Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

Hansen says we should FART

with 6 comments

(i.e. Fundamentally Alter Resource Trajectories).
As regular readers will know, I have tried and failed to stop posting items about James Hansen’s book Storms of my Grandchildren but, you will be pleased to know that I have now finished (reading it). Therefore, although it has one hell-of-a “sting in the tail” (that I will get to later in the week), for now, I want to return to the issue I raised in Hansen – where the IPCC went wrong (on 2 November 2011)

Hansen says that he can prove that our governments are lying to themselves and to us because there is no way that they can achieve the internationally-agreed reductions in CO2 emissions unless they radically change their policies (which they show no sign of doing). For example, the EU has committed itself to achieving an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050, whereas Hansen demonstrates that this could only ever be achieved if all burning of coal is phased-out on a linear basis between now and 2030 and so long as all unconventional hydrocarbons [i.e. those not included in IPCC reserves - see Figure 6(a) in Hansen et al (2008) shown below] are left in the ground. For the avoidance of any doubt, this would mean not exploiting oil shale gas, tar sands, and unconventional oil in the Arctic and in any other deep sea locations. Hansen et al (2008) Figure 6
However, as Hansen points out, this is not going to happen because (1) coal mining is not being phased out; (2) new coal-fired power stations are being built; and (3) all kinds of unconventional coal, oil and gas sources are being actively explored and developed. On the contrary, the presumption that humans will burn all available fossil fuels (simply because they are there) will make anything more than a 40% reduction by 2050 (purely due to exhaustion of supply) unlikely [Figure 6a)]; and an eventual atmospheric CO2 concentration 30 ppm higher than it might otherwise be [Figure 6(b)].

This may not sound much but it should be remembered that it is the area under the graph (i.e. cumulative emissions) that is the primary determining factor in how bad things could get. This is because, as well as the basic climate sensitivity to CO2 (3 Celsius increase in temperature for a doubling of pre-Industrial concentration), the greater the total forcing applied (total emissions since 1750), the more likely we are to trigger amplifying feedbacks (already becoming evident); and risk pushing the climate system beyond the point at which humanly-reversible change becomes impossible. Into this latter category, Hansen includes the melting of the Greenland and West Antarctica Ice Sheets (unrestrained by the ongoing melting of ice shelves); the thawing of permafrost (increasing freshwater flows in Arctic rivers and releasing methane locked-up in frozen decomposed vegetation); the shut-down of ocean circulation (due to reduced salinity at high latitudes); and the release of methane hydrates on the sea bed (due to the development of new circulatory patterns in the Pacific Ocean – as predicted by global circulation climate models). If any or all of these things happen, any chance of mitigating change will be gone.

It is for this reason that Hansen has allowed himself to be arrested and to act as an expert witness in relation to anti-coal-mining protests. Furthermore, given that proceeding to burn all fossil fuels will guarantee that the current generation will not leave the Earth as they found it, Hansen points out the deep irony of such protestors being arrested for “obstruction of justice”… On the contrary, Hansen describes the actions of our current generation – and the political and business elites who claim to act in the best interests of society in general (when in fact their motives are entirely selfish and self-serving) as “a gross case of intergenerational injustice” (page 248).

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6 Responses

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  1. Ugh…its overwelming.

    wakingupthesleepers

    17 November 2011 at 03:41

  2. When ever I say things like “we should not be building new coal-powered plants”, I get the feeling that I’m being a bit extremist… I guess I am not.

    jpgreenword

    6 February 2012 at 01:17

    • According to John Kosowski (see the final paragraph in this comment yesterday), Hansen is in a minority (of almost one?) with regard to his projections of sea level rise. I am sure this is wildly out-of-date and/or just flat wrong but, to be honest, I can barely be bothered to find out.

      Martin Lack

      6 February 2012 at 08:14

  3. [...] hopes on CCS. In fact, as James Hansen suggests in Storms of my Grandchildren, they are doing both: Hansen says we should FART* (16 November 2011); and What’s wrong with clean coal? (21 November 2011). [...]

  4. [...] working relationships with real opinion-formers.  However, if our governments are indeed, as James Hansen suggests, lying to themselves and us (that we can have it both ways), Rapley’s call to scientists to [...]

  5. [...] methane release; and (6) opencast coal mining everywhere. For more on this topic see: ‘Hansen says we should FART‘ (i.e. fundamentally alter resource [...]


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