It is nearly thirty years to the day that one of the world’s leading climate scientists, Dr James Hansen told a panel of the US senate that the “greenhouse effect was here”.
As the US sweltered in a heat-wave in 1988, Hansen predicted that year would be the hottest year on record and that we all would experience an increase in heatwaves, droughts and storms due to climate change.
Hansen’s testimony was, according to Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley, “the opening salvo of the age of climate change.”
Since then, pretty much everything Hansen predicted with the science has come true and he has continued to speak his mind, despite numerous attempts to gag and suppress his work, which has remained as cutting edge as ever.
In 2011, he published Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity. When the book was published, Al Gore said: “When the history of the climate crisis is written, Hansen will be seen as the scientist with the most powerful and consistent voice calling for intelligent action to preserve our planet’s environment.”
But even after this book was published, Hansen was attacked and undermined, so eventually in 2013, Hansen left NASA. But he continues to speak out about our climate crisis, which is far, far worse than if we had taken concerted collective action over the last thirty years to reduce our carbon emissions.
Many will know the reason for our collective failure: In those thirty years we have witnessed one of the most sophisticated, expensive and devious corporate public relations campaigns ever undertaken by the oil industry to deny the science, delay regulatory action and obfuscate the truth over climate change.
As many people have repeatedly pointed out, including me in articles, blogs, and books, the oil industry campaign learnt much of tactics from the masters of deception and manipulation, the tobacco industry.
If the oil industry had spent even a tiny proportion of the money it had funding fake front groups and scientists, and poured it into renewable energy, then we would not be facing such a climate crisis as we are now.
The mark the inauspicious anniversary, the Associated Press is publishing a series of articles that recall Hansen’s speech at the time.
The AP notes: “Thirty years later, it’s clear that Hansen and other doomsayers were right. But the change has been so sweeping that it is easy to lose sight of effects large and small — some obvious, others less conspicuous.”
It adds that the “Earth is noticeably hotter, the weather stormier and more extreme. Polar regions have lost billions of tons of ice; sea levels have been raised by trillions of gallons of water. Far more wildfires rage.”
“The statistics tracking climate change since 1988 are almost numbing”, argues the AP.
According to an news wire “statistical analysis of 30 years of weather, ice, fire, ocean, biological and other data, every single one of the 344 climate divisions in the Lower 48 states — NOAA groupings of counties with similar weather — has warmed significantly, as has each of 188 cities examined.”
In cities the rises have been greater. Everywhere you look, from fires, to sea-level rise, to storms to temperatures, to ice loss, the records are being broken. “The 14 costliest hurricanes in American history, adjusted for inflation, have hit since 1988”, meanwhile “The Arctic has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the world.”
Every day the science gets worse. Even last week, as I noted, there was new alarming research on dying baobab trees in Africa, the threat to rice in Asia and the quickening of the Antarctic ice melt.
To mark the anniversary, Hansen gave an interview to the AP. Hansen wished he hadn’t been proved right. The veteran scientist said what he really wishes happened is “that the warning be heeded and actions be taken.”
However, as Hansen yet again calls for action, the anniversary comes at a time when climate science is under attack like never before, we have a climate denier in the White House, who thrives on chaos theory a fossil fuel industry stooge as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Back in 1988, the news wire also quoted said George M. Woodwell, director of the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts who said: “If we could magically reduce (annual) emissions (of carbon) by about 3 billion tons, we could stabilize the content of the atmosphere. It is well within reach, no question about that.”
“The problem … has the potential for turning the world into a form of chaos not greatly different from that produced by global war,” he added.
We owe it to Jim Hansen to now bring the oil industry to account for adding to the climate chaos. The higher echelons of the Trump Administration should be held to account too.