Famed climate scientist has a new, dire prediction
Thirty-five years ago, NASA climate scientist James Hansen stood in front of Congress with a bold declaration: Humans are causing an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, and its changing our climate. Some scoffed, but, in the decades that followed, people saw how prescient this warning was. On Thursday, Hansen and colleagues across the world released a study with another serious, though controversial, finding. Climate change will catapult global temperatures into crisis territory earlier than previously thought, the scientists said, warning that Earth is already nearing average temperatures more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial norms. Their alarming prediction that the pace of Earths warming is accelerating stirred some disagreement within the climate community. The 1.5-degree limit is deader than a doornail, Hansen, now a director at the Earth Institute at Columbia University, said in a call with reporters Thursday. In the next several months, were going to go well above 1.5C [Celsius] on a 12-month average. ... For the rest of this decade, the average is going to be at least 1.5. Since the preindustrial era, Earth has warmed around 1.2 degrees Celsius. But recently, temperatures have spiked beyond that. Some summer month s in 2023 have registered global average temperatures 1.5 to 1.6 degrees hotter than the average before the widespread use of fossil fuels. While 1.5 degrees isnt a magical tipping point for Earths demise, the United Nations has warned of severe and potentially irreversible consequences above that level. Many staple crops wouldnt be able to grow in such warmth. Even the best water conservation practices wouldnt combat the projected droughts. Scientists have long disagreed on exactly how much global temperatures will rise with additional atmospheric carbon dioxide. An early study in 1979 estimated that doubling carbon dioxide in the air would cause global increases of 1.5 to 4.5 degrees Celsius. More recently, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calculated that the Earth could warm by 3 degrees with a doubling of CO2. But those may be underestimations, the new study found. Hansen and his colleagues analyzed paleoclimate data and the Earths energy imbalance to estimate that doubling carbon dioxide could lead to a whopping 4.8 degrees of warming compared with the preindustrial era. Under the current trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions, they predicted that the 1.5-degree benchmark will be passed in the 2020s, and 2 degrees of warming will be passed before 2050 a markedly faster rate than the prognosis from other scientists. In its most recent landmark climate report, the United Nations stated global temperatures would reach the 1.5-degree mark in the early 2030s . Hansen and his co-authors attribute the rapid warming pace partly to a reduction in aerosols or particles of pollution in the atmosphere. Some types of pollution reflect the suns rays, cooling the planet; as countries clean up their energy systems, cutting down on that pollution can counterintuitively create a warming effect. The new paper suggests that cutting pollution from marine shipping may be causing the Earth to absorb more solar radiation. The team estimated a global warming rate of 0.18 degrees per decade from 1970 to 2010, but the scientists say the pace will increase to at least 0.27 degrees per decade during the next few decades. The two-degree limit can only be rescued with the help of purposeful actions to affect Earths energy balance, said Hansen at the news conference. We will need to cool off Earth to save our coastlines, coastal cities worldwide and lowlands while also addressing the other problems caused by global warming. Not everyone agrees with the new study. Michael Mann, a professor of earth science at the University of Pennsylvania, posted a lengthy critique of the paper on his personal website. The standard is high when youre challenging scientific understanding, Mann wrote. And I dont think theyve met that standard, by a longshot. Mann argued that the oceans heat content is growing steadily, but in contrast to Hansen and his co-authors is not accelerating. Mann also cited data showing that there does not appear to be a sudden shift in pollution from aerosols over the past few years. Other researchers have found that a decline in aerosol pollution from cleaning up shipping would only shift global temperatures by 0.05 or 0.06 Celsius. While I hold James Hansen to be one of the most (if not the most) important contributors to our modern scientific understanding of human-caused climate change, I feel that this latest contribution from Jim and his co-authors is at best unconvincing, Mann wrote. The new study also suggests a path forward for policy an unusual move for most scientific papers. For decades, scientists have avoided providing any policy prescriptions for dealing with the problem of climate change, preferring to stick to science and data. But in recent years, that has begun to change . Hansen and colleagues call for a rising price or tax on carbon emissions, subsidies for renewables and nuclear power, and global cooperation on climate goals. They also suggest further research into solar geoengineering, a technique that could cool the planet by injecting particles into the atmosphere to reflect the suns light. In the press call, Hansen also called for further political action from young people and others galvanized by the overheating planet. I believe a political party that takes no money from special interests is probably an essential part of the solution, he said. Young people should not underestimate their political power.