A new paper submitted by former NASA climate scientist James Hansen, along with a team of 11 other experts, asserts that 2016 temperatures may be 1.25 degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrial temperatures. This would indicate a warming trend of .18 Celsius for the past four and a half decades. If the trend continues at this rate, the Earth will reach temperatures equivalent to those of the Eemian period, an interglacial period 115,000 years ago. With less ice, sea levels of the Eemian period were 20 to 30 feet higher than today.
The paper argues that in order to remain under Co2 emissions targets established at the Paris conference last year, a massive “Co2 extraction” effort will be necessary, which may cost between 104 and 570 trillion dollars over the coming century. On top of the staggering cost of such a project, the paper says such an effort would entail “large risks and uncertain feasibility.”
Hansen, who helped to bring climate change into the public consciousness by presenting testimony to congress in the 1980s, contends that current measures against climate change do not come close to solving the problem.
“There’s a misconception that we’ve begun to address the climate problem. This misapprehension is based on the Paris climate deal where governments clapped themselves on the back but when you look at the science it doesn’t compute, it’s not true,” he says.
Diverging from the standard scientific process, the paper has yet to be reviewed by peers. It was written by Hansen to support the legal battle of twenty-one young people, between the ages of 8 and 19, who are suing the US government for violating the rights of their generation by allowing emissions to continue at such risky levels. With Hansen’s help, the youth have sued the Obama administration for violating their rights to life, liberty, and property – in addition to endangering public resources. A decision is expected from the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon by mid-November.
Hansen has become increasingly outspoken about climate change since he retired from NASA in 2013.
“The science is crystal clear, we have to phase out emissions over the next few decades,” he says. “That won’t happen without substantial actions by Congress and the executive branch and that’s not happening so we need the courts to apply pressure, as they did with civil rights.”
Hansen’s paper adds to a number of recent studies which take a skeptical view of the world’s ability to meet the targets set in the Paris agreement. Just last week, for example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration asserted that carbon dioxide levels are unlikely to return to levels below 400 parts per million in our lifetimes. These levels would mark the highest since the Pliocene era, 3 million years ago.