Retired NASA scientist visits Tahoe to talk climate change |

Retired NASA scientist visits Tahoe to talk climate change

Griffin Rogers
Retired NASA scientist James Hansen talks about climate change at Harveys Lake Tahoe on Thursday.
Griffin Rogers / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

This year will be the warmest year in the history of instrumental measurements, according to retired NASA scientist James Hansen, who spoke at Lake Tahoe’s South Shore on Thursday.

The combustion of fossil fuels and the ensuing increase of CO2 into the atmosphere have caused more energy to come into the planet than is being released into space, he said. And earth’s energy has become unbalanced as a result.

On paper, that imbalance doesn’t look like much — it’s about 0.6 watt per square meter — but it is equivalent to the amount of energy in exploding 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs every day.

“The truth is we have an emergency,” Hansen said of climate change. “This is a global crisis and yet it’s not well-recognized because of the nature of the climate system.”

People filled into the cabaret theater at Harveys Lake Tahoe this week to hear the controversial writer and speaker, a former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Spaces Studies and adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

During his 45-minute presentation, Hansen stressed how dangerous the effects of climate change can be and the need to phase out fossil fuel emissions altogether.

For example, global warming could contribute to the extermination of various species, he said, such as the dwindling eastern populations of monarch butterflies or certain organisms associated with the ocean’s coral reefs.

But rising ocean temperatures could also lead to enormous consequences.

“It takes thousands of years for the Greenland ice sheet and Antarctic ice sheet to build up from snowfall,” Hansen said. “So if they disintegrate we will get sea level rise of many meters, and all coastal cities will be lost and all the history that went with those coastal cities, and the economic devastation would be incalculable.”

Hansen explained that humans cannot afford to put additional fossil fuel emissions into the air, and he attacked politicians he said aren’t doing enough — or anything at all — to deal with the problem.

“This is a matter of intergenerational injustice,” he said, “because our parents didn’t know they were causing a problem for future generations, but we can only pretend that we don’t know. The science is crystal clear.”

Hansen said the answer is reducing the amount of fossil fuels used globally and implementing an “across-the-board” carbon fee, which he’d like to see go to the public.

He concluded his presentation by urging the audience to reach out to legislatures about the effects of climate change and encouraging them to advocate related policy changes.

“The public must specifically get involved,” Hansen said. “It’s not enough for the public to say, ‘the climate issue is important to us, so please politicians won’t you solve that.’ It’s not going to work. That’s guaranteed. And if we don’t take this opportunity, then we will have let our children down, and their children, and all the other species on the planet.”

Hansen was just one of many speakers at Operation Sierra Storm, a meteorologist forum, this year. As the keynote speaker, his presentation was open and free to the public.

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