The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Hansen's 20th Anniversary Speech

Opening salvo:

My presentation today is exactly 20 years after my 23 June 1988 testimony to Congress, which alerted the public that global warming was underway. There are striking similarities between then and now, but one big difference.

Again a wide gap has developed between what is understood about global warming by the relevant scientific community and what is known by policymakers and the public.

Now, as then, frank assessment of scientific data yields conclusions that are shocking to the body politic. Now, as then, I can assert that these conclusions have a certainty exceeding 99 percent.


The difference is that now we have used up all slack in the schedule for actions needed to defuse the global warming time bomb. The next President and Congress must define a course next year in which the United States exerts leadership commensurate with our responsibility for the present dangerous situation.


Update: The usual noise (sort of like sci.environment about ten years ago) appears on today's discussion of this presentation on Dot Earth. I'm particularly taken by this comment #129:

Guido,

My understanding of economics is quite complete, thank you, as is my understanding of the power of freedom, and the proven consequences of totalitarianism.

What is most disturbing is that AGW’s supporters understanding of economics is so weak, that they don’t recognize government force and intervention when it’s staring them in the face.

The whole underpinning of a carbon-tax, ignoring the whatever scientific basis it may or may not have, is government force. ...

I really appreciate the claim of "complete understanding". It is nice to know that economics is so trivial that a claim of "complete understanding" can be made without supporting evidence.

Unfortunately, all the usual patterns are reinforced in the Dot Earth discussion, and the stalemate continues. 

Hansen's point, though, is that we can't afford a stalemate anymore.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well, I have to say that the lecture Lord May gave us at the opening of our new department building last year left me just as shaken but in other ways, a little less uncomfortable.

Speaking with his (metaphorical) cosmologist's hat on he described, in detail, our current temporal position in earth's 'journey' to eventual, inevitable, destruction.
His emphasis was on the fact that we are the first species in the earth's history with the power to drive other 'fellow travellers' into extinction.

The inference being that evolution ain't done yet, and that we, through our exquisitely monitored and measured (and out of control) actions, are preventing other organisms from evolving into whatever it is that would otherwise take our place.

Hansen uses the word 'Creation' several times in his slides and speech. This leaves me cold. Not for any fears that he is trying to integrate a certain well known cadre of novel readers into his posse, no.

My concern is that he is suggesting that we "the destroyers of worlds" are in some way the finished product and as such unattached from this 'creation' thing.

As I see it we are similar to any other parasitic organism...just on a different scale. Do you expect a mosquito to stop sucking blood just because the action spreads a pathogen?

Please tell me if you think I'm beginning to slide too far into the 'deep greenery' if I admit to thinking that it is simple hubris to suggest that we are capable of stopping what we have started?

Hugh

Michael Tobis said...

Hugh, I hope you are wrong. but more to the point I consider it unethical to act as though you were correct.

It is not a question worth considering. If anything we do is futile, we might as well pretend there are things we could do that aren't futile and make the best of it.

Actually, the inconvenience of behaving rationally is so absurdly and incomparably less than the inconvenience of behaving irrationally that one hopes eventually people will come to their senses. Perhaps not soon enough to avoid big problems, but perhaps at least soon enough to avoid a population crash.

I am not inclined to believe that we will go extinct as a result of this collosal blunder, though one might suggest we deserve to.

I do not expect that nature will ever produce a species finer than ourselves in many important ways, which makes the enormity of the blunder all the more disconcerting. It is entirely possible that life of the sort that could produce or appreciate some of the finer works of art of our species only arises once in the history of the universe.

Perhaps even so we are mortal and it doesn't much matter when we become extinct, but I can't bring myself to see it that way.

As the Mondochiwan says, "Time Not Important. Only Life Important." Except there might not be any Mondochiwans.

Steve Bloom said...

"If anything we do is futile, we might as well pretend there are things we could do that aren't futile and make the best of it."

- The Tobis variant of Pascal's Wager

bi -- IJI said...

"My understanding of economics is quite complete, thank you, as is my understanding of the power of freedom, and the proven consequences of totalitarianism."

The word "economics" here is just a code for conlibertarian doctrine. You can tell by how he quickly proceeds to lash out at "totalitarianism" (...!).

People like these are beyond hope. The more dire the warnings become, the deeper they'll sink their heads in the sand. Let's not care too much about them except to show them to the undecided as prime examples of hardline obstinacy.

-- bi, International Journal of Inactivism

Aaron said...

We may not go extinct, but we are likely to lose much of what passes for "culture!"

David Duff said...

Was that the speech in which he insisted that oil company executives and others should "put on trial for high crimes against humanity and nature"? I thought you Americans had some regard for free speech!

Anyway, a graph produced from the University of Alabam, Huntsville, based on satellite measurements indicate that it is cooler - shall I repeat that? - cooler this year than it was 20 years ago when Hansen harangued your Congress and warned them in almost hysterical terms of 'apocolypse now'.

Should some-one now take legal action against Hansen? I always thought it was illegal to shout "Fire" in a crowded theatre!

bi -- IJI said...

David Duff:

- 1. -

Selling fossil fuels which mess up the atmosphere is very definitely not "speech".

- 2. -

"cooler this year than it was 20 years ago"

The data point labelled on the graph "Hansen's Anniversary Testimony" -- which is in this month, June -- actually corresponds to the global temperature for January 2008. That's off by a whopping 5 months. Wrong month, no cookie.

(How do I know it's the wrong month? Well, thanks to you guys' incessant harping on the "January 2008 is cooler than January 2007!" talking point, I actually know the right-side portion of that graph like the back of my hand.)

Now please feel free to continue with your "free speech". The rest of us, however, will move on.

-- bi, International Journal of Inactivism

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...Okay MT

I see your 'culture' and raise you "The world without us".

Whilst we might care about 'the finer works of art' might I suggest that such perceptions are rather value- (not to mention species) specific?

Jim's 'Creation', I think you'll find, really isn't that bothered and would, I'm sure, be quite happy to start another project (one has to do something to relieve the monotony - ~4Bn yrs is such a dreadfully long time)!

Hugh

David B. Benson said...

David Duff --- It is their acts which are considered 'high crimes' by some.

And Roy Spencer's graph is simply wrong.

Dano said...

David:

is it cooler where people live?

That is: people do not live in dirigibles, zeppelins, airships, balloons, etc.

Therefore, we want to look at temps on the surface of the planet, where folk live.

Can you share with us whether or not it is cooler where people live?

Thank you ever so much in advance.

Best,

D

Anna said...

> "If anything we do is futile, we might as well pretend there are things we could do that aren't futile and make the best of it."

One of my touchstones, from Teresa Nielsen Hayden (& apologies if I've already mentioned it here) -

"I wouldn't want to live in Tomorrowland, where the social patterns and infrastructure are all so spiff and modern and rational and well-designed that any remaining problems must needs be insoluble, and so a cause for despair. And I'm not any fonder of the idea that we're living on the tattered, weary, played-out edge of postmodern time.

My own personal theory is that this is the very dawn of the world. We're hardly more than an eyeblink away from the fall of Troy, and scarcely an interglaciation removed from the Altamira cave painters. We live in extremely interesting ancient times.

I like this idea. It encourages us to be earnest and ingenious and brave, as befits ancestral peoples; but keeps us from deciding that because we don't know all the answers, they must be unknowable and thus unprofitable to pursue."


and please, Michael, test-drive my Firefox-and-Greasemonkey Dot Earth comment-filtration script. It raises the avg comment IQ considerably, and lowers one's blood pressure commensurately.

(and is undergoing further development...)

Pico said...

Andrew Duff,

Can you give us a link to that University of Alabama temperature plot? Your assertion is clearly at odds with NASA's data.

By the way, what sort of legal action should be taken against someone who knows there is a fire in the back of the theater, but doesn't shout fire because it will somehow cost them money, or because for some reason warning everyone doesn't accord with their political beliefs?

bi -- IJI said...

Well, here's my take today on the UAH `result' quoted by David Duff: ex quolibet quodlibet.

-- bi, International Journal of Inactivism

bi -- IJI said...

Pico:

There's a link to the UAH data on my blog entry -- as well as links to d'Aleo's "commentary" which David Duff got his talking point from.

(By the way, I stand corrected on my claim that the labelled data point is for January 2008. It is in fact for May 2008. However the d'Aleo graph is still bogus for other reasons my post mentions.)

-- bi, International Journal of Inactivism

Horatio Algeranon said...

Hansen's Soliloquy?

bi -- IJI said...

By the way, I hereby nominate the sentence "My Understanding Of Economics Is Quite Complete" for the Next Big Internet Meme.

A bit late, but better late than never.

-- bi, International Journal of Inactivism