Hansen’s Catastrophic Vision of Climate Change This Century

Retired NASA scientist and climate guru James Hansen is coming out this week with another paper predicting catastrophic climate change. The paper is not yet available but has apparently been sent to some in the media, notably here and here.

As the Washington Post article says, “In the new study, Hansen and his colleagues suggest that the “doubling time” for ice loss from West Antarctica — the time period over which the amount of loss could double — could be as short as 10 years. In other words, a non-linear process could be at work, triggering major sea level rise in a time frame of 50 to 200 years. By contrast, Hansen and colleagues note, the IPCC assumed more of a linear process, suggesting only around 1 meter of sea level rise, at most, by 2100.” The Daily Beast article says Hansen predicts ‘several meters’ of sea level rise this century.


Hansen’s paper apparently also predicts possible disruptions to major ocean currents, potentially blocking the circulation “in which (in the northern hemisphere) warm water travels northward, and then colder, denser water sinks and travels back south again.”

Judith Curry has a good post up at Climate Etc. discussing this and related issues. However, as with most discussion of future impacts, she calls for close examination of the ‘worst plausible case’ to direct our response. As I think that is close to suicidal, I wrote the following as a comment there and reproduce it here.

“Sadly, I think the emphasis on ‘worst case scenarios’ does not really serve our interests, especially if the worst cases are also the least likely.

I think it would be extremely useful to have a graduated approach for a number of reasons. First, even if temperature and sea level rises prove to be high, given the stop-start nature of rises in GAT over the past century we can expect to spend a considerable period of time dealing with lower levels and whatever impacts they bring.

Preparing a response to different levels of climate impacts would allow for a measured response. Sea walls built to deal with 98cm of sea level rise could easily build in a margin of 50%, which might be adequate overall if Nic Lewis is right, but would certainly buy us enough time to see if Hansen’s catastrophic nightmares have any chance of coming to pass.

The same is true of other pre-adaptation measures. It is also true of attempts to mitigate climate change. Radically reducing coal usage in the developed world may actually be enough of a response, if sensitivity is low. But even if more will be required of us in the future, allowing the emerging countries to burn coal for the first decades of this century may be enough to generate the resilience they need to make cuts later if they are required.

Furthermore, preparing for modest impacts now would also buy time for technological innovation to spare us from huge expenses now. Using the technology of 2040 to prepare for impacts in 2075 is likely to be just as effective and far less expensive than using what is available today.

The activist side of the climate debate has consciously tried to maintain the world’s focus on outlier estimates of temperature climbs, sea level rise and sensitivity estimates. It keeps them in the news, allows them to shout denier and probably generates more funding for research.

But it does not serve our needs.”

I short, I label this ‘almost suicidal’ in terms of the politics of climate change, as it allows the climate activists to set the agenda using outlier estimates. But it is also hugely destructive for those of us advocating a more measured response over a longer period of time, as the activists who have been attacking organizations like the Breakthrough Institute, the EcoModernists and proponents of Fast Mitigation would like to take all the options these more moderate voices put forward off the table. And we need those options.

We need to remember that in terms of present impacts on our environment, climate change is an asterisk in the totals when compared to habitat loss, over hunting and over fishing, conventional pollution and introduction of alien species.

We need to remember that in terms of acting against climate change, mitigating black carbon, deforestation, HFCs and methane will reduce forcings more quickly and more cost-effectively than the measures proposed by the catastrophe activists.

In terms of solutions being put into place, we need to remember the adage ‘measure twice, cut once’. Instead of throwing windmill farms up almost at random, we need to site better and integrate with existing generation more fully. The same is true of solar.

Perhaps most importantly, we need to re-evaluate opposition to nuclear and hydro-electric, the producers of 98% of non-emissive energy in the world, and figure out how to more effectively implement these technologies that have worked for us in the past.

9 responses to “Hansen’s Catastrophic Vision of Climate Change This Century

  1. I have to point out these projections use the RCP8.5 pathway demanded by the IPCC for their 2013 report. I use demanded because that’s how that case came to be. As you know, I have been hammering on this subject since 2013, and I noticed recent movement to acknowledge the RCP8.5 can’t be supported.

    The continued use of RCP8.5, in the face of the evidence, can be considered academic fraud. I decided to start bringing the fraud issue in recent weeks, as I received feedback from others who confirmed the point that RCP8.5 wasn’t feasible. The feedback was given by individuals who happen to be very supportive of fast track moves to reduce emissions. As you may imagine, this acknowledgement was a hard pill to swallow.

    Their reaction was followed by moves to shift to RCP6 in their arguments. But RCP6 also has weaknesses, they just aren’t as easy to shoot down.

    Note: I’ve also noted an effort to try to “post document” the figures and inputs used in RCP8.5 by writing papers which pass peer review and introduce what I consider to be fake figures into the system. The effort seems to begin in earnest in 2013, but the publications are coming out in 2015. The papers the,sleeves are trash, but they reinforce the building walls, so they are getting put out by the usual culprits and will eventually be used to back up the RCP8.5 fraud. Interesting, isn’t it?

    What I’m trying to point out as much as possible is the need to use a more sophisticated and properly documented pathway model. As far as I can see the models need improvements, but that’s a different issue. What is a bit fraudulent is to take models which over predict temperatures and juice them up with the absurd projections used by the IPCC. I have run models for years, I understand their generic weaknesses, and what I propose is fundamental to improved model results. If there’s no movement to revise those pathways and drop that baloney they call “business as usual” then we do have a solid case to call them for being a bunch of frauds.

  2. Tom,

    Your question in regards to how we go about reducing the CO2 load in the atmosphere is going to get played out in CA fairly soon. If I have interpreted the comments at a recent post: http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/NRC-to-Consider-Relicensing-Diablo-Canyon-Nuclear-Plant-Through-2045

    correctly we are going to have to decide if it is better to continue obtaining 10% of the states (as in CA), or closer to 20% of PG&E’s, generation by relicensing DCPP or do we scrap this source of electrical generation in favor of some other RE.

    If we shutter DCPP we will need a LOT of wind, solar, energy storage, transmission lines, demand responses and physical land to balance the grid at any given time during the day. I have a feeling if we evaluated the question (shutter or not) from an EROI perspective, let alone a cost perspective, we would keep DCPP operational for another 30 years as its capacity factor is in the 90’s and it is used in concert with PG&E’s Helms pumped storage facility to provide carbon neutral power 24/7 for PG&E customers currently.

  3. Fernando, do you think these papers are a direct result of your questions?
    I haven’t seen the argument anywhere.

    They do seem eager to put out papers to combat talking points. Eliminating the pause for example.

  4. Hansen has been indistinguishable from a hallucinating delusional psychotic for a few years now.

  5. Hansen’s latest is a perfect example of the shameful behavior of routinely sending out press releases in advance of the publication of a paper. Even if they are not intentionally inaccurate they are incomplete and, therefore, likely to misinform the public discussion. It should be treated as unprofessional behavior by all scientific organizations but, of course, they are major participants in the continued practice.

  6. Kepler’s 160 minute cycle

    Almost six years after Climategate emails surfaced in late Nov 2009, the Sun’s pulsar core is gaining attention as the creator, destroyer and sustainer of every atom, life and planet in the solar system and controller of planetary motions and climates:


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