Hurtling Towards an Unlivable Planet

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

The media and political establishments are diddling while the planet burns.

Are we really supposed to take their games seriously as humanity veers ever more dangerously off the environmental cliff?

In 2008, James Hansen, then head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and seven other leading climate scientists reported that we would see “practically irreversible ice sheet and species loss” if the planet’s average temperature rose above 1°Celsius (C) thanks to carbon dioxide’s (CO2) presence in the atmosphere reaching 450 parts per million (ppm).

CO2 was at 385 ppm when this report came out.  It was “already in the dangerous zone,” Hansen and his team reported. They warned that deadly, self-reinforcing “feedbacks” could be triggered at this level.  The dire prospects presaged included “ice sheet disintegration, vegetation migration, and GHG [greenhouse gas] release from soils, tundra, or ocean sediments.”

The only way to be assured of a livable climate, Hansen and his colleagues warned, would be to cut CO2 to at least 350 ppm.

Here we are eleven years later, well past Hansen’s 1°C red line. We’ve gotten there at 410 ppm, the highest level of CO2 saturation in 800,000 years. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s latest climate report reflects the consensus opinion of the world’s leading climate scientists.  It tells us that we are headed to 1.5°C in a dozen…

Read more