James Hansen, a climate scientist that first sounded the alarm on global warming to the U.S. Congress in 1988 is saying that the ongoing climate crisis is a “new climate frontier” that will see conditions, already hotter than anything seen in the last million years, “get worse before they get better;” he also warns that we should expect an increase in extreme weather as these events unfold amongst a rise in temperature that appears to be putting 2023 on track to be the hottest year on record.
Hansen, currently the director of the Program on Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions of the Earth Institute at New York’s Columbia University, spoke with the Guardian regarding the recent escalation in the extreme weather events plaguing the world, including multiple record-breaking heat waves, storms and wildfires that show no promise of letting up any time soon. Hansen’s testimony to Congress in 1988 that warned that the planet is facing potentially catastrophic global warming is credited as the event that brought the phenomenon to the attention of the public, at a time when the fossil fuel industry began a campaign to sow doubt in the public consciousness about the issue, despite the findings of the industry’s own research agreeing with the conclusions reached by NASA.
The average surface temperature of the planet has risen 1.2°C (2.16°F) since the start of the industrial revolution, and humanity is experiencing the Earth’s attempt to equalize the energy imbalance created by the nearly 51 percent increase in carbon dioxide levels over that relatively short amount of time, and it will take some time for those levels to settle back to normal, even if drastic action is taken now to reduce emissions.
“There’s a lot more in the pipeline, unless we reduce the greenhouse gas amounts,” Hansen warned in an interview with the Guardian. “These superstorms are a taste of the storms of my grandchildren. We are headed wittingly into the new reality—we knew it was coming.”
Commenting on the recent heat waves that have spanned more than three continents, Hansen says that the current situation has heightened “a sense of disappointment that we scientists did not communicate more clearly and that we did not elect leaders capable of a more intelligent response.”
“It means we are damned fools,” Hansen said regarding humanity’s slow response to the climate crisis. “We have to taste it to believe it.”
The current temperature levels, combined with the emergence earlier this year of El Niño conditions across the equatorial Pacific, has 2023 on track to be the hottest year on record, possibly beating the current record holders—2016 and 2020—by a large margin; June 2023 is already the hottest June on record, beating 2019’s record by 0.1°C (0.18°F). But Hansen warns that if 2023 does attain such an ignominious distinction, it may one day be considered a mild year when compared to what is expected to come. “Things will get worse before they get better,” according to Hansen.
“This does not mean that the extreme heat at a particular place this year will recur and grow each year. Weather fluctuations move things around. But the global average temperature will go up and the climate dice will be more and more loaded, including more extreme events.”
Interestingly, professors at George Washington University in DC have made themselves available to offer interviews to the media – as we as Earth’s residents prepare to experience the effects of this year’s extreme heat; awareness is key, as are micro-actions in our communities to reduce each of our contributions to Carbon emissions worldwide.
Speaking of superstorms, along with co-author Art Bell, Whitley illustrates the potential climate catastrophe that could occur if the North Atlantic Current were to grind to a halt—a potential consequence of runaway Arctic ice melt—in their 1999 book The Coming Global Superstorm.
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