Leading Climate Change Scientist: “We’re headed for a guaranteed disaster”

Over the last week, the green media has been buzzing with controversy; with dozens of stories saying what I’ve been writing here for months; namely that our climate change problems have been vastly underrestimated, and that we’re heading for catastrophic global warming that will wipe out entire countries and create millions — or possibly billions — of climate refugees.

One reason why this particular issue has been gaining currency has been new research — empirical research — that supports the view that we’re heading for a disaster of biblical proportions. One one hand, we’re not moving to clean technologies with enough haste.

And, on the other hand, we’ve underestimated the pace of climate change, and the tipping points that will hasten our doom. Keep in mind that the story below is just one of a handful of stories making the rounds, quoting Nobel Prize-winning scientists and acknowledged experts. These stories are pointing to a new – and frightful – future for our children unless we change course in the next five years.

This short clip is paraphrased from an article in The Guardian*. I encourage you to read the original.

One of the world’s leading climate scientists says that recent studies indicate that world leaders need to radically rethink their emission targets to combat global warming because they have grossly underestimated the problem.

Dr. James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, is calling for a sharp reduction in CO2 limits that go well beyond the popular targets suggested by politicians – and even most environmentalists. Hansen says the EU target of 550 parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric CO2 – the planet’s most ambitious – needs to be slashed to 350 ppm. Hansen’s warning comes from a study that examines historical evidence culled from oceanic core samples.

“If you leave [the CO2 percentage in the atmosphere] at 450 ppm for long enough it will probably melt all the [glacial] ice – that’s a sea rise of 75 metres. So we have found that the target we have all been aiming for is a disaster – a guaranteed disaster,” says Hansen. With limits as high as 550 ppm, the world will warm by 6°C (almost 11°F) by 2050, and the changes to our planet will be irrevocable. If governments, businesses, and consumers fail to get behind new targets, Hansen believes, the sea level will rise by two meters (6.6 feet) before the next century.

But Hansen isn’t simply a purveyor of doom. He suggests that by imposing a moratorium on coal-fired power plants, and embracing energy efficiency, clean technologies, and the solutions offered by the burgeoning renewable energy industry, we can get to the promised land.

War — What is it good for?

War is good for focusing our attention. For getting everyone to understand that we can chose to live together, or to die alone.

In 1939 (and 1941, for US readers), our forebears united to fight fascism, and a to prevent the world from sinking into a darkness so deep that we might not have escaped.

Can we assume that same nobility flows through our veins? Can we become The Greatest Generation?

I believe we can.

I believe that we’re at war now. The problem is that most people in North America simply don’t realize it. And that’s because politicians like US President George Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper are hiding the truth from us, trying to distort reality for political advantage.

We have to fight World War III. We have to recognize that if we don’t start fighting this war immediately, if we don’t enact comprehensive and meaningful environmental change over the next 25 years, it will be too late. Catastrophic, runaway global warming is that close, putting billions of lives at risk. Close enough to touch us, and close enough ruin the world we leave to our children and our grandchildren.

After the bombing at Pearl Harbor, this is how car manufacturers reponded.

From a standing start in late 1941, the automakers converted — in months, not years — more than 1,000 automobile plants across 31 states… In one year, General Motors developed, tooled, and completely built from scratch 1,000 Avenger and 1,000 Wildcat aircraft… GM also produced the amphibious ‘duck’ — a watertight steel hull enclosing a GM six-wheel, 2.5 ton truck that was adaptable to land or water. GM’s duck was ‘designed, tested, built, and off the line in 90 days’… Ford turned out one B-24 bomber every 63 minutes… Barely a year after Pontiac received a navy contract to build anti-shipping missiles, the company began delivering the completed product to carrier squadrons around the world.

Taken for a Ride
by Jack Doyle

My point is not to frighten, but to ensure that the same steely resolve will flow in your veins, as it did in others three generations ago. We need to become our parents and grandparents, to sacrifice personal gain for political, social and environmental justice.

For now, every time Harper and Bush lie publically, call them on it. Write to your newspaper, to the White House, to your Member of Parliament. Be calm, be rational, but be resolute. Let’s put the fear of God in our leaders.

After all, we’re at war.

Journalism 101

While surfing a few Mac blogs today — lots to talk about, with the iPhone launch measured in hours — I came upon the start of a debate (@ Bynkii) over the penchant for some bloggers to call themselves citizen journalists.

As if!

So very few are, and Bynkii’s John Welch doesn’t mince words. But one reader took him to task, agreeing that while most bloggers are sorely lacking, others like Glenn Greenwald and Digby at Hullabaloo deserve our respect.

A journalism student disagreed. His argument:

Sorry, but Glenn Greenwald would have been flunked by any of my journalism professors, unless he were writing for the editorial page. For that matter, most of the ones I recognized out of your list would have been flunked – as would any of the people at Fox News, so the ‘official’ press doesn’t exactly get off scott-free either.

real journalist, I was always taught, does their best to report the news without bias or favor. Glenn Greenwald comes up with a lot of interesting tidbits, if they’re true. The problem is that too often he comes across as having an ax to grind, which doesn’t exactly help the case he’s trying to make. And he often uses highly emotionally-charged language, which sets off all kinds of warning bells in my head. That’s the kind of writing that belongs in an editorial, not a news story.

Some websites do make an effort to report neutrally and avoid slanted language, and I generally do respect them as journalistic entities. I also call them ‘news sites’ rather than blogs. Macintouch is one of them most of the time, though occasionally the editorial comments seem to be taking a side instead of just reporting.

Bloody hell! I couldn’t resist climbing on my soapbox. My response:

If your journalism profs would fail Greenwald, then they shouldn’t be teaching journalism. He’s a journalist and an editorialist. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

You are correct. He doesn’t report without bias, so no one would should mistake him for an reporter. He’s an editorialist who combines opinion with thorough research and annotation.

I’d also disagree with the proposition that all journalism is supposed to be unbiased and fair. In practice, journalism is never unbiased. One can only hope for fairness. If the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the Wetumpka (Alabama) Herald all send reporters to cover a Whitehouse speech by Dick Cheney*, the stories won’t look anything alike. Why not? If they’re all trying to be fair and unbiased, shouldn’t the stories be (at least somewhat) similar? No. Each reporter has a different understanding, based on what they believe, what their audience wants to read, and a hundred other factors.

In the old days, no one spoke about an unbiased media. Papers were known for being conservative, or liberal, and people read them with that understanding. I think that’s the proper way to think about the media.

I actually think it’s funny, in some ways, that your journalism profs emphasize reporting news without slant or bias. Watching from Canada, I think the US media are so obviously biased and so obviously slanted that I can’t believe any journalism school in the US teaches anything like fairness in reportage. It just isn’t common US media practice.

I’m sorry for sounding so strident. I think Greenwald — and several others mentioned above — are fine writers and journalists. Everyone at Fox News, on the other hand, would fail Journalism 101… But not for being biased. For being stupid. I mean, really. Bill O’Reilly has never lets facts get in the way of his opinion. And editorialists are supposed to at least consider the facts.

The real difference between blogs and traditional newspapers is that with newspapers, editors stand between the writer and publication. The editing process, and back and forth in a traditional newsroom, usually makes for better writing. The best bloggers often have editors (like Greenwald, I imagine), or they’re so talented they can overcome this limitation.

::::climbing down::::

I’d love to know where this guy goes to school.