James Hansen

WASHINGTON – “Coal is the single greatest threat to civilization and all life on the planet,” charges James Hansen, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, whose dire climate-change predictions have reached the apocalyptic stage.

In an op-ed piece penned for the London Guardian, Hansen said he is asking world leaders to place moratoria on new coal-fired power plants to fight global warming and pollution.

“The climate is nearing tipping points,” he writes. “Changes are beginning to appear and there is a potential for explosive changes, effects that would be irreversible, if we do not rapidly slow fossil-fuel emissions over the next few decades. As Arctic sea ice melts, the darker ocean absorbs more sunlight and speeds melting. As the tundra melts, methane, a strong greenhouse gas, is released, causing more warming. As species are exterminated by shifting climate zones, ecosystems can collapse, destroying more species.”

He implied there is no longer any time to debate climate change in public, because the public cannot be expected to analyze the data.

“The public, buffeted by weather fluctuations and economic turmoil, has little time to analyze decadal changes,” he wrote. “How can people be expected to evaluate and filter out advice emanating from those pushing special interests? How can people distinguish between top-notch science and pseudo-science?”

Leaders, Hansen explained, have at their disposal the best scientific organizations in the world to help formulate the policies needed.

“Our planet is in peril,” he wrote. “If we do not change course, we’ll hand our children a situation that is out of their control. One ecological collapse will lead to another, in amplifying feedbacks.”

He predicted massive flooding of half the world’s great cities if no action is taken. He also forecasts the extermination of species if global warming is unchecked.

But it gets worse. Hansen said failure to take action now will result in the planet’s destruction.

“Clearly, if we burn all fossil fuels, we will destroy the planet we know,” he charged. “Carbon dioxide would increase to 500 ppm or more. We would set the planet on a course to the ice-free state, with sea level 75 meters higher. Climatic disasters would occur continually. The tragedy of the situation, if we do not wake up in time, is that the changes that must be made to stabilize the atmosphere and climate make sense for other reasons. They would produce a healthier atmosphere, improved agricultural productivity, clean water and an ocean providing fish that are safe to eat.”

But it is coal for which Hansen held out special contempt.

“The trains carrying coal to power plants are death trains,” he wrote. “Coal-fired power plants are factories of death.”

Hansen is identified at the end of the piece as the “first scientist to warn the U.S. Congress of the dangers of climate change.”


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