World-renowned climate scientist Dr. James Hansen is predicting a rapid ocean rise of 20 to 30 feet – enough to submerge every coastal city on Earth – along with catastrophic shutting down of ocean circulation, leading to massive storms and other climate upheavals.
And the key word is “rapid”. Not hundreds or thousands of years in the future, as many scientists predict, but well within this century.
Dr. Hansen, who used to be NASA’s top climate scientist, directs the Program on Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. We are in serious danger, he warns, of handing to our children and all the other living beings of Earth “a situation that’s out of their control.”
We are handing our children “a situation that’s out of their control.”
Last year, together with 18 other scientists, Dr. Hansen published an early draft of a paper he felt was so critical to the future of life on Earth that he didn’t want to wait for the peer-review process to be completed. Let it be reviewed in public, he said, and we’ll correct it and update it as appropriate.
This week, the final version was released, and most reviewers agree that he’s got the science right.
Dr. Hansen has put together a video that explains his findings:
He warns that we are heading for “sea level rise of several meters, which we estimate would occur this century or, at latest, next century, if fossil fuel emissions continue at a high level. ”
Dr. Hansen and his colleagues explore what happened 120,000 years ago when temperatures reached a level only slightly higher than today, leading to disintegration of the polar ice sheets and a rise in sea levels of 20 to 30 feet.
There were also superstorms so strong they hurled huge boulders onto the shore, like this one that was dumped onto Eleuthera Island in the Caribbean during that period of global warming.
While more and more people are coming to an understanding that the planet is changing, what’s hard to digest is that it’s changing exponentially and that at any moment things could tip over into what Dr. Hansen calls “an abrupt climate shift” that will be as devastating as similar abrupt shifts have been in the past.
At any moment things could tip over into “an abrupt climate shift.”It’s not news to most climate scientists that similar things are starting to happen today; what’s news is that it could happen in a few decades rather than, as most of them think, over several centuries.
“That would mean loss of all coastal cities, most of the world’s large cities and all their history,” Dr. Hansen says. And all of this within just a few decades from now.
And then the Gulf Stream shuts down
The paper also explains how the melting of huge amounts of ice in the Arctic and Antarctic will cover the North Atlantic and the Southern Ocean, slowing down or even shutting down ocean currents like the Gulf Stream that distribute warm water around the planet.
This, you may recall, was the premise of the 2004 disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow, in which much of Europe and the east coast of the United States suddenly go into a deep freeze. When the movie was released, the premise was considered implausible by mainstream science. But Dr. Hansen lays out how it could indeed happen. And when you look at this map of temperatures over the last few months, you can see that it’s already beginning to happen.
That’s because while most of the planet is heating up, there are patches – in particular the North Atlantic south of Greenland (circled in green on the map) – that are getting colder. And that’s exactly what has these climate scientists alarmed. (Indeed, the Gulf Stream has already slowed down by up to 20 percent in recent decades.)
“I believe,” Dr. Hansen writes, “we are already witnessing the beginning of this cooling southeast of Greenland and cooling around Antarctica in response to freshwater from ice melt … [and] the conclusion is clear. We are in a position of potentially causing irreparable harm to our children, grandchildren and future generations.”
Not to mention all the other living creatures of Planet Earth.
Dr. Hansen believes we still have time, but not much. He writes:
“If the ocean continues to accumulate heat and increase melting of marine-terminating ice shelves of Antarctica and Greenland, a point will be reached at which it is impossible to avoid large-scale ice sheet disintegration with sea level rise of at least several meters.
“The economic and social cost of losing functionality of all coastal cities is practically incalculable.”
And in an interview with The Guardian, he says the world is “pretty darned close” to the point of no return:
“What we are threatening to do to young people is irreversible, it’s irreparable harm. This is something they didn’t cause but will be out of their control.
“Among the top experts, there’s agreement that this is very urgent, we can’t continue on this path hoping that emissions will go down, we have to take actions.”
Dr. Hansen has harsh words for the agreements made at the climate summit in December 2015, which he calls “a fraud” and “a fake” and “worthless words … no action, just promises.” Meanwhile, our civilization continues to pump CO2 gas into the atmosphere 10 times faster than has happened at any time since the end of the dinosaur era.
Not surprisingly, there are scientists who are hesitant about the findings in this paper. Michael E. Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University told The New York Times: “Some of the claims in this paper are indeed extraordinary. They conflict with the mainstream understanding of climate change to the point where the standard of proof is quite high.”
But the mainstream has generally been way behind the curve in terms of how rapidly and how dramatically our planet is changing. Just for starters, February was a record warm February. So was January. So was last autumn. And on it goes.
As Dr. Mann himself puts it, “I think we ignore James Hansen at our peril.”