When James Hansen says he was too hopeful about the potential impacts of climate change, you know it’s time to pay attention — and to act.
Hansen is perhaps the leading authority on how our abuse of fossil fuels has altered the planet we live on.
He heads the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and he was among the first scientists, in the late 1980s, to raise broad awareness of global warming.
In a recent op-ed for The Washington Post, Hansen recalled his testimony to the Senate in 1988 about the kind of future he thought climate change would bring.
“I painted a grim picture of the consequences of steadily increasing temperatures, driven by mankind’s use of fossil fuels.
“But I have a confession to make,” he went on. “I was too optimistic.”
Indeed, a deeply troubling new analysis by Hansen and his colleagues of the past six decades of global temperatures reveals a shocking increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers.
“The deadly European heat wave of 2003, the fiery Russian heat wave of 2010 and catastrophic droughts in Texas and Oklahoma last year can each be attributed to climate change,” according to Hansen.
It’s an analysis that stuns you with an enormous problem wrapped in an even larger question: What can be done about it?
What’s encouraging is that at least some of us are trying to answer that question and are choosing to act.
Many of these actions are political and business experiments, works in progress in need of revisions even as new chapters are written about their effectiveness.
For example, Europe’s cap-and-trade system to curtail greenhouse gas emissions is showing some signs of success.
California plans to launch its own cap-and-trade structure in January. Not surprisingly, businesses and policymakers are watching that state’s efforts closely.
And, in our own backyard, Clark Public Utilities, which provides electricity and water to tens of thousands of Clark County businesses and households, is busy grappling with Initiative 937.
The voter-approved renewable energy law (it passed statewide in 2006 with 52 percent in favor and 48 percent opposed; Clark County voters OK’d it, too, mirroring the statewide results) led the utility into a costly purchase of wind power.
In fact, at least 29 states have adopted similar laws boosting the use of renewable energy. “We are in compliance,” Clark PUD spokeswoman Erica Erland told me recently. She added, I-937 “remains the driving force in terms of our planning.”
It may seem tough to address climate change when many of us are worrying about our job prospects, about how we’ll support our families amid a shrinking middle class.
But you can’t have the economy you want without a stable planet on which to build it. And I have to believe that, through strong business investment in clean energy and smart government policy, we can do better on both fronts.
I have to believe that, because, some years down the road, I don’t want to have to explain to my two young children why we didn’t act.
Aaron Corvin is a Columbian business reporter. 360-735-4518, http://twitter.com/col_econ; http://twitter.com/col_energy; http://www.columbian.com/weblogs/strictly-business or email@example.com.