Arctic Ice

The Problem is of Course the Humans II

An article posted today on Business Insider reminded me of my earlier post ten years ago referring back to the same period (the 80s) when the problem crystallised. Here we are 30 years later and little has changed.

Twenty-nine years ago, James Hansen, the director of NASA’s Institute for Space Studies, told the US Senate that the question of the day – whether climate change was happening – was no longer in doubt. Hansen’s testimony before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on June 23, 1988, is frequently considered the most important climate change hearing in history.

The question Hanson’s testimony raised was what would be done about that threat. Leading scientists had spoken; political leaders had the information; and even ExxonMobil researchers had privately concluded that “major reductions in fossil fuel combustion” would be needed to prevent “potentially catastrophic events,” according to prize-winning investigative reporting.

But the actual response to that question, nearly 30 years later, is pretty much zero.

The more time passes, the more difficult and expensive fixing the climate problem will get. Hansen is still sounding alarms – in a study published this week, he calculated that future generations could be forced to spend more than $530 trillion cleaning C02 out of the atmosphere (something we don’t yet know how to do). For context, the entire US budget is about $4 trillion annually.

That’s quite a burden to leave the children of the future.

Energy company executives have long known the scientific consensus on global warming. Exxon leaders were informed by company scientists that there was general scientific agreement on the topic in the 1970s. Oil giant Shell created a film in 1991 explaining the future threats of extreme weather, flood, famine, and climate-related conflict.

But they also knew that a serious fight against climate change would hurt their businesses, and lobbied against regulation.

“It turned out that we were not engaged in an argument for which more evidence and data was the cure – we’d won the argument long ago,” McKibben said. “It was a fight, and it was about money and power … And that one we were losing.”

The window in which action can still avert the most devastating consequences of climate change is rapidly shrinking. Hansen recently told reporters that his new study suggests putting the problem off for even a few more years could create a situation where “the costs of trying to maintain a livable planet may be too high to bear.”

“Huge swaths of the world will be living in places that by the end of the century will have heat waves so deep that people won’t be able to deal with them, you have sea level rising dramatically, to the point that most of the world’s cities are drowning, the ocean turning into a hot, sour, breathless soup as it acidifies and warms,” McKibben said.

“The irony of all this is that it’s been entirely clear from the beginning what we need to do,” McKibben said. “It has to look like the very rapid conversion to 100% renewable energy.”