Hot Topic on Hansen

Earlier this month, Bryan Walker reviewed Gareth Morgan’s global warming book Poles Apart on Hot Topic, raising the subject of “alarmists”. Subsequent comment exposed Dr James Hansen (“father” of global warming) to the charge of exaggeration. So — does he or doesn’t he exaggerate?

Walker objected to the book’s classification of non-sceptical scientists as “alarmists”, saying it’s “for dubious reasons” and not something he recognises from his reading of the “sober work” of climate scientists.

A reader comments that the term alarmists might not be so popular if only people like James Hansen didn’t go around saying things like “The trains carrying coal to power plants are death trains”.

It’s hard to disagree. The last time (the only time?) we heard the expression “death trains” they were describing Hitler’s “final solution”. So the alarm the expression incites is quite justified. As was the apology Hansen issued for distressing Holocaust families.

But Walker defends Hansen from the charge of alarmism, pointing out that the term normally connotes exaggeration. He gives the impression (without actually saying so) that the revered scientist-eco-warrior Hansen would never exaggerate.

Really? This can be tested. What has Hansen actually said? Looking up some of his documents, I quickly found passages that contain a degree of exaggeration — including the “death trains” statement the reader complained of. But please judge for yourself: what do you think? These are his own words.

I’ve no doubt that more perusal of Hansen’s writings will throw up more exaggerations. Can you add to this list (with references, of course)?

The Exaggerations of James Hansen

A. Light Blue Line, Sunday 26 August 2007

Will oceans surge 59 centimetres this century — or 25 metres? quoted from Globe and Mail on lightblueline.

  1. “If we follow ‘business-as-usual’ growth of greenhouse gas emissions, I think that we will lock in a guaranteed sea-level rise of several metres, which, frankly, means that all hell is going to break loose.”
  2. In stark contrast to estimates put forward by the IPCC, Prof. Hansen and his colleagues argue that rapidly melting ice caps in Antarctica and Greenland could cause oceans to swell several metres by 2100 — or maybe even as much as 25 metres, which is how much higher the oceans sat about three million years ago.

B. Testimony before the Iowa Utilities Board, November 2007

retrieved from Hansen’s web site on 30 May 2009

  1. “If we cannot stop the building of more coal-fired power plants, those coal trains will be death trains — no less gruesome than if they were boxcars headed to crematoria, loaded with uncountable irreplaceable species.”

C. Averting Our Eyes, 28 November 2007

retrieved from Hansen’s web site on 30 May 2009

  1. “Burning all fossil fuels, if the CO2 is released into the air, would destroy creation, the planet with its animal and plant life as it has existed for the past several thousand years, the time of civilization, the Holocene, the period of relative climate stability, warm enough to keep ice sheets off North America and Eurasia, but cool enough to maintain Antarctic and Greenland ice, and thus a stable sea level.”

D. The Observer, Sunday 15 February 2009

retrieved from Hansen’s web site on 31 May 2009

  1. “Coal is the single greatest threat to civilisation and all life on our planet.”
  2. “The amount of carbon dioxide in the air has already risen to a dangerous level.”
  3. “If coastal ice shelves buttressing the west Antarctic ice sheet continue to disintegrate, the sheet could disgorge into the ocean, raising sea levels by several metres in a century.”
  4. “Clearly, if we burn all fossil fuels, we will destroy the planet we know. 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 metres higher. Climatic disasters would occur continually.”
  5. “When I testified against the proposed Kingsnorth power plant, I estimated that in its lifetime it would be responsible for the extermination of about 400 species – its proportionate contribution to the number that would be committed to extinction if carbon dioxide rose another 100 ppm.”
  6. “The Australian government… set emission targets so high as to guarantee untold disasters for the young, let alone the unborn.”
  7. “The three countries most responsible, per capita, for filling the air with carbon dioxide from fossil fuels are the UK, the US and Germany, in that order.”

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