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A War Reporter Covers “The End of Ice”–And It Will Change the Way You Think About Climate Catastrophe

2Photos: Getty Images Animation: The Intercept


FOCUSING ON BREATH and gratitude, Dahr Jamail’s latest book, “The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption,” stitches together personal introspection and gut-wrenching interviews with leading climate experts. The rapidly receding glaciers of Denali National Park, home to the highest peak in North America, inspired the book’s title. “Seven years of climbing in Alaska had provided me with a front-row seat from where I could witness the dramatic impact of human-caused climate disruption,” Jamail writes.

With vividly descriptive storytelling, Jamail pushes further north into the Arctic Circle where warming is occurring at double speed. He surveys rapid changes in the Pribilof Islands, where indigenous communities have had to contend with die-offs affecting seabirds, fur seals, fish, and more — a collapsing food web. The story continues in the fragile Great Barrier Reef, utterly ravaged by the warming ocean. South Florida is faring no better: Jamail finds that 2.46 million of the state’s acreage will be submerged within his lifetime. Experts are aghast everywhere Jamail visits. In the Amazon, rich in biodiversity, the consequences are especially enormous.

“The End of Ice” readers won’t find calls for technology-based solutions, politicians, mitigating emissions, or the Green New Deal to save us.

Describing the current state of the planet, Jamail likens it to someone in hospice care. The global mean temperature is already 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Not half a decade ago, leading climate scientist James Hansen warned that that one degree would usher in a crisis of sea level rise, melting Arctic ice, and extreme weather. He concluded that the goal of limiting global warming to only 2 degrees was “very dangerous.”

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Dumb Ways to Die: Welcome to Our Mass Suicide

Dumb Ways to Die: Welcome to Our Mass Suicide

So…here we are, only a year away from 2020 and contemplating another year in the struggle for survival. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says we’ve got about 12 years to turn this climate change thing around and that’s just to avoid catastrophe, never mind guaranteeing a healthy planet in the future. Such a catastrophe could well involve the extinction of human beings, which would reveal just how dumb we are. Is there anything more stupid that the most intelligently-evolved species on the planet could do than commit mass suicide?

Barbarism and Extinction

I am astounded at the tenacity, resilience and persistence of folks such as climate scientist James Hansen who, on behalf of future generations, have been shouting about the environmental threat since the late 1980s. And, since those days of his Congressional testimony Hansen, who worked for many years at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), has courageously spread the word about climate change to fulfill part of NASA’s mission statement: To Understand and Protect the Home Planet.

Indeed, this was part of the mission statement of NASA until 2006 when those fateful words were quietly and very symbolically removed. Organizations such as the Union of Concerned Scientists were very disturbed about this development, noting at the time that research and funding opportunities related to earth science and climate change would be much harder to justify with NASA’s new focus solely on space exploration. Some may say it’s a bloody good job that we are learning more about life on other planets and how we can get there, given that a privileged bunch of us may have to flee this one at some point in the not-to-distant future. And, given the inequalities inherent in our current economic order, it will be only the rich that are saved.

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The 1.5 Generation

Grist / Amelia Bates

My generation is radically remaking climate activism. Will it be enough?

My generation, the millennials, will never know a time when climate change wasn’t a grave threat.

Back in 1988, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere crossed the 350 parts per million level when I was still watching Sesame Street and digging up worms in the backyard. Scientists consider that mark the maximum threshold compatible with a stable climate and suitable for human life on Earth. That same year, NASA researcher James Hansen told the U.S. Senate he was 99 percent confident global warming was already taking place. The public started taking notice, but little was done to address the accelerating crisis.

Earlier this year, scientists in Hawaii and California confirmed that our planet’s level of atmospheric CO2 had surpassed 411 ppm. It’s at the highest concentration in human history — not just over the past 100 years or so of modern recordkeeping, or since the Industrial Revolution, or since the invention of agriculture around 9000 B.C. There’s more of the planet’s main greenhouse gas in the atmosphere since before our species evolved from our distant primate cousins millions of years ago.

The average global temperature is on course to rise 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels in the coming decades, escalating the risks of irreversible and widespread sea-level rise and more frequent extreme weather — blistering heat waves, punishing hurricanes, and ravaging wildfires. So it’s no exaggeration to say that my generation is up against seemingly impossible odds.

For years, environmental activists have told us that we could make progress by tinkering with the status quo, that a big part of halting warming is buying the right car, clothes, and moisturizer; avoiding the dirty products; and reforming the way consumer goods are made. And still, the world’s emissions keep climbing.

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Nuclear Fallacies: the Problems With James Hansen’s Promotion of Generation IV Reactors

Nuclear Fallacies: the Problems With James Hansen’s Promotion of Generation IV Reactors

Photo by Lennart Tange | CC BY 2.0

Dr James Hansen is rightly admired for his scientific and political work drawing attention to climate change. His advocacy of nuclear power ‒ and in particular novel Generation IV nuclear concepts ‒ deserves serious scrutiny.

In a nutshell, Dr Hansen (among others) claims that some Generation IV reactors are a triple threat: they can convert weapons-usable (fissile) material and long-lived nuclear waste into low-carbon electricity. Let’s take the weapons and waste issues in turn.

The risks

Dr Hansen says Generation IV reactors can be made “more resistant to weapons proliferation than today’s reactors” and he claims that “modern nuclear technology can reduce proliferation risks”.

But are new reactors being made more resistant to weapons proliferation and are they reducing proliferation risks? In a word: No.

Fast neutron reactors have been used for weapons production in the past (e.g. by France) and will likely be used for weapons production in future (e.g. by India).

India plans to produce weapons-grade plutonium in fast breeder reactors for use as driver fuel in thorium reactors. Compared to conventional uranium reactors, India’s plan is far worse on both proliferation and security grounds. To make matters worse, India refuses to place its fast breeder / thorium program under IAEA safeguards.

Dr Hansen claims that thorium-based fuel cycles are “inherently proliferation-resistant”. But in fact, thorium has been used to produce fissile material (uranium-233) for nuclear weapons tests. Again, India’s plans provide a striking real-world refutation of Hansen’s claims.

Dr Hansen claims that integral fast reactors (IFR) ‒ a non-existent variant of fast neutron reactors ‒ “could be inherently free from the risk of proliferation”. Unfortunately, that isn’t true. Dr George Stanford, who worked on an IFR R&D program in the US, notes that proliferators “could do [with IFRs] what they could do with any other reactor − operate it on a special cycle to produce good quality weapons material.”

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For James Hansen, the Science Demands Activism on Climate

For James Hansen, the Science Demands Activism on Climate

Climate scientist James Hansen has crossed the classic divide between research and activism. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, he responds to critics and explains why he believes the reality of climate change requires him to speak out. 

Climate scientist James Hansen has been a prominent figure in the global climate conversation for more than 40 years. His 1988 congressional testimony on climate change helped introduce the problem of rising greenhouse gas emissions to the American public, and he has led study after study examining exactly how our world will change as a result of global warming.

Eight years ago, however, Hansen made the rare decision to begin engaging in climate activism, and he has since protested mountaintop removal in West Virginia and gotten arrested outside the White House in a rally against the Keystone XL pipeline.

Milan Ilnyckyj/TarSandsAction
James Hansen

His actions have earned him both praise and criticism from the media and scientific community. Recent scientific endeavors of his — including a study last month that was publicized prior to being peer-reviewed — have also generated controversy.

In an interview with Yale Environment 360 last week, Hansen, former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, opened up about his unconventional career path, his frustration watching policymakers’ four decades of climate inaction, and what he believes the world could look like a century from now.

“I don’t think that I have been alarmist — maybe alarming, but I don’t think I’m an alarmist,” he said. “We have a society in which most people have become unable to understand or appreciate science, and partly that’s a communication problem, which we need to try to alleviate.”
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Could an Economic Collapse be in Our Near Future?

Could an Economic Collapse be in Our Near Future?

That study, issued in the 1972 book The Limits to Growth, forecast that industrial output would decline early in the 21st century, followed quickly by a rise in death rates due to reduced provision of services and food that would lead to a dramatic decline in world population. To be specific, per capita industrial output was forecast to decline “precipitously” starting in about 2015.

Well, here we are. Despite years of stagnation following the worst economic crash since the Great Depression, things have not gotten that bad. At least not yet. Although the original authors of The Limits to Growth, led by Donella Meadows, caution against tying their predictions too tightly to a specific year, the actual trends of the past four decades are not far off from the what was predicted by the study’s models. A recent paper examining the original 1972 study goes so far as to say that the study’s predictions are well on course to being borne out.

That research paper, prepared by a University of Melbourne scientist, Graham Turner, is unambiguously titled “Is Global Collapse Imminent?” As you might guess from the title, Dr. Turner is not terribly optimistic.

He is merely the latest researcher to sound alarm bells. Just last month, a revised paper by 19 climate scientists led by James Hansen demonstrates that continued greenhouse-gas emissions will lead to a sea-level rise of several meters in as few as 50 years, increasingly powerful storms and rapid cooling in Europe.

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Naomi Klein: ‘We Face a Series of Radical Options’

Naomi Klein: ‘We Face a Series of Radical Options’

An exclusive Tyee preview of Klein’s sold-out climate talk in Vancouver.

Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein: ‘Steady as she goes’ is not an option.

For anyone with even a passing knowledge of climate change, Naomi Klein needs no introduction. Her 2014 bestseller This Changes Everything was described as “the most momentous and contentious environmental book since Silent Spring” by the New York Times. And its central message that climate change is a symptom of our broken economic system has become impossible to ignore. Last year, it got her an invitefrom Pope Francis himself to lead a climate forum with his senior advisor. So when SFU Public Square announced that Klein would be speaking tonight, March 11, at Vancouver’s Vogue Theatre, the event promptly sold out.

Earlier this week The Tyee chatted at length with Klein about the pivotal moment in history we are now living in. There are only a few short decades left to achieve the goal agreed to at the Paris climate talks of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. (Which is considered safer than the less ambitious two degrees goal accepted at Copenhagen). To do so would mean a full transition off fossil fuels by 2050. But if we fail, a multi-metre sea level rise could wreak enough social and economic havoc to “make the planet ungovernable,” according toformer NASA climatologist James Hansen.

Which is why Klein is convinced that the only options we have left are radical. Read on in this exclusive Tyee interview to find out why hope is one of them. Her remarks are edited for length and clarity.

On what the Paris climate talks really achieved:

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The Godfather Of Climate Change Calls Obama’s Deal “A Fraud, It’s Bullshit”

The Godfather Of Climate Change Calls Obama’s Deal “A Fraud, It’s Bullshit”

Amid all the self-congratulatory mutual masturbation that has effused since the “historic” signing of a climate ‘deal’ with no enforcement mechanism, few are better qualified (or more outspoken) to describe the utter farce that COP21 is than former NASA scientist James Hansen, who as The Guardian notes, is considered the father of global awareness of climate change
“It’s a fraud really, a fake,” he says, rubbing his head. “It’s just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.”

The talks, intended to reach a new global deal on cutting carbon emissions beyond 2020, have spent much time and energy on two major issues: whether the world should aim to contain the temperature rise to 1.5C or 2C above preindustrial levels, and how much funding should be doled out by wealthy countries to developing nations that risk being swamped by rising seas and bashed by escalating extreme weather events.

But, according to Hansen, the international jamboree is pointless unless greenhouse gas emissions aren’t taxed across the board. He argues that only this will force down emissions quickly enough to avoid the worst ravages of climate change.

Hansen has been a nagging yet respected voice on climate change since he shot to prominence in the summer of 1988. 

The Nasa scientists, who had been analyzing changes in the Earth’s climate since the 1970s, told a congressional committee that something called the “greenhouse effect” where heat-trapped gases are released into the atmosphere was causing global warming with a 99% certainty.

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What Worries the World’s Most Famous Climate Scientist?

What Worries the World’s Most Famous Climate Scientist?

James Hansen is fretting about the Paris talks, and for good reason.DrJamesHansen_610px.jpg

James Hansen detailed his fears in a recent communiqué posted on his website. Photo by chesapeakeclimate. Creative Commons licensed.

James Hansen is fretting about the Paris climate talks, and for good reason.

You might recall that Hansen was the NASA scientist that boldly warned the United States Congress about the perils of rising global temperatures as early as 1988.

And you might remember that officials with the U.S. administration of George W. Bush instructed the world’s most famous climate change scientist not to talk about how fossil fuel burning could have a dangerous effect on climate in 2004.

But Hansen kept on talking about melting ice, rising seas, flooded coastal cities and super storms. And now he’s worried that Paris will be another bureaucratic gabfest that avoids the true remedy: rapid fossil fuel emissions reductions driven by a carbon levy.

By rapid, Hansen doesn’t think the world’s industrial economies have time to be self-satisfied about stabilizing carbon dioxide emissions around 450 parts per million or even the alarming present amount of 400 ppm. No, to restore the Earth’s energy balance, now unsettled by centuries of greenhouse gas emissions, the world needs to aim for 350 ppm and possibly lower.

Everyone agrees that business as usual will take the world to 600 ppm by 2050, along with a rise of temperature by four degrees.

Hansen worries politicians still don’t get the urgency. He also worries that U.S. President Barack Obama and others will sell our children and theirs “down the river” in Paris with more promises and no action.

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Imagine If Exxon Had Told the Truth on Climate Change

Imagine If Exxon Had Told the Truth on Climate Change

Like all proper scandals, the #Exxonknew revelations have begun to spin off new dramas and lines of inquiry. Presidential candidates have begun to call for Department of Justice investigations, and company spokesmen have begun to dig themselves deeper into the inevitable holes as they try to excuse the inexcusable.

(Worst idea: attack Pulitzer prize-winning reporters as “anti-oil and gas activists”)

As the latest expose installment from those hopeless radicals at the Los Angeles Times clearly shows, Exxon made a conscious decision to adopt what a company public affairs officer called “the Exxon position.” It was simple: “Emphasize the uncertainty.” Even though they knew there was none.

Sowed Doubt about for Decades: http://insideclimatenews.org/news/22102015/Exxon-Sowed-Doubt-about-Climate-Science-for-Decades-by-Stressing-Uncertainty 

Anthropocene climate, part two: Four degrees of devastation

Anthropocene climate, part two: Four degrees of devastation

If greenhouse gas emissions aren’t stopped soon, unprecedented and deadly heat waves will become the new normal in most of the world

Part one of this article discussed James Hansen’s demonstration that a relatively small increase in global average temperature – under 1°C – has already produced a significant increase in the frequency and intensity of extremely hot weather. Heat waves that were very rare in 1951-1980 became ten times more likely in 1981-2010. As one of Hansen’s associates pointed out, this was not speculation about a possible future, but actual experience: “this is not based on models or predictions, just on a straightforward statistical analysis of measured temperature data.”[1]

Other studies, using other methods, have come to the same conclusion.

A 2012 paper examined the “exceptionally large number of record-breaking and destructive heatwaves” in the first decade of this century. The authors found that, “many lines of evidence – statistical analysis of observed data, climate modelling and physical reasoning – strongly indicate that some types of extreme event, most notably heatwaves and precipitation extremes, will greatly increase in a warming climate and have already done so…. The evidence is strong that anthropogenic, unprecedented heat and rainfall extremes are here – and are causing intense human suffering.”[2]

A study of extreme weather events between 1997 and 2012 concluded that “the available evidence suggests that the most ‘extreme’ extremes show the greatest change. This is particularly relevant for climate change impacts, as changes in the warmest temperature extremes over land are of the most relevance to human health, agriculture, ecosystems and infrastructure.”[3]

Others have found that global warming made the 2012-2014 California drought significantly worse than it would have otherwise been, and that in Australia, where hot and cold records used to be set in about equal numbers, all-time hot weather records now outnumber cold records by 12 to 1.[4]


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Nonlinear: New York, London, Shanghai underwater in 50 years?

Nonlinear: New York, London, Shanghai underwater in 50 years?

Those under the impression that climate change is advancing at a constant and predictable rate don’t understand the true dynamics of the issue. The rate of increase of the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere, the main driver of climate change, went from 0.75 parts per million (ppm) per year in 1959 to about 1.5 ppm each year through the 1990s, to 2.1 ppm each year from 2002 to 2012, and finally to 2.9 ppm in 2013.

The fear is that the ability of the oceans and plants to continue to absorb half the carbon dioxide human civilization expels into the atmosphere each year may have become impaired. That means more carbon dioxide is remaining in the atmosphere where concentrations are building at the fastest rate ever recorded in the modern era.

Permafrost across the most northern reaches of land on the globe wasn’t expected the start melting until well into this century. Scientists were shocked to find gaping craters in Siberia where permafrost apparently is no longer permanent. It means carbon dioxide and methane–which absorbs about 80 times as much heat as carbon dioxide during its first 20 years in the atmosphere–will be unleashed from the melting permafrost much sooner than anticipated after being trapped for thousands of years. The release has the potential to speed up warming considerably.

Now comes what must be labeled as the most important story of the year that shows us yet more nonlinear dynamics in the world climate system. New research from James Hansen, the world’s most renown climate scientist, and 16 of his colleagues concludes that many of the world’s coastal cities could become “uninhabitable” in just 50 years due to a rapid, nonlinear rise in sea level. This is far sooner than previous findings suggested.

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Will climate chaos reign in the Anthropocene?

Will climate chaos reign in the Anthropocene?

storm chaos

“Far from being self-stabilizing, the Earth’s climate system is an ornery beast which overreacts even to small nudges.”


“Human civilization developed during the Holocene (the past 12,000 years). It has been warm enough to keep ice sheets off North America and Europe, but cool enough for ice sheets to remain on Greenland and Antarctica. With rapid warming of 0.6°C in the past 30 years, global temperature is at its warmest level in the Holocene. … Earth’s paleoclimatic record tells us that atmospheric greenhouse gases are now near the dangerous level where tipping points become unavoidable.” –James Hansen [1]

To judge by many accounts of climate change, the twenty-first century will gradually become a warmer, stormier, and less biodiverse version of the twentieth. There’s an unspoken assumption that the Anthropocene will be less pleasant than the Holocene, but not fundamentally different, and that the transition will be smooth. As research commissioned by the U.S. National Research Council points out, that assumption leads to particular conclusions about society’s ability to respond to change:

“Many projections of future climatic conditions have predicted steadily changing conditions giving the impression that communities have time to gradually adapt, for example, by adopting new agricultural practices to maintain productivity in hotter and drier conditions, or by organizing the relocation of coastal communities as sea level rises.”

But the authors emphasize that the actual experience could be very different:

“The scientific community has been paying increasing attention to the possibility that at least some changes will be abrupt, perhaps crossing a threshold or ‘tipping point’ to change so quickly that there will be little time to react. This concern is reasonable because such abrupt changes – which can occur over periods as short as decades, or even years – have been a natural part of the climate system throughout Earth’s history. The paleoclimate record – information on past climate gathered from sources such as fossils, sediment cores, and ice cores – contains ample evidence of abrupt changes in Earth’s ancient past, including sudden changes in ocean and air circulation, or abrupt extreme extinction events.” [2]

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