Climate scientist Dr. James Hansen stands behind a tombstone that reads, 'Climate change: A matter of life or death'. Photo: Arrizabalaga / REX Shutterstock

By Oliver Milman
19 Jun 2018

NEW YORK (The Guardian) – Thirty years after a former NASA scientist sounded the alarm for the general public about climate change and human activity, the expert issued a fresh warning that the world is failing “miserably” to deal with the worsening dangers.

While Donald Trump and many conservatives like to argue that climate change is a hoax, James Hansen, the 77-year-old former Nasa climate scientist, said in an interview at his home in New York that the relevant hoax today is perpetrated by those leaders claiming to be addressing the problem.

Hansen provided what’s considered the first warning to a mass audience about global warming when, in 1988, he told a US congressional hearing he could declare “with 99 percent confidence” that a recent sharp rise in temperatures was a result of human activity.

Since this time, the world’s greenhouse gas emissions have mushroomed despite repeated, increasingly frantic warnings about civilization-shaking catastrophe, from scientists amassing reams of evidence in Hansen’s wake.

“All we’ve done is agree there’s a problem,” Hansen told the Guardian. “We agreed that in 1992 [at the Earth summit in Rio] and re-agreed it again in Paris [at the 2015 climate accord]. We haven’t acknowledged what is required to solve it. Promises like Paris don’t mean much, it’s wishful thinking. It’s a hoax that governments have played on us since the 1990s.”

Hansen’s long list of culprits for this inertia are both familiar – the nefarious lobbying of the fossil fuel industry – and surprising. Jerry Brown, the progressive governor of California, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, are “both pretending to be solving the problem” while being unambitious and shunning low-carbon nuclear power, Hansen argues.

There is particular scorn for Barack Obama. Hansen says in a scathing upcoming book that the former president “failed miserably” on climate change and oversaw policies that were “late, ineffectual, and partisan”.

Hansen even accuses Obama of passing up the opportunity to thwart Donald Trump’s destruction of US climate action, by declining to settle a lawsuit the scientist, his granddaughter and 20 other young people are waging against the government, accusing it of unconstitutionally causing peril to their living environment.

“Near the end of his administration the US said it would reduce emissions 80 percent by 2050,” Hansen said.

“Our lawsuit demands a reduction of 6 percent a year so I thought, ‘That’s close enough, let’s settle the lawsuit.’ We got through to Obama’s office but he decided against it. It was a tremendous opportunity. This was after Trump’s election, so if we’d settled it quickly the US legally wouldn’t be able to do the absurd things Trump is doing now by opening up all sorts of fossil fuel sources.”

Hansen’s frustrations temper any satisfaction at largely being vindicated for his testimony, delivered to lawmakers on 23 June 1988. […]

“Poor Jim Hansen. He’s a tragic hero,” said Naomi Oreskes, a Harvard academic who studies the history of science. “The Cassandra aspect of his life is that he’s cursed to understand and diagnose what’s going on but unable to persuade people to do something about it. We are all raised to believe knowledge is power but Hansen proves the untruth of that slogan. Power is power.” [more]

Ex-Nasa scientist: 30 years on, world is failing 'miserably’ to address climate change

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