THE GUARDIAN: James Hansen, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, will today call for the chief executives of large fossil fuel companies to be put on trial for high crimes against humanity and nature, accusing them of actively spreading doubt about global warming in the same way that tobacco companies blurred the links between smoking and cancer. Hansen will use the symbolically charged 20th anniversary of his groundbreaking speech (pdf) to the US Congress — in which he was among the first to sound the alarm over the reality of global warming – to argue that radical steps need to be taken immediately if the “perfect storm” of irreversible climate change is not to become inevitable. Speaking before Congress again, he will accuse the chief executive officers of companies such as ExxonMobil and Peabody Energy of being fully aware of the disinformation about climate change they are spreading. In an interview with the Guardian he said: “When you are in that kind of position, as the CEO of one the primary players who have been putting out misinformation even via organisations that affect what gets into school textbooks, then I think that’s a crime.” MORE
WHO IS: Dr. James Hansen heads the NASA Institute for Space Studies in New York City, which is a division of Goddard Space Flight Center’s (Greenbelt, MD), Earth Sciences Directorate. He was trained in physics and astronomy in the space science program of Dr. James Van Allen at the University of Iowa. His early research on the properties of clouds of Venus led to their identification as sulfuric acid. Since the late 1970s, he has worked on studies and computer simulations of the Earth’s climate, for the purpose of understanding the human impact on global climate. Dr. Hansen is best known for his testimony on climate change to congressional committees in the 1980s that helped raise broad awareness of the global warming issue. Dr. Hansen was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1995 and he received the prestigious Heinz Environment Award for his research on global warming in 2001. [via 350 CAMPAIGN]
THE 350 CAMPAIGN: If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm.
There are three numbers you need to really understand global warming, none of them very complicated. For all of human history until about 200 years ago, our atmosphere contained 275 parts per million of carbon dioxide (that’s the first number). Parts per million simply means the ratio of the number of carbon dioxide molecules per million other molecules in the atmosphere. That much CO2 is useful—without it the earth would be very cold, like Mars. So we need some carbon in the atmosphere; the question is how much?
Beginning in the 18th century, we started to burn coal and gas and oil to produce energy and goods. The amount of carbon in the atmosphere began to rise, at first slowly and now more quickly. Many of the activities we do every day like turning the lights on, cooking food, or heating or cooling our homes rely on energy sources like coal and oil that emit carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. We’re taking millions of years worth of carbon, stored beneath the earth as fossil fuels, and releasing it into the atmosphere. By now—and this is the second number—the planet has 387 parts per million CO2 – and this number is rising by about 2 parts per million every year. MORE