WHEN WE TALK ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE, it’s hard to discuss it in a manner that manages to express the seriousness of the problem without sensationalizing it. There is, after all, no need to incite panic, and scientists as a rule hate to blow things out of context or proportion.
Which is why James Hansen’s new report is such a big deal. The long and short of it is this: the negative effects of climate change may turn out to be much, much worse than we previously thought, and they may happen much faster than we’d originally expected.
Hansen is the former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and he was one of the first people to blow the whistle on the looming emergency of climate change while testifying before Congress way back in 1988. He left NASA in 2013 to study climate at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. His most recent report was peer-reviewed and was published in the respected Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics journal.
And it’s bad. Hansen suggests that by 2100, superstorms like Sandy (and even stronger) could regularly form in the Atlantic Ocean. Sea level rise could be so severe that it would render cities like New York, Washington DC, and San Francisco unlivable in the near future — easily within the lifetimes of those of us alive today. And all of this is assuming the earth’s global temperature rises a mere 2 degrees Celsius — which is the benchmark that most global agreements have said as the maximum.
Here, Hansen explains the basics of his paper.
Hansen is a scientist, and as such, he has recognized the importance of criticism of his work. The study is not gospel truth (just as nothing in the world of science is gospel truth), but it does present a worrying picture for what a worst-case scenario would look like in regards to climate change. And while it’s never good to suggest that a scientific discovery should incite panic, at this point, panic seems to be a preferable response to the denial that is still in vogue among some American politicians.
Regardless, Hansen suggests, this means we need to seriously start cutting our carbon emissions if we want to prevent the worst case scenarios from happening.