James Hansen and about a dozen co-authors have published their long-trailed paper on the danger of dramatic sea level rise they think could be triggered by even moderate global warming.
The paper has received much criticism, coming from both skeptics and those supporting the consensus view on climate change impacts–and I have seen little in the way of support for the paper from the scientific community. For example, IPCC Lead Author Kevin Trenberth calls Hansen’s study ‘rife with speculation and ‘what if’ scenarios’ and based on ‘flimsy evidence.’ Staunch consensus advocate Michael Mann said Hansen’s sea level rise estimates are ‘prone to a very large ‘extrapolation error’
Hansen’s paper is flat out contradicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which predicts sea level rise of between 26 and 98 cm this century. It considers and flatly dismisses arguments similar to those Hansen makes in his paper.
That criticism has not stopped an outpouring of scare stories from the media.
The New York Times sings from the same page of the hymnal as many others: “The likely consequences would include killer storms stronger than any in modern times, the disintegration of large parts of the polar ice sheets and a rise of the sea sufficient to begin drowning the world’s coastal cities before the end of this century, the scientists declared.”
As did The Guardian (“Without a sharp reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, the global sea level is likely to increase “several meters over a timescale of 50 to 150 years”), the Kansans City Star (“Because of climate change, time may be running out for many coastal cities throughout the world”), the Huffington Post and many, many more.
To what end? Following the COP21 Conference in Paris it seemed as if the need for panic attacks had ended. The world’s countries had agreed to address climate change–the battle seemingly won. China and the U.S. had jointly agreed to drop emissions, something the U.S. at least has achieved. Indeed, the world’s emissions have been flat for a couple of years, as coal plants convert to natural gas and more countries avail themselves of renewable energy sources and nuclear power.
Why come out with such a thinly supported scenario (which is what Hansen’s paper essentially amounts to) when the tide is running in favor of the solutions he supports.
Well, Hansen did call COP21 ‘bullshit’, saying that without an enforcement mechanism nothing would change. Perhaps he needed to once again pull the lever that sets us all to Climate DEFCON Level 3, just to make sure the issue stays in the public eye.
If that’s what it was, I give him credit for courage. For he has put his reputation and scientific credibility at risk with his paper. The publications echoing his alarm do the same.
Sea level rise is a steady 3.2 mm a year. As much as two-thirds of the current rise is from the heating of the ocean’s waters, with only one-third coming from contributions from melting ice. The great ice sheets of the world show no sign of disintegration.
James Hansen has contributed greatly to our understanding of the climate, both as a scientist and leader of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. However, much as another great scientist, Steven Schneider, ended his career on the saddest of notes, collaborating on some of the worst junk science ever to be published, James Hansen may have done much the same.
It was said by the UK’s Enoch Powell that ‘all political careers end in failure.’ Certainly his did and thankfully so. Will the outcome of this episode be to extend the quote to scientists or to classify Hansen as, in the end, a politician first and foremost?