Copenhagen - Climate Instability Conference
|I highly recommend reading this interview:
Read About Climate Instability
Also, I recommend considering the following thoughts by Norman Cousins:
A Game Of Cards
Norman Cousins - Beverly Hills, California
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, December 11, 2009
In the face of nuclear war and ultimate annihilation, writer and editor Norman Cousins wonders about the destiny of man. In his essay from the 1950s, Cousins believes we have the resources to overcome our fears and welcome a new golden age of history.
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: fear, good & evil
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Ever since I was old enough to read books on philosophy, I have been intrigued by the discussions on the nature of man. The philosophers have been debating for years about whether man is primarily good or primarily evil, whether he is primarily altruistic or selfish, cooperative or combative, gregarious or self-centered, whether he enjoys free will or whether everything is predetermined.
As far back as the Socratic dialogues in Plato, and even before that, man has been baffled about himself. He knows he is capable of great and noble deeds, but then he is oppressed by the evidence of great wrongdoing.
And so he wonders. I don’t presume to be able to resolve the contradictions. In fact, I don’t think we have to. It seems to me that the debate over good and evil in man, over free will and determinism, and over all the other contradictions—it seems to me that this debate is a futile one. For man is a creature of dualism. He is both good and evil, both altruistic and selfish. He enjoys free will to the extent that he can make decisions in life, but he can’t change his chemistry or his relatives or his physical endowments—all of which were determined for him at birth. And rather than speculate over which side of him is dominant, he might do well to consider what the contradictions and circumstances are that tend to bring out the good or evil, that enable him to be a nobler and responsible member of the human race. And so far as free will and determinism are concerned, something I heard in India on a recent visit might be worth passing along. Free will and determinism, I was told, are like a game of cards. The hand that is dealt you represents determinism. The way you play your hand represents free will.
Now where does all this leave us? It seems to me that we ought to attempt to bring about and safeguard those conditions that tend to develop the best in man. We know, for example, that the existence of fear and man’s inability to cope with fear bring about the worst in him. We know that what is true of man on a small scale can be true of society on a large scale. And today the conditions of fear in the world are, I’m afraid, affecting men everywhere. More than 2,300 years ago, the Greek world, which had attained tremendous heights of creative intelligence and achievement, disintegrated under the pressure of fear. Today, too, if we read the signs correctly, there is fear everywhere. There is fear that the human race has exhausted its margin for error and that we are sliding into another great conflict that will cancel out thousands of years of human progress. And people are fearful because they don’t want to lose the things that are more important than peace itself—moral, democratic, and spiritual values.
The problem confronting us today is far more serious than the destiny of any political system or even of any nation. The problem is the destiny of man: first, whether we can make this planet safe for man; second, whether we can make it fit for man.
This I believe—that man today has all the resources to shatter his fears and go on to the greatest golden age in history, an age which will provide the conditions for human growth and for the development of the good that resides within man, whether in his individual or his collective being. And he has only to mobilize his rational intelligence and his conscience to put these resources to work.
Norman Cousins was editor of The Saturday Review for 35 years. A noted author, he detailed his fight against two life-threatening diseases in "Anatomy of An Illness" and "The Healing Heart." In addition to his literary career, he was an ardent critic of the nuclear arms race and the Vietnam War.
Commentary - What's Next
Leading Climate Scientist James Hansen on Why He’s Pleased the Copenhagen Summit Failed, “Cap and Fade,” Climategate and More
We speak with the nation’s leading climate scientist, James Hansen. He wasn’t at the Copenhagen climate summit and explains why he thinks it’s ultimately better for the planet that the talks collapsed. We also speak with with Dr. Hansen about his new book, Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity, and much more. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s go back for a minute and talk about what we are actually facing. I mean, it’s amazing to come back from Copenhagen after two weeks there, where the entire discussion was about global warming, back to the US media, where there is almost no mention. It’s more the politics of what did it mean for President Obama to swoop in, did he save the talks, did he collapse the talks, whatever. But actually, what the stakes are. You begin your book, Storms of My Grandchildren, by talking about a tipping point. What do you mean by that, Dr. Hansen?
JAMES HANSEN: Well, there are tipping points in the climate system, where we can push the system beyond a point where the dynamics begins to take over. For example, in the case of an ice sheet, once it begins to disintegrate and slide into the ocean, you’ve passed the point where you can stop it. So that’s what we have to avoid.
Another tipping point is in the survival of species. As we begin to put pressure on species and move the climate zone so that some of the species can’t survive because they can only live within certain climate parameters, because species depend upon each other, you can drive an ecosystem such that when some species go extinct, then the entire ecosystem will collapse. So you don’t want to push the system that far.
And these tipping points are not hypothetical. We know from the earth’s history that these have happened in the past, especially when we’ve had large global warmings. We’ve driven more than half the species on the planet to extinction. And then, over hundreds of thousands and millions of years, new species come into being. But for any time scale that we can imagine, we would be leaving a much more desolate planet for our children and grandchildren and future generations. So we don’t want to pass those tipping points.
AMY GOODMAN: And how do you know that we are headed in that direction?
JAMES HANSEN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: What, in your work, has told to this?
JAMES HANSEN: Well, in the case, say, of the ice sheets and sea level, we see. We began in 2002 to get this spectacular data from the gravity satellite, which measures the gravitational field of the earth with such a high precision that you can get the mass of the Greenland ice sheet and the Antarctic ice sheets. And what we see is that in 2002 to 2005, we were losing mass from Greenland at a rate of about 150 cubic kilometers per year. Well, now that’s doubled to about 300 cubic kilometers per year. And likewise, the mass loss from Antarctica has also doubled over that time period.
So we can see that we’re moving toward a tipping point where those ice sheets will begin to disintegrate more rapidly, and sea level will go up. And that’s one of the bases, and others, for saying that a safe level of carbon dioxide is actually less than what we have now. It’s—
AMY GOODMAN: Which is?
JAMES HANSEN: What we have now is 387 parts per million. But we’re going to have to bring that down to 350 parts per million or less. And that’s still possible, provided we phase out coal emissions over the next few decades. That’s possible. We would also have to prohibit unconventional fossil fuels like tar sands and oil shale.
But if you look at what governments are doing, the reason that you know that the kind of accords they’re talking about are not going to work is because, look at what they’re actually doing. The United States had just agreed to have a pipeline from the tar sands in Canada to the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: In Alberta.
JAMES HANSEN: Yeah, so they’re planning on actually burning those tar sands, which we can’t do.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain how that works. What are the tar sands? I mean, this was a major issue in Copenhagen, and we played a number of pieces, especially indigenous people, for example, marching on the Canadian embassy—
JAMES HANSEN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —to try to stop the drilling.
JAMES HANSEN: They’re among the dirtiest fossil fuels on the planet. There’s oil mixed in the ground with the sand. You have to cook that material to get oil to drip out of it. That takes a lot of energy to cook it. And then you end up with oil, which also has carbon. Then you burn the oil, and you get more carbon. So it’s much more carbon-intensive than oil itself.
AMY GOODMAN: We get more oil from Canada than anywhere else in the world, is that right?
JAMES HANSEN: I’m not sure about that, but the plan is, in the long run. There’s much more there in tar sands than even in Saudi Arabia.
So the point is, we’re going to have to move to the energy system beyond fossil fuels. We need to drive the economic system so that we move to a clean energy future. And there are many other advantages in doing that: cleaning up the atmosphere, cleaning up the ocean. You get—the mercury and arsenic and all these pollutants are coming from fossil fuels. So we need to get off this fossil fuel addiction. And the way you do that is to put a gradually rising price on the carbon emissions.
AMY GOODMAN: How many times have you been arrested protesting now the issue of coal and mountaintop removal?
JAMES HANSEN: A couple of times in West Virginia, with regard to the mountaintop removal, and in Boston, where we were sleeping out on the Boston Commons. But, yeah, trying to draw—
AMY GOODMAN: So, how did you go from being the head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies to getting arrested for these protests?
JAMES HANSEN: Well, these protests are what we call civil resistance, in the same way that Gandhi did. We’re trying to draw attention to the injustice, because this is really analogous. This is a moral issue, analogous to that faced by Lincoln with slavery or by Churchill with Nazism, because what we have here is a tremendous case of intergenerational injustice, because we are causing the problem, but our children and grandchildren are going to suffer the consequences.
And our parents didn’t know that they were causing a problem for future generations, but we do. The science has become very clear. And we’re going to have to move to a clean energy future. And we could do that. And there would be many other advantages of doing it. Why don’t we do it? Because of the special interests and because of the role of money in Washington.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, you don’t just protest outside of, you know, these companies that do mountaintop removal; you were protesting outside the Natural Resources Defense Council, the NRDC.
JAMES HANSEN: Yeah. They and some other environmental organizations have become too much of the Washington scene, and they’re trying to work on the terms that Washington now works on, in which the lobbyists are driving the legislation. We have to get the legislation designed in the public’s interest, not in the interests of the people who have the money to influence the process.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back. Our guest today is James Hansen. Storms of My [Grandchildren]: The Truth [about] the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity is his first book. He’s the director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, teaches at Columbia University. He’s been arrested protesting coal mining and didn’t go to Copenhagen, because he wanted those talks to collapse, felt they wouldn’t save the planet. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is Jim Hansen. Storms of My Grandchildren is his new book, The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity.
I wanted to play for you, Dr. Hansen, the comment of the Prime Minister of Nepal. Days before the climate talks began in Copenhagen, cabinet ministers from Nepal held a cabinet meeting on Mount Everest, at the base, to send a message on the impact of global warming on the Himalayas. I spoke to the Nepalese Prime Minister in Copenhagen.
PRIME MINISTER MADHAV KUMAR NEPAL: Global warming has its impact on the top of the mountain. And the snows are melting. Glaciers, many of the glaciers, Himalaya glaciers, has evaporated, has disappeared. Many glacial lakes are emerging, and many of the glacial lakes are the [inaudible]. So we have seen many landslides there and no regular land or rainfall there. Droughts and all these problems relating to the health of the people has been seen. And we have seen power plants that is damaging many of the villages. The natural calamities has been seen. And the impact on the mountainous region is much more in the downstream, where 1.3 billion of the population live in India, in Bangladesh. So the problem of Nepal is not only the problem of Nepal’s people, rather the problem of at least 1.3 billion of population.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s the Nepali Prime Minister Nepal. That is his name. Your response to that, Dr. Jim Hansen?
JAMES HANSEN: Well, yeah, we see the climate changes. It’s at the top of the mountains. The glaciers all around the world are melting. And those glaciers are actually very important, because they provide fresh water for the major rivers of the world. During the dry season, the rivers, such as the Brahmaputra and the Ganges Rivers, more than half the water in the river is from melting glaciers. So once those glaciers are gone, it’s a real problem.
But the problems are also occurring at the other end of the rivers. The coastline of Bangladesh, for example, is going to be moving inward, and you’re going to have hundreds of millions of people who will be refugees. So it’s especially these poor nations around the world that will suffer from climate change.
AMY GOODMAN: Last week I also caught up with the President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed. Now, this is a low-lying island, the Maldives, at the frontline of climate change. And I asked him what a three degree Celsius rise in temperature, because the IFCCC, the climate change conference—apparently there was this document that we exposed on Democracy Now! with the French news organization Mediapart, saying that their plans, what they were putting forward, wouldn’t actually increase the temperature by two degrees Celsius, but actually by three degrees. And I asked the Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed to describe what that would mean for his country.
PRESIDENT MOHAMED NASHEED: That would mean that we won’t be around. That would mean the death of us. And that’s really not acceptable for us. We cannot survive with that kind of temperature rise.
AMY GOODMAN: For people who don’t understand climate change, which is probably most people in the United States, why wouldn’t you be around? What would happen?
PRESIDENT MOHAMED NASHEED: Sea levels would rise. We are just 1.5 meters above the water. And if we have sea levels rising to seventy, eighty centimeters, that’s going to eat up most of our country. So we won’t be around.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you making preparations for a mass population removal to dry land?
PRESIDENT MOHAMED NASHEED: Well, you know, we’ve been there in the middle of the Indian Ocean for the last 10,000 years, and we have a written history that goes back 2,000 years. I can move, but where would all the butterflies go, all the sounds go, all the culture go, all the color go? I don’t think it really is a feasible option to move. It’s going to be almost impossible for us to convince our people to move.
AMY GOODMAN: That is the Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed.
JAMES HANSEN: Yeah, yeah. That’s exactly the problem. And that’s what was happening in Copenhagen. The wealthy countries are trying to basically buy off these countries that will, in effect, disappear. It doesn’t make sense. I mean, and the danger is that these countries will see this money—that’s why the United States offered to promote $100 billion per year, which is imaginary money, because I don’t think that’s going to happen. The United States’ share of that, based on our contribution to the carbon in the atmosphere, would be 27 percent, $27 billion per year. Do you think that our Congress is going to vote $27 billion per year to give these poor countries? It’s not going to happen. What we—but that’s the danger, that these poor countries will say, “Gee, that’s a lot of money. Maybe we can get that.” What we actually have to do is solve the problem, not pay people off. And that requires reducing the carbon emissions.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about the East Anglia controversy, the University of East Anglia, that the climate deniers, the climate change deniers, are using. Explain what happened, actually, the discussion between the scientists, what is being called Climategate, in emails that hackers got a hold of, and how it’s being used.
JAMES HANSEN: Yeah, well, obviously, this discussion between some of the climate scientists revealed frustrations that they have with the contrarians who continually will nitpick about “Is the station data good?” or “Is that one not?” And what they should have done is release their full data immediately, because there’s no question about the actual climate change. And by having—by this attempt to not be completely open, they opened themselves up to criticism.
But, in fact, the climate record is not debated, and it’s not debatable. If they give all the data, then they give the opportunity to somebody else to show, “Oh, it’s really not warming.” But, of course, they can’t show that, because the evidence is all over the place that the climate really is changing.
But unfortunately, this episode has been very confusing to the public, so now there are many in the United States, especially, who are skeptical about whether the climate change is real. So it’s been a public relations disaster, but it doesn’t change the science one iota. In fact, the science has become clearer and clearer over the last several years.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about where the United States is versus Europe? I talked to people throughout Europe in Copenhagen. I mean, thousands of people came out. Whether you wanted those talks to collapse or not, the level of networking and of groups all over the world was truly remarkable that took place there largely outside of the Bella Center—
JAMES HANSEN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —but also inside, because in the last few days, civil society was really kept out of those talks. But they said the United States is years behind in just the discourse, because we are at the point of—
JAMES HANSEN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —if you even have a discussion in the US media, it’s about whether global warming exists.
JAMES HANSEN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Whereas in Europe, it’s about—the debates are about, well, what do we do?
JAMES HANSEN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, carbon sequestration? Should there be cap and trade? What are the alternatives? That’s where the debates lie there. Here, we’re way behind.
JAMES HANSEN: Yeah, and for a very good reason: because of the effectiveness of the industries that don’t want to see change. They have had an enormous impact on the public’s perception of the issue.
AMY GOODMAN: Where do you see that with scientists, for example? We just did that piece on healthcare, the amount of money they’re pouring in lobbying on healthcare. What is it in—on global warming legislation that didn’t pass the Senate, $300,000 a day from coal, oil, gas?
JAMES HANSEN: Well, yeah, there are more than two-and-a-half thousand energy lobbyists in Washington, so that’s more than four per congressperson. And that’s—unfortunately, the public just doesn’t have that kind of representation. And it’s also a fact that the industry influences the media, so that you always see this presented as if it’s an either—there’s one side and there’s another side, as if they were equal. But, in fact, the science has become crystal clear. And we have the most authoritative scientific body in the world in the National Academy of Sciences. So all the President would need to do if he wants to make this issue clear to the public is ask the Academy to give him a clear report on this subject, and the answer would be very clear.
AMY GOODMAN: The effect of the EPA now announcing that carbon, methane, that they are threats to public health? Can the EPA just start regulating regardless of Congress passing legislation?
JAMES HANSEN: Well, they can. But then, when we have a new election and a different party comes to power, that their ability to do that might be changed. And so, that’s why it’s preferable to have laws written by Congress and signed by the President. But in the absence of that, EPA can get us moving in the right direction. And they are beginning to do that, for example, in vehicle efficiencies.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the level of suppression of science in the United States. You personally experienced it. There was this exposé in the Times where you first were talking to Andrew Revkin and explaining what was happening under the Bush administration, and even before that, the suppression of your work when you testified before Congress to, what, Senator Al Gore at the time.
JAMES HANSEN: Yeah. There are two major problems. One is that the public affairs offices of the science agencies are headed by political appointees, and they tend to try to control the information that goes from the science agencies to the public, if it is a politically sensitive topic. In many topics, maybe 99 percent, there’s no interference. But when it becomes a sensitive issue, as it was with global warming, there is that tendency.
So the solution to that would be to have professionals, career civil servants, head the public affairs offices. Otherwise, they are offices of propaganda. And it still—it doesn’t matter which, whether it’s Democrats or Republicans; as soon as there’s an election, a change of the party in power, they replace the heads of these offices. So they’re still offices of propaganda, in my opinion.
The other thing is, is if a government scientist testifies to Congress, he has to first show his testimony to the White House. Doesn’t make sense. Why should Congress not get the best opinion of the scientists? This is a power which is just taken by the executive branch, and the Congress has not objected to it. Again, it doesn’t make sense, because the scientific—the scientists are paid by the public, so they shouldn’t be under the control of the White House. They should be free to give the best scientific advice they can.
AMY GOODMAN: You had a young man, twenty-four years old, named George Deutsch, put in charge of you as the top scientist over at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies under the Bush administration. It turned out he hadn’t graduated from college, whatever. He was determining who you got to talk to in the media, what information you were putting out? He was—
JAMES HANSEN: Well, that’s the way the story came out in the New York Times. And it sounded as if this low-level person was responsible for the censorship. He was reporting to the highest level at NASA headquarters, the head of the public affairs offices. So, in fact, this was the problem I just described. It’s the fact that the administration in power feels that it gets to control the information that goes to the public. It doesn’t make sense in a democracy. A democracy doesn’t work right if the public cannot be honestly informed.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you feel your work is being suppressed now? You still work with NASA.
JAMES HANSEN: No, I don’t feel that it’s being suppressed now. But the fundamental problem has not been solved, in that the heads of these offices are still political appointees. But I’ve been—ever since this issue became open during the Bush administration, I’ve been allowed to say what I want, because I think the bad publicity of any censorship is not worth it, so they’re not trying to control what I say.
AMY GOODMAN: You were reporting to the top people. It was not only the top people controlling what you had to say. You were meeting with Dick Cheney, the Vice President, you were meeting with Colin Powell, to warn them about global warming. What was their response?
JAMES HANSEN: Well, yeah, I had the opportunity at the beginning of the Bush administration to speak to the energy climate task force, which was headed by Vice President Cheney and which had six cabinet members plus the EPA administrator and the national security adviser on it. But what I learned was—and we, I think, gave them a clear story about the dangers in continuing greenhouse gas emissions, but the decisions on what the policies were made were made a couple of weeks before they listened to the science stories, as I discuss in one of the chapters in my book. So the policies were based on other considerations rather than the scientific information.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, what do you think needs to happen right now?
JAMES HANSEN: Yeah, what needs to happen right now—we have this great opportunity this spring, I would say, to have discussions in the House and Senate about what really needs to be done to solve this problem. And it’s not cap and trade with offsets. We can prove that that’s completely ineffectual. What we have to do is put a price on carbon, and the money that’s collected needs to be given to the public, not used for boondoggles, like Congress is taking—plans to take the money from cap and trade that’s collected in selling the permits to pollute and to use that money for things like clean coal or to give the money back to the polluters. That won’t solve the problem. We have to give the money to the public.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you see the Obama administration in any way going in this direction?
JAMES HANSEN: I think it’s possible. There were a couple of encouraging things in Copenhagen. For one thing, Al Gore made a clear statement that a carbon price is a better solution than cap and trade. And John Kerry also indicated that he had an open mind on that question. So that’s why I say the discussions in the next few months are very important, because the way the United States goes is going to determine the way the world goes, I think.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for being with us. Dr. James Hansen is our guest. He is author of Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity and one of the world’s leading climatologists.
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