Game over for the climate?

Anyone who is even minimally aware of how climate science works knows that you cannot use any one weather event or one anomalous season in any single location to argue for or against global warming. But some of the most vociferous opponents of the global warming hypothesis tend to be scientifically naïve and parochial and think that way (“Look at that snow! So much for global warming! Ha! Ha!). Maybe such people in this area of Ohio will be sobered up by the fact that the last winter was the warmest on record (it was barely a winter) and that we are predicted to have a warmer than normal summer.

The worst part is that people who should really know better add to the ignorant way we discuss these issue. For example, you have members of congress like senator James Inhofe (R-OK) saying that the Bible refutes the idea that we could be damaging the climate because his god has promised not to.

If you think about it for a minute, it is quite incredible that a US senator, a major elected political figure in one of the most advanced technological countries in the world, can use the Bible as an argument on a scientific question and not be greeted with hoots of derisive laughter. In a sane society, such a statement would so embarrass the people of his state that he supposedly represents that he would be booted out of office. It is a sign of how we have accepted as the new normal those things that should rightly be beyond the pale of accepted political discourse.

Unfortunately the evidence in favor of global warming keeps piling up. A recent study by scientists in Australia show that the there is no precedent in the last 1000 years for the rise in temperatures we have seen in the last 50 years.

James Hansen is the director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and was one of the first people to sound the alarm over global warming, going all the way back to a paper he and co-workers published in Science in 1981. He warns in a recent op-ed, that if Canada proceeds to exploit the oil in its vast tar sands reserves, and is aided in doing so by the US allowing the construction of a pipeline to enable it to transport it to refineries in the Gulf coast, then it would be game over for the climate, that we would have passed the point of no return. He explains why current policies are wrong and suggests a way of reversing this trend:

We need to start reducing emissions significantly, not create new ways to increase them. We should impose a gradually rising carbon fee, collected from fossil fuel companies, then distribute 100 percent of the collections to all Americans on a per-capita basis every month. The government would not get a penny. This market-based approach would stimulate innovation, jobs and economic growth, avoid enlarging government or having it pick winners or losers. Most Americans, except the heaviest energy users, would get more back than they paid in increased prices. Not only that, the reduction in oil use resulting from the carbon price would be nearly six times as great as the oil supply from the proposed pipeline from Canada, rendering the pipeline superfluous, according to economic models driven by a slowly rising carbon price.

But instead of placing a rising fee on carbon emissions to make fossil fuels pay their true costs, leveling the energy playing field, the world’s governments are forcing the public to subsidize fossil fuels with hundreds of billions of dollars per year. This encourages a frantic stampede to extract every fossil fuel through mountaintop removal, longwall mining, hydraulic fracturing, tar sands and tar shale extraction, and deep ocean and Arctic drilling.

I really hope that Hansen and other climate scientists are wrong and that the downward spiral of warming stabilizes or reverses, but the chances of that are becoming increasingly slim. I hate the thought that we are bequeathing to future generations major problems simply because our present-day political leaders are in the clutches of big business and religious idiots and refuse to take the kinds of actions that will stabilize the climate.


  1. peter says

    I’m about as far from an economist as one can get, but wouldn’t Hansen’s proposed give-back render moot the increased costs at the pump? If people are having a tough time spending $4.00/gallon now, but then get a reimbursement that lowers the effective cost to something they don’t have trouble affording, won’t gas use just increase?

    Perhaps it’s explained fully in the op-ed, which I have not yet read.

  2. says

    What’s funny (?) is how denialists, stuck with no credible justification for why climate scientists would fake their data, are trying to say it’s all about the money. All that juicy, juicy grant money. And they make this claim it with a straight face as if the fossil fuel corporations and their conservative and fauxgressive government lackeys are just humble volunteers who aren’t making the kind of money that makes those grants look like pocket change.

  3. penn says

    You’re right that the refunds will help subsidize increased fuel costs, but it will incentivize energy efficiency and reduced fuel usage. The average person will end up even (i.e., paying in taxes what he receives in refunds), but the people with greater than average emissions will subsidize those with reduced emissions. If I get rid of my car and reduce my electricity use, I’ll be paying less in carbon taxes, but I’ll receive the same refund as everyone else.

  4. says

    They try to claim a cold day refutes global warming, but also notice they never use their same flawed logic and say a warm day proves global warming.

  5. Peter says

    In my experience the people arguing against what they call “catastrophic anthropogenic climate change” are quick to point out that they don’t deny that the earth is getting warmer. They only doubt that the cause is human activity. Their essential point is that climate sensitivity to CO2 has been overestimated. I don’t think they’re correct, but refuting this sort of stuff is a bit beyond my technical level.

    I find this ‘soft skeptical’ position to be far more reasonable than the complete denialist position, which claims that because there is a flat spot on the graph for global average temperature since about 1995 then Global Warming has stopped altogether. These are the sorts of people likely to take very selected stretches of time to bolster their argument.

  6. Uri says

    I know you’re a Mitchell and Webb fan, so I’m surprised you didn’t post this:

  7. StevoR says

    Good if somewhat depressing post here, Mano Singham.

    I’d strongly recommend everyone reads James Hansen’s book ‘Storms of my Grandchildren’ when it comes to this issue.

    I don’t think many – if any of us – really fully appreciate how serious the Human Induced rapid Globbal Overheating (HIRGO)* situation is and we’ve already wasted so much time due to the Climate Contrarians and their delaying and denying tactics.

    Thermal inertia – the lag in the climate response and the feebacks that are starting to kick in already – methane release from melting permafrost, albedo changes from melting icecaps (ice reflects 80% of sunlight, uncovered ocean absorbs 80% of it.) increasing desertification and deforestation and more mean we are in huge trouble already – and too many of us are blithely unaware of it.

    Irony is, the sooner we seriously act, the milder the measures could have been and the later we wake up to reality the more drastic and harsh the necessary steps to mitigate – not stop, merely slow – the process are going to be.


    * Because ‘anthropogenic’ is a weasel word and technojargon whereas ‘human induced’ is more directly accurate. Because the Rapidity and global scope are such key factors – nowhere is immune and the change being so much faster than usual is such an important part of the problem and because ‘warming’ sounds far too mild and has too many positive connotations versus the reality of the consequences.

  8. StevoR says

    Another book on this topic that I’d very strongly recommend is this one :

    Poles Apart by Gareth Morgan and John McCrystal which is a very informative and even-handed – yet ultimately very conclusive and also very readable investigation of the HIRGO topic meeting with scientists on both sides and examining their claims and arguments very thoroughly.

  9. StevoR says

    Scary counter here :

    showing the metric tonnes of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as of now.

    One easy experiment to try – write down that ten digit number, use questions marks for the last three or four digits because they change too quickly to be captured in a glance. Write down the time. Come back in an hour or three hours or a day and chck again.

    Contemplate the implications.

    As of ten minutes ago for me : 3,704,242,817,???

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