What The Climate Talks Are Forgetting

When James Hansen created one of the world’s first climate modelers—then termed "Model Zero"—thirty years ago, he sounded a novel and somewhat abrupt alarm. The world, he predicted, is getting warmer, a claim that would later be echoed by the bulk of the scientific community. Today, as his findings fuel one of the biggest debates in planetary history—“What to do about climate change?”—Dr. Hansen, currently of NASA and Columbia University, sits down with Big Think to discuss his latest and still graver conclusions: not only is the climate’s current rate of change unsustainable, but if we can’t dramatically curb emissions soon, Earth will become uninhabitable for the human race.

Years ago, when the climate debate was still called ‘global warming,’ climatologists believed that the world would be safe if CO2 emissions reached a maximum of 450 parts per million of the atmosphere. Today, that claim appears woefully optimistic, as 350 PPM has become the absolute minimum ratio for anything resembling a sustainable future. The problem? We’re already at 387 PPM, and are witnessing an unprecedented rate of global industrial development.

So, can the proposals on the table help alleviate this situation? Not in the least, says Hansen. If we want to truly confront global catastrophe we need to be having an entirely different conversation, one where legislation drafted by the polluters –i.e. the cap-and-trade bill—isn’t the only progressive option, and the need for a steadily increasing carbon tax that goes directly back to the public is finally acknowledged.

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