environment was realizing our "governments have a fiduciary responsibility to protect the rights of young people and future generations", yet "the executive and legislative branches of our governments turn a deaf ear to the science"... to again quote Hansen.

The interview with Hansen embedded above offers an excellent scientific overview of a range of related matters, and is well worth the view. In summery, on the topic of activism, there is an excellent article on Dr. Hansen on Climate Progress, "a portal dedicated to providing the progressive perspective on climate science, climate solutions, and climate politics", posted below as a service to our community... I strongly recommend subscribing to Climate Progress updates for the best of environmental science news...

For now, consider the thoughts of Dr. Hansen, and where environmental activism fits into your life, as you live through more climate tipping points, and grow older and wiser...

Hansen on why he became an activist: “Our planet is close to climate tipping points” and it is “clear that needed actions will happen only if the public, somehow, becomes forcefully involved.”

Top climatologist launches new website with graphs and analysis

August 26, 2010

60-month and 132-month running means of global surface temperature anomaly with a base period 1951-1980.

The nation’s leading — and most scientifically prescient — climatologist has a new website, Updating the Climate Science: What Path is the Real World Following? It “will present updated graphs and discussion of key quantities that help provide understanding of how climate change is developing and how effective or ineffective global actions are in affecting climate forcings and future climate change.”

He also has a new essay, “Activist”, for “J. Henry Fair’s upcoming book.”  As an aside I simply can’t imagine why Fair titled his book, “The Day After Tomorrow,” the dreadful, scientifically inaccurate 2004 climate movie that many folks, like director James Cameron, actually set back the cause of informing the public about climate science and the dangers of unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions.

I’ll excerpt the essay and repost some of the graphs below:


Sea level change for 1870-2001, based on tide gauge measurements, from Church J.A. and White N.J. “A 20th century acceleration in global sea-level rise” Geophys. Res. Lett. 2006; 33: L01602. University of Colorado data are shifted to have the same mean for 1993-2001 as Church and White. The trends were computed for 1870-1920, 1920-1975, 1975-2001 for Church and White data, and 1993 – mid November 2009 for University of Colorado data. Figure also available in PDF. (Last modified: 2010/07/30)

Hansen explains how he became an activist:

“How did you become an activist?” I was surprised by the question. I never considered myself an activist. I am a slow-paced taciturn scientist from the Midwest. Most of my relatives are pretty conservative. I can imagine attitudes at home toward “activists”.

I was about to protest the characterization – but I had been arrested, more than once. And I had testified in defense of others who had broken the law. Sure, we only meant to draw attention to problems of continued fossil fuel addiction. But weren’t there other ways to do that in a democracy? How had I been sucked into being an “activist?”

My grandchildren had a lot to do with it. It happened step-by-step. First, in 2004, I broke a 15-year self-imposed effort to stay out of the media. I gave a public lecture, backed by scientific papers, showing the need to slow greenhouse gas emissions – and I criticized the Bush administration for lack of appropriate policies. My grandchildren came into the talk only as props – holding 1-watt Christmas tree bulbs to help explain climate forcings.

Fourteen months later I gave another public talk – connecting the dots from global warming to policy implications to criticisms of the fossil fuel industry for promoting misinformation. This time my grandchildren provided rationalization for a talk likely to draw Administration ire: I explained that I did not want my children to look back and say “Opa understood what was happening, but he never made it clear.”

What had become clear was that our planet is close to climate tipping points. Ice is melting in the Arctic, on Greenland and Antarctica, and on mountain glaciers worldwide. Many species are stressed by environmental destruction and climate change. Continuing fossil fuel emissions, if unabated, will cause sea level rise and species extinction accelerating out of humanity’s control. Increasing atmospheric water vapor is already magnifying climate extremes, increasing overall precipitation, causing greater floods and stronger storms.

Stabilizing climate requires restoring our planet’s energy balance. The physics is straightforward. The effect of increasing carbon dioxide on Earth’s energy imbalance is confirmed by precise measurements of ocean heat gain. The principal implication is defined by the geophysics, by the size of fossil fuel reservoirs. Simply put, there is a limit on how much carbon dioxide we can pour into the atmosphere. We cannot burn all fossil fuels. Specifically, we must (1) phase out coal use rapidly, (2) leave tar sands in the ground, and (3) not go after the last drops of oil.

Hansen has a nice chart showing what emissions path we are on.

Updates of Figure 16 in Hansen (2003), “Can we defuse the global warming time bomb?” (also in PDF).

Some confusionists have tried to create some semantic confusion about whether we are above the IPCC’s “worst-case scenario.”  The IPCC does have emissions scenarios higher than A1F1, as the figure shows, but in the Synthesis Report for policymakers, one of the few things non-scientists actually read, the worst-case scenario it models for impacts this century is A1F1.  And that’s the path we are currently on (see U.S. media largely ignores latest warning from climate scientists: “Recent observations confirm … the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realised” — 1000 ppm).

The question of whether we stay on this path — in the absence of domestic climate legislation and an international deal — will be determined primarily by whether China continues its recent pace of coal-based growth for the next two decades and beyond, which I doubt, and whether a number of countries keep the pledges they made in the months leading up to Copenhagen, which I suspect they will.

Back to Hansen’s move to activism:

Actions needed for the world to move on to clean energies of the future are feasible. The actions could restore clean air and water globally, assuring intergenerational equity by preserving creation – the natural world.

But the actions are not happening.

At first I thought it was poor communication. Scientists must not have made the story clear enough to world leaders. Surely there must be some nations that could understand the intergenerational injustice of present energy policies.

So I wrote letters to national leaders and visited more than half a dozen nations, as described in my book, “Storms of My Grandchildren”. What I found in each case was greenwash – a pretense of concern about climate but policies dictated by fossil fuel special interests.

The situation is epitomized by my recent trip to Norway. I hoped that Norway, because of its history of environmentalism, might be able to stand tall among nations, take real action to address climate change, drawing attention to the hypocrisy in the words and pseudo-actions of other nations.

So I wrote a letter to the Prime Minister suggesting that Norway, as majority owner of Statoil, should intervene in their plans to develop the tar sands of Canada. I received a polite response, by letter, from the Deputy Minister of Petroleum and Energy. The government position is that the tar sands investment is “a commercial decision”, that the government should not interfere, and that a “vast majority in the Norwegian parliament” agree that this constitutes “good corporate governance”. The Deputy Minister concluded his letter “I can however assure you that we will continue our offensive stance on climate change issues both at home and abroad”.

A Norwegian grandfather, upon reading the Deputy Minister’s letter, quoted Saint Augustine: “Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.”

The Norwegian government’s position is a staggering reaffirmation of the global situation: even the greenest governments find it too inconvenient to address the implication of scientific facts.

It becomes clear that needed actions will happen only if the public, somehow, becomes forcefully involved. One way that citizens can help is by blocking coal plants, tar sands, and mining the last drops of fossil fuels from public and pristine lands and the deep ocean.

I’m gonna skip his digression into the policy approach he favors.  I’ve spent enough time responding to it.  The point is moot in this country for the foreseeable future — we’re not going to get an economy-wide bill that sets a price on carbon anytime soon no matter how it is constructed.

Stabilizing climate is a moral issue, a matter of intergenerational justice. Young people, and older people who support the young and the other species on the planet, must unite in demanding an effective approach that preserves our planet.

Because the executive and legislative branches of our governments turn a deaf ear to the science, the judicial branch may provide the best opportunity to redress the situation. Our governments have a fiduciary responsibility to protect the rights of young people and future generations.

To the young people I say: stand up for your rights – demand that the government be honest and address the consequences of their policies. To the old people I say: let us gird up our loins and fight on the side of young people for protection of the world they will inherit.

I look forward to standing with young people and their supporters, helping them develop their case, as they demand their proper due and fight for nature and their future. I guess that makes me an activist.

It is time for everyone to stand up and be heard.

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