Scientists reflect on climate change in 1988, 2018, and 2048
By Eric Holthaus on Jun 22, 2018
“Thirty years ago this week, NASA scientist James Hansen testified to Congress that the age of climate change had arrived.
“The announcement shook the political establishment in 1988. George H. W. Bush, in the middle of a heated presidential campaign, vowed to use the “White House effect” to battle the “greenhouse effect.” Four years later, with then-President Bush in attendance, the United States became a founding member of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change — which still guides global climate action today.
“At the time of Hansen’s speech, fossil fuels provided about 79 percent of the world’s energy needs. Now, despite every wind turbine and solar panel that’s been installed since, it’s actually worse — 81 percent.”
“Hansen’s warning was prescient and his predictions were scarily accurate. Every county in every U.S. state has warmed significantly since then. Sea-level rise is accelerating, heavier rains are falling, countless species of plants and animals are struggling to adapt.
“On our current path, emissions will still be rising 30 years from now, and the world will have long ago left behind all reasonable chances of preventing the irreversible tipping points in the climate system that Hansen predicted.
“If climate change was an urgent problem in 1988, it’s now an emergency.
“Looking back on what’s happened in an interview with the Associated Press this week, Hansen expressed regret that his words weren’t “clear enough.” At times, Hansen and his colleagues have been down on themselves for not doing more, as if some perfectly worded sentence, or some arrestingly compelling chart would be enough to inspire a global mass-movement of action.
“Thankfully, a new generation of climate scientists is starting to understand that perfect knowledge of the problem is no longer enough. Grounded in the missteps and failures of the past, scientists these days seem much more modest with their expectations for the next 30 years — but much more confident in their roles as citizens first, scientists second, just as Hansen has been.
“This week, I asked 10 climate scientists to describe how Hansen’s work has affected them, and where they think the world’s response to climate change will go from here.
“Ploy Achakulwisut, George Washington University
Suzana Camargo, Columbia University
Christine Chen, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Andrew Dessler, Texas A&M University
Peter Kalmus, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (and Grist 50 member)
Kate Marvel, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies
Kimberly Nicholas, Lund University
Michael Oppenheimer, Princeton University
Eric Rignot, University of California-Irvine
Farhana Sultana, Syracuse University”
Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity and are in the complete article on the GRIST website at https://grist.org/article/james-hansens-legacy-scientists-reflect-on-climate-change-in-1988-2018-and-2048/