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‘We are damned fools’: scientist who sounded climate alarm in 80s warns of worse to come

‘We are damned fools’: scientist who sounded climate alarm in 80s warns of worse to come

James Hansen, who testified to Congress on global heating in 1988, says world is approaching a ‘new climate frontier’

The world is shifting towards a superheated climate not seen in the past 1m years, prior to human existence, because “we are damned fools” for not acting upon warnings over the climate crisis, according to James Hansen, the US scientist who alerted the world to the greenhouse effect in the 1980s.

Hansen, whose testimony to the US Senate in 1988 is cited as the first high-profile revelation of global heating, warned in a statement with two other scientists that the world was moving towards a “new climate frontier” with temperatures higher than at any point over the past million years, bringing impacts such as stronger storms, heatwaves and droughts.

The world has already warmed by about 1.2C since mass industrialization, causing a 20% chance of having the sort of extreme summer temperatures currently seen in many parts of the northern hemisphere, up from a 1% chance 50 years ago, Hansen said.

“There’s a lot more in the pipeline, unless we reduce the greenhouse gas amounts,” Hansen, who is 82, told the Guardian. “These superstorms are a taste of the storms of my grandchildren. We are headed wittingly into the new reality – we knew it was coming.”

Hansen was a Nasa climate scientist when he warned lawmakers of growing global heating and has since taken part in protests alongside activists to decry the lack of action to reduce planet-heating emissions in the decades since.

He said the record heatwaves that have roiled the USEuropeChina and elsewhere in recent weeks have heightened “a sense of disappointment that we scientists did not communicate more clearly and that we did not elect leaders capable of a more intelligent response”.

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‘Soon the world will be unrecognisable’: is it still possible to prevent total climate meltdown?

Globe with steam rising from it. North and South America in view.
Record high temperatures and extreme weather events are being recorded around the world. Photograph: Ian Logan/Getty Images

Blistering heatwaves are just the start. We must accept how bad things are before we can head off global catastrophe, according to a leading UK scientist

The publication of Bill McGuire’s latest book, Hothouse Earth, could not be more timely. Appearing in the shops this week, it will be perused by sweltering customers who have just endured record high temperatures across the UK and now face the prospect of weeks of drought to add to their discomfort.

And this is just the beginning, insists McGuire, who is emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London. As he makes clear in his uncompromising depiction of the coming climatic catastrophe, we have – for far too long – ignored explicit warnings that rising carbon emissions are dangerously heating the Earth. Now we are going to pay the price for our complacency in the form of storms, floods, droughts and heatwaves that will easily surpass current extremes.

The crucial point, he argues, is that there is now no chance of us avoiding a perilous, all-pervasive climate breakdown. We have passed the point of no return and can expect a future in which lethal heatwaves and temperatures in excess of 50C (120F) are common in the tropics; where summers at temperate latitudes will invariably be baking hot, and where our oceans are destined to become warm and acidic. “A child born in 2020 will face a far more hostile world that its grandparents did,” McGuire insists.

Bill McGuire.
Bill McGuire is emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London and was also an adviser to the UK government.

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What Does An Ecological Civilization Look Like?

What Does An Ecological Civilization Look Like?

A society based on natural ecology might seem like a far-off utopia—yet communities everywhere are already creating it.

As a new, saner administration sets up shop in Washington, D.C., there are plenty of policy initiatives this country desperately needs. Beyond a national plan for the COVID-19 pandemic, progressives will strive to focus the administration’s attention on challenges like fixing the broken health care system, grappling with systemic racial inequities, and a just transition from fossil fuels to renewables.

These are all critically important issues. But here’s the rub: Even if the Democratic administration were resoundingly successful on all fronts, its initiatives would still be utterly insufficient to resolve the existential threat of climate breakdown and the devastation of our planet’s life-support systems. That’s because the multiple problems confronting us right now are symptoms of an even more profound problem: The underlying structure of a global economic and political system that is driving civilization toward a precipice.

Take a moment to peer beyond the day-to-day crises capturing our attention, and you quickly realize that the magnitude of the looming catastrophe makes our current political struggles, by comparison, look like arguing how to stack deck chairs on the Titanic.

The climate emergency we’re facing is far worse than most people realize. While it was clearly an essential step for the United States to rejoin the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, the collective pledges on greenhouse gas emissions from that agreement are woefully insufficient. They would lead to a dangerous temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius this century—and many nations are failing to make even these targets. We are rapidly approaching—if we haven’t already passed—climate tipping points with reinforcing feedback loops that would lead to an unrecognizable and terrifying world.

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Methane emissions jumped by record amount in 2021, NOAA says

Carbon dioxide emissions also rose more than 2 parts per million for the 10th consecutive year

Pump jacks operate while others stand idle in the Belridge oil field near McKittrick, Calif., on Nov. 3, 2021. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Global methane emissions soared by a record amount in 2021, eclipsing the record set the year before, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, demonstrating the huge challenge facing policymakers who have pledged to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Methane, the second biggest contributor to human-caused global warming after carbon dioxide, is emitted in part by oil and natural gas production, particularly shale gas drilling. But it’s also emitted by livestock farming and landfills, as well as wetlands whose waterlogged soils, rich in microbes, are ideal for naturally producing methane.

Since last year, about 100 countries have signed on to a Global Methane Pledge, which aims to cut emissions 30 percent by the end of the decade. Some major emitters, such as Russia and China, still have not.

“Our data show that global emissions continue to move in the wrong direction at a rapid pace,” Rick Spinrad, the NOAA administrator, said in a statement. “The evidence is consistent, alarming, and undeniable.”

Recently, climate experts and diplomats have put extra emphasis on controlling methane emissions because it is relatively easy to reduce the emissions by stopping methane escaping from oil and gas wells and leaking from pipelines. Major multinational oil and gas companies have emitted methane in the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico. And Russia ranks among the biggest emitters with aging pipelines stretching for roughly 2,500 miles from the remote Yamal Peninsula in Russia to consumers in Europe.

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Climate Impacts From a Removal of Anthropogenic Aerosol Emissions


Limiting global warming to 1.5 or 2.0°C requires strong mitigation of anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Concurrently, emissions of anthropogenic aerosols will decline, due to coemission with GHG, and measures to improve air quality. However, the combined climate effect of GHG and aerosol emissions over the industrial era is poorly constrained. Here we show the climate impacts from removing present-day anthropogenic aerosol emissions and compare them to the impacts from moderate GHG-dominated global warming. Removing aerosols induces a global mean surface heating of 0.5–1.1°C, and precipitation increase of 2.0–4.6%. Extreme weather indices also increase. We find a higher sensitivity of extreme events to aerosol reductions, per degree of surface warming, in particular over the major aerosol emission regions. Under near-term warming, we find that regional climate change will depend strongly on the balance between aerosol and GHG forcing.

Plain Language Summary

To keep within 1.5 or 2° of global warming, we need massive reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, aerosol emissions will be strongly reduced. We show how cleaning up aerosols, predominantly sulfate, may add an additional half a degree of global warming, with impacts that strengthen those from greenhouse gas warming. The northern hemisphere is found to be more sensitive to aerosol removal than greenhouse gas warming, because of where the aerosols are emitted today. This means that it does not only matter whether or not we reach international climate targets. It also matters how we get there.

1 Introduction

If global warming is to be kept within 1.5 or 2.0°C, strong, and rapid mitigation of anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is required (Matthews & Caldeira, 2008; Millar et al., 2017; Rogelj, Luderer, et al., 2015). As anthropogenic aerosols are often coemitted with long-lived GHG, such emissions will likely also see sharp decreases—compounded by present and future effort to improve air quality (Bowerman et al., 2013; Smith & Bond, 2014).

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Scientists warn of widespread drought in the 21st century

Scientists warn of widespread drought in the 21st century

Scientists sound alarm over widespread drought in the 21st century
Frequency changes (%) of different drought metrics from 1970–99 to 2070–99 under the (left) SSP2-4.5 and (right) SSP5-8.5 scenarios projected by CMIP6 multimodel ensemble mean. Credit: IAP

Drought is among the most damaging natural hazards in the world, often causing severe losses to agriculture, ecosystems and human societies.

Historical records of precipitation, streamflow and observation-derived  indices all show increased aridity since 1950s over several hotspot regions, including Africa, southern Europe, East Asia, eastern Australia, Northwest Canada, and southern Brazil.

“Climate model projections also suggest that drought may become more severe and widespread as the -induced global warming continues in the 21st century,” said Prof. Zhao Tianbao from the Institute of Atmospheric Physics (IAP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Recently, Zhao and Prof. Dai Aiguo from University at Albany, State University of New York, further investigated hydroclimatic and drought changes in the latest projections from 25 models of the Phase Six of the Coupled Model Inetercomparison Project (CMIP6).

Their results were published in the Journal of Climate on Jan. 5.

The study suggests that the latest projections from CMIP6 models reaffirm the widespread drying and increases in agricultural drought by up to 200 percent over most of the Americas (including the Amazon), Europe and the Mediterranean region, southern Africa, Southeast Asia, and Australia under moderate-high emissions scenarios in the 21st century.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the drought is also expected to last longer and spread wider in the late 21st century (2070–99), Zhao noted.

The model results suggest a decrease in the mean and flattening of the probability distribution functions of drought metrics, despite large uncertainties in individual projections partly due to internal variability.

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Why the Climate Change Committee should reconsider their approach to farming



Separating the self-flagellation from the greenhouse gas

Separating the self-flagellation from the greenhouse gas

Speaking to the media at the Youth4Climate event last week, Greta Thunberg berated the UK for continuing to extract oil and gas from the North Sea while pretending to be green ahead of the coming COP26 conference.  Not only that, but as the originator of the industrial revolution, Britain is doubly guilty:

“Of course, the climate crisis … more or less it started in the UK since that’s where the industrial revolution started, we started to burn coal there, so of course the UK has an enormous historical responsibility when it comes to historic emissions since the climate crisis is a cumulative crisis.”

So, here’s an interesting question that Greta has probably never had to answer, and which many of my readers will probably get wrong.  If we add up all of the carbon dioxide emitted by households, businesses and industries within the boundaries of what we now call the United Kingdom, when will China – currently the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide – overtake?  2025?  2035?  2050?

No, in fact, China overtook the UK in cumulative carbon dioxide emissions two decades ago in 2002:

The reason for this is that China’s march to industrialisation following its admission to the World Trade Organisation, arrived just at the point when the world’s conventional oil deposits were beginning to deplete.  Moreover, by December 2001, while oil was still in demand, most of the developed states had made deep cuts to their coal use.  This gave China access both to its own deposits and to cheap deposits from around the world.  But coal is a particularly heavy emitter of carbon dioxide, and China’s emissions from coal had already passed those of the UK – for the last time – in 1968:

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U.S. and China issue joint pledge to slow climate change

‘We both see that the challenge of climate change is an existential and severe one,’ Chinese envoy says in announcing agreement

U.S. climate envoy John F. Kerry at the summit on Nov. 10. (Alberto Pezzali/AP)

GLASGOW, Scotland — The United States and China jolted the United Nations climate summit here with a surprise announcement Wednesday, pledging the two countries would work together to slow global warming during this decade and ensure that the Glasgow talks result in meaningful progress.

The world’s two biggest greenhouse gas emitters said they would take “enhanced climate actions” to meet the central goals of the 2015 Paris climate accord — limiting warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) beyond preindustrial levels, and if possible, not to exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius. Still, the declaration was short on firm deadlines or specific commitments, and parts of it restated policies both nations had outlined in a statement in April.

To try to keep those temperature limits “within reach,” Chinese and American leaders agreed to jointly “raise ambition in the 2020s” and said they would boost clean energy, combat deforestation and curb emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

“The United States and China have no shortage of differences,” U.S. special climate envoy John F. Kerry said in announcing the agreement Wednesday evening. “But on climate, cooperation is the only way to get this job done.”

The United States and China, plus other major emitters such as the European Union, have come under fire in recent days for not yet delivering on some of the lofty rhetoric their leaders showcased last week.

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If all 2030 climate targets are met, the planet will heat by 2.7 C this century

If all 2030 climate targets are met, the planet will heat by 2.7 C this century

If all 2030 climate targets are met, the planet will heat by 2.7℃ this century
Corals will not likely survive more than 2℃ global warming. Credit: Shutterstock

If nations make good on their latest promises to reduce emissions by 2030, the planet will warm by at least 2.7℃ this century, a report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has found. This overshoots the crucial internationally agreed temperature rise of 1.5℃.

Released today, just days before the international climate change summit in Glasgow begins, UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report works out the difference between where  are projected to be in 2030 and where they should be to avoid the worst climate change impacts.

It comes as the Morrison government yesterday officially committed to a target of net-zero emissions by 2050. The government made no changes to its paltry 2030 target to reduce emissions by between 26% and 28% below 2005 levels, but announced that Australia is set to beat this, and reduce emissions by up to 35%.

The UNEP report was conducted before Australia’s new 2050 target was announced, but even with this new pledge, global pledges will undoubtedly still be short of what’s needed.

The report found global targets for net-zero emissions by mid-century could cut another 0.5℃ off . While this is a big improvement, it will still see temperatures rise to 2.2℃ this century. If we don’t close the global emissions gap, what will Australia, and the rest of world, be forced to endure?



If all 2030 climate targets are met, the planet will heat by 2.7℃ this century
Credit: The Conversation

Pledges are falling short

As of August 30 (the date the UNEP report reviewed to), 120 countries had made new or updated pledges and announcements to cut emissions.

The US, for example, has set an ambitious new target of reducing emissions by 50–52% below 2005 levels in 2030. Similarly, the European Union will cut carbon emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared with 1990 levels.

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Permafrost: a ticking carbon time bomb

Permafrost: a ticking carbon time bomb

In Sweden's far north, permafrost beneath the Stordalen mire is up to thousands of years old
In Sweden’s far north, permafrost beneath the Stordalen mire is up to thousands of years old.

Sheltered by snow-spattered mountains, the Stordalen mire is a flat, marshy plateau, pockmarked with muddy puddles. A whiff of rotten eggs wafts through the fresh air.

Here in the Arctic in Sweden’s far north, about 10 kilometres (six miles) east of the tiny town of Abisko,  is happening three times faster than in the rest of the world.

On the peatland, covered in tufts of grass and shrubs dotted with blue and orange berries and little white flowers, looms a moonlander-like pod hinting at this far-flung site’s scientific significance.

Researchers are studying the frozen—now shapeshifting—earth below known as permafrost.

As Keith Larson walks between the experiments, the boardwalks purposefully set out in a grid across the peat sink into the puddles and ponds underneath and tiny bubbles appear.

The distinct odour it emits is from hydrogen sulfide, sometimes known as swamp gas. But what has scientists worried is another gas rising up with it: methane.

Carbon stores, long locked in the permafrost, are now seeping out.

Between carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane, permafrost contains some 1,700 billion tonnes of organic carbon, almost twice the amount of carbon already present in the atmosphere.

With average temperatures rising around the Arctic, the permafrost has started to thaw
With average temperatures rising around the Arctic, the permafrost has started to thaw.

Methane lingers in the atmosphere for only 12 years compared to centuries for CO2 but is about 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas over a 100-year period.

Thawing permafrost is a carbon “time bomb”, scientists have warned.

Vicious circle

In the 1970s, “when researchers first started showing up and investigating these habitats, these ponds didn’t exist”, says Larson, project coordinator for the Climate Impacts Research Centre at Umea University, based at the Abisko Scientific Research Station.

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COP-26: Stopping Climate Change and Other Illusions

Measured atmospheric CO2 at Mauna Loa Observatory.  Note: red = the monthly mean values; black = the same, after correction for the average seasonal cycle.
Measured atmospheric CO2 at Mauna Loa Observatory. Note: red = the monthly mean values; black = the same, after correction for the average seasonal cycle.

Do not expect significant progress from COP-26 on climate change mitigation.  There are fundamental barriers that prevent the deep and rapid changes that scientists advocate.  Most countries adhere to economic growth policies – which create ecological overshoot.  Unless and until we accept that we must live within ecological limits, then climate change will not be adequately tackled. Energy and resource consumption must be addressed through controlled economic contraction.

The world in 2021 was buffeted by an unprecedented barrage of extreme weather events. This is the leading edge of the climate catastrophe that lies ahead should world governments remain fixed on our present global ‘development’ trajectory.

The good news is that the recent uptick in violent weather has increased pressure on participants in COP-26 finally to implement the kind of determined measures that will dramatically lower GHG emissions and put global heating on hold; the bad news is that whatever is agreed to at COP-26 is unlikely to make any positive difference.

There have been 25 COP meetings on climate change since 1995 and several international agreements to reduce carbon emissions, including the ‘legally binding’ 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement of 2015. Nevertheless, atmospheric GHG concentrations have  increased unabated during this entire 25 year period — CO2, the principal anthropogenic GHG, has ballooned exponentially from ~360ppm in 1995 to almost 420 ppm in 2020 — and mean global temperature has risen by ~1 oC.  History suggests that what should emerge from COP26 cannot emerge from COP26.

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The Upcoming UN Climate Talks in Glasgow Are a Make-or-Break Moment

This image provided by NASA shows Hurricane Florence from the International Space Station on September 12, 2018. | Photo by NASA via AP

Failure to halt greenhouse gas emissions is not an option—though it’s frighteningly likely

In early November, government leaders from around the world will meet in Glasgow, Scotland, for the latest round of United Nations–sponsored climate change negotiations. This year’s climate summit—COP26, in UN-speak—will be the most important since the 2015 talks in Paris, and this will be true however the meeting unfolds. If Glasgow is a “success,” this will be taken as a sign that our faltering international institutions might actually, if just barely, be able to spur the planetary mobilization we now desperately need. If it’s a “failure,” well, no such luck—it will become even more difficult to imagine cooperative planetary action, at scale and in time to avoid a truly catastrophic shift in the climate system.

How will we tell if Glasgow is a success? This is a tough question, one that involves judgments about both the geophysical realities of a destabilized Earth and the “realities” of our political systems, which are clearly not up to the challenge. The storms and the firestorms are looming large, and so too is the catastrophe of “vaccine apartheid,” which under Boris Johnson’s government has queued up a summit that does not promise to be either safe or inclusive. Even in the best case, the Glasgow COP is not going to yield anything like a world historic breakthrough. Given that a breakthrough is exactly what we need, how can we ever hope to judge the UN talks as even a measured success? By attending to key details. Keep in mind that, six years after Paris, plenty of people in the climate movement still can’t say “Paris” without saying “failure,” and this despite the obvious fact that, had the Paris Agreement not been completed before Donald Trump’s election, we would now be in even more terrifying straits.

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Climate scientists: concept of net zero is a dangerous trap

Sometimes realisation comes in a blinding flash. Blurred outlines snap into shape and suddenly it all makes sense. Underneath such revelations is typically a much slower-dawning process. Doubts at the back of the mind grow. The sense of confusion that things cannot be made to fit together increases until something clicks. Or perhaps snaps.

Collectively we three authors of this article must have spent more than 80 years thinking about climate change. Why has it taken us so long to speak out about the obvious dangers of the concept of net zero? In our defence, the premise of net zero is deceptively simple – and we admit that it deceived us.

The threats of climate change are the direct result of there being too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. So it follows that we must stop emitting more and even remove some of it. This idea is central to the world’s current plan to avoid catastrophe. In fact, there are many suggestions as to how to actually do this, from mass tree planting, to high tech direct air capture devices that suck out carbon dioxide from the air.

The current consensus is that if we deploy these and other so-called “carbon dioxide removal” techniques at the same time as reducing our burning of fossil fuels, we can more rapidly halt global warming. Hopefully around the middle of this century we will achieve “net zero”. This is the point at which any residual emissions of greenhouse gases are balanced by technologies removing them from the atmosphere.

Climeworks factory with tractor in foreground.
A facility for capturing carbon dioxide from air on the roof of a waste incinerating plant in Hinwil, Switzerland July 18, 2017. This is one of the handful of demonstrator projects currently in operation. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

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“Code Red For Humanity” – UN Warns Climate Change Likely Can’t Be Stopped, And China Is Biggest Contributor

“Code Red For Humanity” – UN Warns Climate Change Likely Can’t Be Stopped, And China Is Biggest Contributor

Paging Greta Thunberg…

On Monday morning millions of smartphone users awoke to a flurry of push alerts from news organizations touting urgent, ground-breaking news: what Bloomberg described as an “epochal” new report from “the world’s top climate scientists” warned that the planet will likely warm by 1.5ºC over the next two decades…without a dramatic reduction in emissions resulting from a change in human activity.

Source: CNN

The report represents the latest update from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Although scientists have been warning for years that climate change represents an apocalyptic threat to the human race (it’s the stated motive behind Elon Musk’s mission to Mars), this latest report “for the first time speaks with certainty about the total responsibility of human activity for rising temperatures”…so human responsibility for climate change hasn’t been a ‘sure thing’ in the eyes of science…until now? CNN added that the scientific community has concluded for the first time that human responsibility is “unequivocal”.

“It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land,” wrote the authors of the IPCC’s sixth global science assessment since 1990 and the first released in more than eight years. The crucial warming threshold of 2°C will be “exceeded during the 21st century,” the IPCC authors concluded, without deep emissions cuts “in the coming decades.”

Bloomberg explains it thusly, while also noting the timing of the report, arriving just three months before the UN’s next round of climate talks – setting up three months of media programming about the importance of these talks:

“More than any other forecast or record, this report’s determinations establish a powerful global consensus less than three months before the UN’s COP26 international climate talks.”

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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