NASA's Hansen Reaches Escape Velocity

James Hansen, NASA's True Believer in the global warming credo, has just been quoted by the Globe & Mail of Canada as follows:

"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."   
In an email to the Globe and Mail,  Hansen writes
"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 meters, which, frankly, means that all hell is going to break loose."
For all you non-metric folks, 25 meters equals 82 feet, or about as high as an eight-story building. "Several meters" is only about 9-15 feet. That's the wall of water that is going to drown all the coastal plains of the world if Hansen's predictions come to pass.

So you have a choice. You can either (a) hop in your car and head for the hills, or (b) consider the very real possibility that Dr. James Hansen has jumped the shark, and is rocketing upward fast enough to achieve orbital velocity. I personally think he has slipped the surly bonds of earth, as the poet says. NASA's Prophet of Doom is up, up and away, with a beautiful vrroom

Dr. Hansen is a math modeler in the climate change game. How does he get Planetary Doom from a math model? It's very simple. You build in "positive feedback loops." That is, you look in the vast toolbox of climate variables to find just two factors that might reinforce each other in a catastrophic loop. For instance, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere might create a greenhouse effect, which causes more heating, which causes more water evaporation, which causes more greenhouse effect, which causes more heating, etc., etc. Keep looping that, and you raise world temps by just one degree Centigrade, so the polar ice caps melt and the oceans rise, up to 25 meters. See? It's easy.

The big problem with this scenario is that the climate system almost certainly has negative feedback loops, i.e., causal connections that work to bring temperatures back to a rough baseline. The climate is likely to have self-regulation mechanisms in much the way that our bodies have self-regulating loops to stabilize our temperature, blood sugar, and a hundred other variables. Why does that seem likely? Because the world hasn't burned up or drowned in quite a long time, even though temperature variations and greenhouse gases have existed for many millions of years. Such factors as clouds and air particulates are believed to lower temperatures. With a little imagination we could easily build math models for self-regulating loops that would tend to stabilize temperatures. (But it might be hard to swing the federal grant support for those models.)

However, Dr. Hansen is a true True Believer So he is not bothered by doubt. He is tremendously irritated by the very existence of doubters, however, like Steve MacIntyre of, who has twice punctured Dr. Hansen's beautiful balloon --  once by knocking down the infamous "hockey stick" curve,   and more recently, by showing that Dr. Hansen blew it by claiming that 1998 was the hottest year on record in the continental United States. Turns out that the Dust Bowl was hotter than today, as any farmer might have guessed. Drat it, another beautiful hypothesis, crunched by ugly facts

Not discouraged, however, Dr. Hansen has gone further out on a limb, and has now issued a challenge to our presidential candidates. He wants all the 2008 candidates to sign a Declaration of Stewardship for the Earth and all Creation. (Bold in the original). Dr. Hansen is out to Save the Planet from the fires and floods that he is sure will come, unless we all repent, as per specs.

Personally I'd be happy to volunteer for Stewardship over the Earth and All Creation, like my cats and family. But the humans keep telling me to butt out, and come to think of it, so do the cats. Dr. Hansen probably carries a lot more clout on his little piece of the Earth. But whether his Stewardship, or anybody else's, extends to All Creation seems unlikely.

Instead, it sounds like Dr. Hansen has joined the Space Patrol.

Houston to Hansen: Do we have a problem?

Hansen: (static-hiss-crackle-click-pop-radio-silence)
Here's the Hansen Declaration for our presidential candidates to sign.
"Whereas the climate system is nearing tipping points with likely devastating consequences for much of creation;

Whereas the responsibility of the United States for excess CO2 in the air exceeds that of any other nation by more than a factor of three;

Whereas the rest of the world cannot be expected to take needed actions until the United States exercises responsibility and leadership;

Whereas, some lawmakers and executives in the United States appear to be unduly swayed by special interests;

It therefore becomes important for citizens to be keenly aware of the position regarding global warming of all candidates for election." [italics added for clarity]
Notice that James Hansen isn't talking like a scientist any more. Among scientists there is lively skepticism about the possibility of human-caused global warming. But no one I know believes that climate change will  "likely (have) devastating consequences for much of Creation." Creation is a big place, as space explorers should realize.

A recent survey of climate researchers shows that less than 10 percent believe that mild warming, if it happens, will have negative effects, while about 40 percent think it will have positive effects -- such as maybe lowering the rate of seasonal depression among Dr. Hansen's presumed relatives in wintry Scandinavia.

So Hansen's Whereas Number 1 lacks evidence. As for Whereas Number 2, China has now passed the US in C02 emissions.  Whereas Number 3 places the onus on the US either to perform the Miracle of Total Carbon Sequestration or to freeze its economy.  Thus the first three Whereases are not as obvious as Dr. H seems to think.

In Whereas Number 4  Dr. Hansen makes an ad hominem charge against skeptics who "appear to be unduly swayed by special interests." It looks like there's not an honest skeptic in the bunch. But that isn't the language of normal science, where it's considered bad manners to accuse skeptics of bad faith. This sounds like the language of Al Gore.

Hansen's ideas carry weight only if they are supported by solid evidence. Otherwise he is just speaking ex cathedra, like the Pope in Rome. Science isn't about religious authority. It's about facts.

So here's Dr. Hansen's pledge for 2008 presidential candidates. Please chant in unison. ("Amens" are optional.)
1. Moratorium on Dirty Coal

I will support a moratorium on coal-fired power plants that do not capture and sequester CO2.

2. Price on Carbon Emissions

I will support a fair, gradually rising, price on carbon emissions, reflecting costs to the environment. Mechanisms to adjust price should be apolitical and economically sound.

3. Energy Efficiency & Conservation Incentives

I will support measures to improve energy efficiency, e.g., rewarding utilities and others based on energy and carbon efficiencies, rather than on the amount of energy sold. [Bold in the original]
These points are profoundly confused.

Number 1 insists that we stop new coal-fired plants that produce C02, until we can bury and "sequester" all that carbon dioxide. But the technology for burying all those C02 emissions doesn't exist. Optimistic estimates are that by 2030 we may have "some valuable methods" for carbon sequestration.   So this is either asking for a miracle, which is not very scientific, or a demand that we stop coal (and oil) power plants, which is neither good economics, nor good politics, nor compassionate social policy. Without oil and coal, people will freeze next winter, Dr. Hansen. (You don't want that, do you?)

When you turn on your lights today remember that your power likely comes from C02-puffing industrial plants. If your electricity isn't nuclear or hydro, it almost certainly generated by coal or oil or natural gas. Our population is constantly expanding, but Dr. Hansen would put a cap plus a rising tax on energy production. For all our new citizens, born here and immigrants, you can forget about joining our standard of living. Instead, we will have fewer lights, less heating, less air conditioning, less food, less medicine, less industry, and a smaller economy per capita. And yet, Dr. Hansen wants it all to be "economically sound." This is a novel twist on economic soundness.

The key to it all, according to Hansen, is to institute "a fair, gradually rising, price on carbon emissions reflecting costs to the environment." But "the environment" is not a person, Dr.H. It's a metaphor: The Environment doesn't work to reach its goals, it doesn't put food on the table, doesn't argue about what's fair, and doesn't pay the costs Dr. Hansen imagines. Hansen's argument is nothing but the rhetorical device of "personification" in the guise of public policy. It's the Gaiafication of the Earth.  

Coming from a scientist this is very weird, just as if Isaac Newton were to personify the force of gravity. It was Aristotle who said that things fell to earth because of the "increased jubilation" they experienced as they rushed closer to Mother Earth. But even Aristotle probably knew that was only a metaphor.

Personification is what young children do when they play with toys: Ken and Barbie dolls are treated like real people in those moments of suspended disbelief. But scientists don't personify hypercomplex systems like the earth climate.

Yet the personification of Mother Earth is at the core of Dr. Hansen's Declaration. Hansen demands that "the barriers to efficiency (e.g., utilities making more money if they sell more energy) must be removed." There, too, he uses words like "efficiency" in his own way, having nothing in common with standard definitions. In Hansen's economy your energy company won't get rewarded if they just keep millions of people alive and working. And they certainly won't get more money by producing more energy. Rather, our new power plants will only earn money if they achieve, let's call it Hansen Efficiency, defined as "putting out less carbon for the same energy output at rising cost."  Hansen Efficiency is to be achieved with a formula that is "apolitical and economically sound."

Evidently Dr. Hansen believes that we can escape the basic political question of Cui Bono? or "Who will get the goodies?" In real life, his "apolitical" formula is called a "tax" to punish carbon emissions. It's a tax we will all pay, as long as we use energy. That includes poor people who want to eat and also get to work. Words mean things, even in economics and politics.

So our NASA eminento has gotten very badly confused. This is the kind of fantasy that Lenin and Stalin used to play with in all those Soviet Five Year Plans, trying to force the right results, in total disregard of the human beings who were supposed to make them happen. Needless to say, no Soviet Five Year Plan ever reached its goals. Lenin famously wrote, "Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country!" A fat lot of good that did, except for all the peasants who were whipped into submission to make it happen. The Communists loved mankind, but they hated all the little people who kept getting in the way.

Ditto Dr. Hansen, I suspect.

No wonder James Hansen sneers at the scientific skeptics, whom he calls "contrarians." 
"...if we, in effect, destroy Creation, passing on to our children, grandchildren, and the unborn a situation out of their control, the contrarians who work to deny and confuse will not be the principal culprits. The contrarians will be remembered as court jesters. There is no point to joust with court jesters. They will always be present. They will continue to entertain even if the Titanic begins to take on water. Their role and consequence is only as a diversion from what is important."[italics added]
This whole debate has become completely personal to the good doctor. James Hansen is Fighting Evil, and the trouble with that is that the plain truth no longer comes first. Suddenly, the idea of censoring skeptics and "deniers" begins to look very attractive. It's not as if the "deniers" have anything useful to say, right? We know the right answers already. So we don't have to listen to them.

Hansenism is marked by a staggering neglect of basic economics. Take a look at that busy highway, with thousands of cars rushing back and forth. That's the economy. Each car is going somewhere to satisfy somebody's goal -- to earn a living, to impress a lady friend, or just to get a good meal. Personal desire is what runs the economy. 

On the other side, supply involves effort -- hard work,  productivity, ambition, services like transportation, food production, teaching, engineering, science, NASA, all the activities that help to bring people what they desire -- for a price. All those activities take physical energy. Ninety percent of energy production requires carbon emissions under existing technology.

Did you ever wonder why NASA was able to land men on the moon in 1969, while Europe and the Soviets were turning green with envy? It's not because Americans are the smartest people on the earth. It's because of our awesome economy, in both size and productivity. No other nation was able to afford the extra resources to support such an effort. Sure, the moon mission required excellent science and technology, but we were able to import some of that. We brought in talented people, and supported them to do what they wanted to do. NASA was a luxury few nations could afford.

So does Dr. Hansen really expect billions of human beings to stop wanting things? Imagine all those cars screeching to a halt. Imagine NASA crumbling, never to launch another space probe. That's "economically sound" according to our hero, because it would lower carbon emissions.

This is not sound scientific thinking. It does not reflect well on NASA. Maybe Dr. Hansen should just become Al Gore's speech writer, rather than occupying a tax-paid position in government science. Because it's less than honest to use the credibility of science in pursuit of some personal obsession.

James Lewis blogs at
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