WILDFIRES UPON THE DEEP

Bill McGuire

Another week – another bombshell; this time exploding out of the world’s oceans. Covering more than seventy percent of our world’s surface, the oceans form an integral part of the climate system, interacting in many and complex ways with the atmosphere and cryosphere (polar ice). Because they are so closely aligned with the atmosphere they are also intimately linked to climate breakdown and increasingly impacted by it.

More than anything else, as the world has warmed, the oceans have protected us from overwhelming heat that would – by now – have otherwise likely wiped us out. The results of a study published in January reveal that, over the last 150 years, the oceans have absorbed a staggering 90 percent of the heat arising from increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This is the equivalent of the energy produced by between around 1.5 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs exploding every second over the entire period. Impressive enough; recently, however, the rate of heating has climbed to the energy equivalent of between three and six Hiroshima detonations a second. Another way of looking at it, is that over the last century and a half, the oceans have taken up about one thousand times the annual energy use of global society.

The huge quantities of heat sucked up by the oceans leave just a few percent to heat the land, atmosphere and ice caps – which is very lucky for us. The bad news is that the warmer oceans are starting to drive more powerful, and potentially more destructive, hurricanes and typhoons. Furthermore, ocean heating also drives rising sea levels as the warmer waters expand.

Another study, the results of which were published just this week paints a terrifying picture of the devastating impact of ocean heating on marine life. The authors of this latest study describe ocean heatwaves spreading like the wildfires that, on land, take out vast tracts of bush. In the oceans, instead, great swathes of coral reef, seagrass meadow and kelp forest are being wiped out – along with the sea-life that depends and thrives upon them. Following a similar trend to heatwaves on land, ocean heatwaves have tripled in frequency in just the last couple of decades, raising huge concerns about the survival of marine ecosystems as further heating occurs. Fish stocks, in particular, already seem to be suffering, with global stocks down by at least four percent since 1930, and by as much as 35 percent in some parts of the world.

The bottom line is that, while the oceans are shielding us from the worst of the heating caused by human activities, they can’t continue to do this forever. In addition, as they absorb more and more heat, so the life they contain is coming under increasing pressure. If we continue with business as usual, we will be left with oceans hugely depleted of life, and menus from which fish are permanently excluded. Yet another reason – as if we need one – for net zero emissions by 2025. Let’s do it.

Bill McGuire is Professor Emeritus of Geophysical & Climate Hazards at UCL and author of Waking the Giant: How a Changing Climate Triggers Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Volcanic Eruptions. He was a contributor to the IPCC 2012 report on Climate Change & Extreme Events and Disasters.

Global warming and mass extinction of life on Earth

By Zeeshan Hasan

underagreensky

Climate change is usually pictured in terms of rising sea levels and increased storm and drought; but science has revealed that it bears further threats. These previously unknown dangers of climate change are the focus of Peter D. Ward’s book, “Under a Green Sky: Global warming, the mass extinctions of the past, and what they can tell us about our future”. Ward is a professor of biology and earth and space sciences at the University of Washington at Seattle, and also works at Nasa. He is one of the biologists whose analysis of the fossil record has helped scientists understand what caused the numerous mass extinctions that have occurred during the history of life on earth.

The most famous of earlier mass extinctions was the one which wiped out the dinosaurs; thirty years ago, scientists confirmed it was the result of an asteroid hitting the earth. Following that great discovery, scientists for years assumed that all the other mass extinctions were similarly the result of asteroid impacts. However, geologists were ultimately unable to find any evidence for those supposed asteroids. Apparently, the extinction of the dinosaurs was unique, and a different explanation was necessary for the remaining mass extinctions. This was ultimately found to be global warming due to excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It turns out that large quantities of carbon dioxide can be released by volcanic activity; this is especially likely in major tectonic events such as when the Indian subcontinent collided with Eurasia (creating the Himalayas).

Ward’s book investigates the mechanism by which global warming caused mass extinctions such as the end-Permian extinction event, which destroyed 95% of life on earth 250 million years ago. Scientists have found that most mass extinctions were marked by the release of huge amounts of hydrogen sulphide gas, which is the smelly, poisonous gas released by rotten eggs. The hydrogen sulphide would have been created by an oxygen-free “Canfield ocean” (named after the scientist who discovered it), a condition similar to that which now exists in the Black Sea. Canfield oceans occur when global warming melts too much polar ice, releasing so much cold water that the normal ocean currents which circulate water from deep to shallow and keep the oceans oxygen-rich are disrupted. Once this happens, the oxygen-breathing fish and other sea creatures quickly consume all the oxygen left in the water and then suffocate. The remaining oxygen-free water can sustain only anaerobic purple bacteria which require no oxygen to live; by filling up the ocean, these bacteria would also turn the ocean purple.

Anaerobic purple bacteria in a Canfield ocean produce massive quantities of hydrogen sulphide gas, which then bubbles to the surface and poisons animals on land. Hydrogen sulphide also damages the ozone layer, exposing the remaining animals and plants to deadly levels of ultraviolet rays from the sun (as a minor side effect, hydrogen sulphide from a Canfield ocean would also turn the sky green; hence the title of the book). Thus global warming has caused mass extinctions on both land and sea which can only be described as apocalyptic.

How far away is this? We don’t know exactly how much polar ice has to melt to create a Canfield ocean and another mass extinction, but we do know the following:
“Using [current carbon dioxide emission] rates, which work out to about 120 parts per million per century, we might expect carbon dioxide levels to hit 500 to 600 parts per million by the year 2100. That would be the same carbon dioxide levels that were most recently present sometime in the past 40 million years — or more relevant, it would be equivalent to times when there was little or no ice even at the poles.” (Pages 164-5)

In other words, by the year 2100, within two or three generations, carbon dioxide levels will be high enough to virtually ensure another polar melt. This could possibly set into motion a Canfield ocean and mass extinction which humanity may not survive.

Our only chance to avoid this apocalyptic future is to stop using fossil fuels like coal, petroleum and gas, and replace them completely within a few decades with nuclear, wind and solar. This is the only way to prevent further polar ice melting and a Canfield ocean-created mass extinction. Unfortunately politicians and the public are in a state of scientific ignorance and denial of climate change. Anyone who cares about the survival of humanity beyond the next century needs to take action to stir the public from it’s state of inertia.

The Government that can’t do too little

By Bill McGuire

Monday afternoon (February 25th) temperatures in Trawsgoed peaked at 20.6ºC – the first time that winter temperatures in the UK have ever topped the 20ºC mark. This is, purely and simply, the result of humankind’s impact on the climate. But don’t expect Theresa May and her cronies to pay much attention. When it comes to climate breakdown, this is a government that can’t do too little. While Brexit continues to swamp the news feeds and sucks up all political and social analysis, another crisis spawned by successive Tory governments continues to build, unseen and unheard. In 2006, David Cameron’s fraudulent call to vote blue – go green was rightly laughed off and, thirteen years on, the idea that a conservative government will ever take climate change seriously is still a joke. The latest confirmation comes from a damning letter sent by the government’s own Committee on Climate Change to the UK Minister for Energy & Clean Growth, Claire Perry. I will try and ignore Perry’s Orwelian title – in the context of a regime that continues to push fracking and provide massive fossil fuel subsidies – and focus on the letter’s content.

The gist is this. By almost any measure, the government is failing in its efforts to effectively tackle climate breakdown. Seeking to meet its legal obligation to cut emissions by 80 percent (below 1990 levels) by 2050 – way down on what is needed in any case – it has not met its own targets for 15 out of 18 key indicators for reducing emissions, including in the critical areas of waste and land use, agriculture, transport and buildings. No doubt the government will attempt to grab credit for the one statistic in its favour, which shows that UK greenhouse gas emissions fell, between 2013 and 2018, by 14 percent. We know, however, that ‘home-grown’ emissions are not a fair measure of UK emissions overall, with a big chunk now ‘exported’ to China and other countries that still make stuff. Furthermore, as the CCC reports in its letter, the fall is hardly evidence of pro-active policies. Instead, it mainly reflects the continuing weak economy and changes to the EU Emissions Trading System.

Targets for insulating lofts and walls, and for installing heat pumps were all missed, but this is hardly surprising from a government that in 2016 scrapped plans for all new homes to be carbon neutral. Plans for a quarter of a million electric (including hybrid) vehicles on the road every year are also floundering, with an average of just 48,000 registered annually – less than one fifth of the target. I suppose we should be thankful for small mercies, in that the government rowed back on its ideas – some years back – to privatise the Forestry Commission. Nonetheless, its reforesting initiative is proving to be a dismal failure. On average just seven thousand hectares of new woodland was planted between 2013 and last year, compared to a target annual figure of 25,000 hectares.

In the face of ever more obvious climate breakdown this is a government that can’t even hit its own targets, and doesn’t much care. It is a government that talks the talk on climate change, but one that simply isn’t sufficiently bothered enough about climate breakdown to walk the walk. Remember, these are the same people who – a couple of weeks ago – were lambasting school children for doing what they themselves should be doing. Flagging climate breakdown as an emergency that needs dealing with NOW and getting on with the job. Rather than struggling to meet even its own mediocre emissions reduction targets, the government should be setting far more challenging ones and hitting them. To make this happen, we need to keep up the pressure for nothing less than a war-footing to stop climate breakdown in its tracks. Net Zero Carbon by 2025. Nothing else will do.

Disrupting Earth’s climate is to awaken a sleeping beast

By Zeeshan Hasan

Fixing Climate; The Story of Climate Science and How to Stop Global Warming by eminent climate scientist Wallace Broecker (who unfortunately just passed away)and his co-writer Robert Kunzig is an informative look at the science of global warming as well as a summary of the options for solving it. Wallace Broecker was professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University, and through his research first discovered one of the primary regulators of the planet’s climate; namely the “thermo-haline conveyor,” the network of ocean currents which circulates hot and cold water over much of the Earth’s surface.

A recurrent theme in Broecker’s writing is his view of Earth’s climate as a sleeping beast which we awaken at our peril. The relative stability of climate for the past ten thousand years (since the end of the last ice age) is exactly what allowed humans to develop agriculture and create civilisation. Thus, we have greatly benefited from the long sleep of the climate beast. However, the carbon dioxide emissions created by our modern society’s dependence on fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas risk disrupting the climate and waking the climate beast. The consequences could be sudden and drastic.

Whereas we may think of climate change as being gradual and taking place over centuries or millennia, climate science has shown that drastic changes have happened very quickly in the past. A prime example is the end of the “Younger Dryas” ice age, a cold period which lasted from 12,800 to 11,500 years ago.

“The [ice] measurements … had shown that the warming at the end of the Younger Dryas had been abrupt … the ice layers were suddenly half as thick … most of that change had taken place in just a few years” (page 141).

So the scientific evidence is that climate change of sufficient magnitude to end an ice age can occur naturally in “just a few years,” not centuries or even decades. This bodes ill for our future, as our burning of coal, oil and gas is now changing the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere faster than any time in history. If a similarly quick global warming were to happen now, humanity would have little time or ability to adapt to it. The results would be catastrophic in terms of increased desertification, reduced food production and famine.

Aside from temperature rise, the biggest threat to Bangladesh in particular is from sea level rise. This is another area where research in climate science has made it clear that big changes can happen at a frightening pace.

In the 1980’s a colleague of Broecker’s, Richard Fairbanks, thought he could pinpoint a time when sea level rose twenty metres in a single century (page 171).

The above is indeed a stark contrast with the scientific conservatism of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) assessment of sea likely sea level rise being 59 centimetres by 2100.

The IPCC scientists specifically did not take into account the recent observations of accelerated ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica — essentially because they didn’t know what to make of them (page 183).

The problem is that scientists are generally cautious by nature, and unwilling to talk about possible worst case scenarios until that outcome is virtually certain. Unfortunately, if we wait until the worst case global warming scenario is inevitable before we start doing anything, it will be too late; the climate will have already changed, and humanity will have to suffer the awful consequences. Scientific conservatism in this case is lulling the public and world governments into a misplaced sense of security. So what is to be done? The answer is clear.

Which brings us to the one absolute certainty; no significant solution to the [carbon dioxide] problem can emerge until governments worldwide, and especially that of the United States, follow the lead of Norway and the European Union and impose either an emissions cap or a direct tax on [carbon dioxide] (page 266).

Broecker’s conclusion is shared by most climate scientists. To prevent dangerous climate change, carbon dioxide emissions must be reduced by replacing fossil fuels rapidly with nuclear, wind and solar energy. This will require huge investments, and the only way the money can be raised is through a carbon tax. Those of us who care about what the future holds for our children need to start thinking about how to bring about this colossal change in the world economy. The only way to solve the climate crisis is to put continuous and increasing public pressure on politicians around the world to transition away from fossil fuels.

The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, by Michael Mann

By Zeeshan Hasan
hockey stick
For the past few decades a struggle critical to the future of the planet has been fought between climate scientists on one hand, and think-tanks / politicians funded by fossil fuel companies on the other. During this time, climate scientists have reached an overwhelming scientific consensus that the carbon dioxide emissions caused by our reliance on coal, oil and gas have already caused significant global warming, and will endanger our planet unless all fossil fuels are phased out within the next decade. Simultaneously, the fossil fuel industry has run a huge misinformation campaign to keep the public in the dark about climate change. Ground-breaking scientist Michael Mann writes about this struggle in his book, The hockey stick and the climate wars; dispatches from the front lines.
The critical study which solidified scientific opinion about the truth of global warming was the “hockey stick graph” discovered by author Michael Mann himself in 1998, and highlighted in Al Gore’s documentary on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth. Mann’s graph showed global average temperatures slowly decreasing towards a distant new ice age for most of the past 1000 years, only to spike sharply upwards in the 20th century (like the end of a hockey stick). The ‘hockey stick graph’ showed that man-made global warming was real, and was already happening. The ‘hockey stick graph’ was confirmed by many subsequent scientific studies; the handful of studies which contradicted it were found to have critical errors. Among climate scientists, there was no longer any doubt about the reality and seriousness of global warming.
The fossil-fuel industry, composed of multinational coal and oil companies, sought to protect their business interests by sowing public doubt in global warming, and was quick to strike back at climate scientists. They funded think-tanks and web-sites propagating reports by their own “experts” who cast doubts on the ‘hockey stick’. These experts were usually economists and meteorologists/TV weathermen who knew little of climate science, as well as an ever-shrinking minority of climate scientists. The misinformation campaign took advantage of a public and media largely ignorant of science, and unable to appreciate that the real scientific debate on climate change was over. US Congressmen in the thrall of oil and coal lobbyists undertook an official witch-hunt of climate scientists in 2005. The US Congress was, however, unable to find any problems with the climate scientists’ views; but the damage was done. Widespread media coverage of politicians like Senator James Inhofe saying that climate change was “the single greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American public” ensured that doubts about global warming continued in the public mind. The anti-climate science campaign ultimately descended to criminal acts of hacking and baseless accusations of fraud directed at Mann and his fellow scientists. In the ‘Climate-gate’ incident in 2009, unknown hackers stole thousands of e-mail messages from the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia in the UK. One particular e-mail from another climate scientist to Mann was repeatedly used as evidence to claim that Mann had used a “trick” to falsify his ‘hockey stick’ data and was thus able to “hide the decline” in global temperature.
Climate change denialists had a field day. In actual fact, the word “trick” is commonly used among mathematicians and scientists to describe a clever means of solving a difficult problem, seemingly by magic; it did not imply any wrongdoing. Likewise, the “decline” in that was being hidden was a series of temperature measurements from one particular study acknowledged by the original author to be doubtful due to pollution. A number of subsequent inquiries were conducted, and none found any wrongdoing on the part of climate scientists. Again, the damage was already done; public belief in global warming and political will to tackle it both fell dramatically.
The fog of public doubt created over global warming had long-term consequences. Firstly, President Barack Obama’s attempts at regulating carbon emissions were rejected by the US Congress. Secondly, the ‘Climate-gate’ hacking had been timed to occur just before the Copenhagen summit on global warming in December 2009. Due to doubts raised by the ‘Climate-gate’ as well as Obama’s failure to pass any carbon dioxide emissions legislation in the US, Copenhagen failed to produce any meaningful international agreement to prevent global warming. This failure has left the planet in continued peril of global warming and consequent sea level rise, cyclones and drought. The election of Donald Trump in the US and distraction of Europe and the US by Brexit have unfortunately resulted in the peril of climate change being ignored. It is up to the public now to put pressure on politicians to save the planet from catastrophic climate change..

Getting the measure of wildfires in Australia

atmosphere.copernicus.eu

We did not seek permission to re-post but consider it ‘fair use’ to re-post in full and credit the original source. Please get in touch if you are the original author and would like the post altered or taken down -The Editors.


Devastating wildfires have been burning across large areas of Australia and Tasmania for several weeks. The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), implemented by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) on behalf of the European Union, monitors emissions from such wildfires in order to estimate how dangerous they may be in terms of atmospheric pollution.

This January has been the warmest on record in Australia, and one of the driest compared to the 1981-2010 average. In addition, the country has suffered from record-breaking heatwaves.

Surface temperature anomaly - January
Surface air temperature anomaly for January 2019 relative to the January average for the period 1981-2010. Source: ERA-Interim. (Credit: Copernicus Climate Change Service, ECMWF)

Throughout January, rainfall was below average for Australia as a whole; and the daily total Fire Radiative Power (FRP), a measure of heat output from wildfires, was much higher than usual for Western Australia. For several weeks from mid-January Tasmania experienced numerous fires with smoke plumes visible in satellite images crossing the Tasman Sea as far as New Zealand and beyond.

Plume of organic matter aerosol optical depth
The plume of organic matter aerosol optical depth from bushfires in Tasmania at 18UTC on 30 January 2019. (Credit: Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, ECMWF)

Although Tasmania avoided the extreme heat of mainland Australia, it still endured its warmest and driest January on record. Throughout the month, the Fire Weather Index, which takes into account numerous variables, including wind speed and precipitation, showed large areas of concern. Levels remained at moderate to extreme for the whole month across much of the state, and ignition sources such as dry lightning led to numerous bushfires, exacerbated by their remote locations and periods of strong winds.

Fire Weather Indices
Fire Weather Indices from 4 January and 29 January, showing fire activity. (Credit:  Copernicus Emergency Management Service)

The island state experienced ongoing devastation and threat of fire for many days, clearly shown in the chart below, which compares the daily total FRP throughout the month with the 2003-2018 average daily total for the same dates.

Time series of daily total Fire Radiative Power (FRP)
Time series of daily total Fire Radiative Power (FRP) from fires in Tasmania in January and February 2019. (Credit: Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, ECMWF)

Fire forecasting can be complicated, as there are many variables to take into consideration. For example, regions which are experiencing drought, low humidity and high wind speed score highly on the Fire Weather Index. However, there is no global system providing associated information on vegetation; if there is no fuel, there can be no fire. Currently, local knowledge helps identify regions at risk.

While wildfires themselves cause relatively short-term levels of danger, the effects of smoke pollution can have serious long-term effects. CAMS Senior Scientist Mark Parrington, who researches wildfire emissions and their impacts, says:

Hundreds of thousands of hectares of land across Tasmania have been affected by these fires and the resulting smoke contains pollutants. CAMS forecasts the spread of these emissions, which can have serious impacts on health as well as on atmospheric composition.”

Australia is relatively isolated, so the effects have only been felt locally. However, smoke plumes from wildfires in other areas of the globe, such as Siberia, have been seen to spread across the globe. More information can be found through the CAMS Global Fire Assimilation System (GFAS) webpage.

Storms Of My Grandchildren, By James Hansen

9781408807460

By Zeeshan Hasan

James Hansen’s book, Storms of my grandchildren; the truth about the coming climate catastrophe and our last chance to save humanity definitely wins the prize for having the scariest sub-title ever. Yet Dr Hansen is no scaremongering quack, but one of the world’s most respected climate scientists and former director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. His book predicts the end of Bangladesh and all coastal cities through global warming and sea level rise, and possibly the end of all life on Earth if our burning of fossil fuels is not rapidly halted. Fortunately, solutions to the problem are still within our reach if we act immediately.

The average educated citizen could perhaps be forgiven for thinking that global warming is a relatively minor problem; how can individuals take it seriously when the media and the world’s governments ignore it? As Dr. Hansen elaborates, that is because  the oil, gas and coal industries have more than enough money and lobbyists to bend practically any government to their will with their short-term promises of cheap energy, economic growth and jobs; not to mention the legal bribery of campaign contributions.

“There were 2,340 registered energy lobbyists when I checked in early 2009… As an example, one lobbyist, former House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt, received $120,000 from coal company Peabody Energy in 2008 – per quarter. That’s almost half a million dollars per year” (page 186).

Given the political clout of the fossil fuel lobby, it’s not surprising that George W. Bush refused to ratify the Kyoto protocol on reducing greenhouse gases, sabotaged international climate change talks and endangered all of our futures. Dr. Hansen gives a personal account of how the same Bush administration tried to silence him as well as the rest of NASA on the issue of global warming, going so far as to remove any responsibility to study and protect the Earth from NASA’s vision statement. The truth is that every day we continue to burn fossil fuels, the likelihood of catastrophic climate change increases.
Many people may have heard of and shrugged off the findings of the International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) which forecasts a likely sea level rise of a metre or two in the next century. However, Dr. Hansen points out that the IPCC estimate is drastically underestimated, as geological records indicate sea level rise will be much higher. As he mentions on page 13, “Global warming of 2 degrees Celsius or more would make Earth as warm as it had been in the Pliocene, three million years ago. Pliocene warmth caused sea levels to be about 25 metres higher than they are today”. He goes on to mention on page 141 that “About a billion people now live at elevations of less than 25 meters”. So this would be the end of all coastal cities and low-lying areas such as river deltas, of which Bangladesh is the largest. A 25 metre warming is enough to submerge almost all of Bangladesh and its 160 million people. In that case, what are the options for Bangladesh and other low-lying countries? The wealthy and highly educated will always find some new country to migrate to. The remainder of the population will face a grim fate. It is astonishing that serious scientists like Hansen can elaborate such scenarios in books, and yet our policy-makers still shrug off climate change by assuring the public that we will be able to adapt. The idea of adaptation to most of Bangladesh going underwater is simply absurd. If the rest of the world had any real concern for Bangladesh’s survival, it would admit that adaptation to such drastic change is impossible, and try to limit global warming to a level that would ensure our existence. This would need to be somewhere around 1.5 degree Celsius, requiring rapidly reducing the burning of fossil fuels within the next decade. Oil, coal and gas need to be replaced by renewable energy such as as solar and wind.

For most of the last 20 years, the focus of all international climate change negotiations has been to limit global warming to 2 degrees. This is because 2 degrees warming was considered the threshold that would cause severe consequences for much of the world, essentially ignoring low-lying areas such as Bangladesh. In fact, current levels of carbon emissions are on track to cause 3 or 4 degrees of global warming and result in even more catastrophic effects. More than 2 degrees of global warming could trigger  ‘positive feedbacks’ in the climate system such as release of huge amounts of methane accumulated though millions of years of decomposing organic matter under melting arctic permafrost and the ocean floor. Methane is an even more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and this sort of positive feedback could spin global warming out of control, endangering all life on the planet. In our own solar system, Venus is a nearby example of a planet where too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has resulted in furnace-like surface temperatures of hundreds of degrees Celsius. This is a fate which may yet await Earth unless we reverse our present fossil-fuel burning course: “After the ice is gone, would Earth proceed to the Venus syndrome, a runaway greenhouse effect that would destroy all life on the planet, perhaps permanently?… I’ve come to conclude that if we burn all reserves of oil, gas and coal, there is a substantial chance we will initiate the runaway greenhouse. If we also burn the tar sands and tar shale, I believe the Venus syndrome is a dead certainty” (page 236). It’s worth noting that all the above mentioned reserves of fossil fuels are listed as assets in the public accounts of fossil fuel companies, which means that they fully intend to burn all of them. We are on a suicidal path.

Dr. Hansen is interested above all in solving the problem of fossil fuels, but laments the fact that carbon cap-and-trade schemes such as that adopted by the EU have proved ineffective. The solution he proposes is “carbon fee and dividend”; namely  a hefty carbon tax made progressive by returning the tax proceeds equally to each taxpayer. Thus the wealthy will pay dearly for their consumption of fossil fuel intensive goods and services, while the less affluent will be rewarded with much-needed cash for their low carbon footprint (pages 210-211). It should be noted that this should prevent carbon taxes as being perceived as regressive tax and thus being rejected by the public, which recently occurred in France.

Dr. Hansen’s book is uniquely personal, narrating how the birth of his grandchildren forced him to accept responsibility for trying to safeguard their future by becoming a anti-global-warming activist. As a result, he has been arrested for civil disobedience while protesting coal mining (page 248, or for more information watch his TED talk). The closing words of the book are worth repeating:

“The picture has become clear. Our planet, with its remarkable array of life, is in imminent danger of crashing. Yet our politicians are not dashing forward; they hesitate; they hang back. Therefore, it is up to you. You will need to be a protector of your children and grandchildren in this matter. I am sorry to say that your job will be difficult – special interests have been able to subvert our democratic system. But we should not give up on the democratic system – quite the contrary. We must fight for the principle of equal justice… But as in other struggles for justice against powerful forces, it may be necessary to take to the streets to draw attention to injustice… Civil resistance may be our best hope… It is crucial for all of us, particularly young people to get involved… this will be the most urgent fight of our lives. It is our last chance.”

We need to listen to climate scientists like Hansen and quickly end our suicidal dependence on fossil fuels within the next dozen years or so, while a window remains open to minimise the impact of global warming.