Weekend Reading: Mandela and divestment; National Academy of Sciences on “Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change”; Hansen et al. on “Assessing ‘Dangerous Climate Change'”; denialists on AMS climate survey


A few highlights from our weekend reading: (1) Joe Romm at Climate Progress on “Nelson Mandela’s Legacy for Climate Hawks;” (2) Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change: Anticipating Surprises, a new report from the National Academy of Sciences; (3) “Assessing ‘Dangerous Climate Change’: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature,” a new article by James Hansen and colleagues; and (4) “The Heartland Institute Hijacks American Meteorological Society’s Name, and AMS Fights Back.”

Good post by Joe Romm at Climate Progress on Nelson Mandela’s Legacy for Climate Hawks: ‘It Always Seems Impossible Until It’s Done’. Includes this:

Nelson Mandela, who died yesterday at age 95, leaves two legacies for climate hawks — the necessity of persistence and the value of divestment. …

Climate hawks have already begun to take a page out of the strategy that helped bring down apartheid. Bill McKibben discussed that very point in a 2012 National Journal profile:

McKibben now plans to pressure U.S. institutions, starting with universities, to end their financial investments in oil, gas, and coal companies. He’ll launch a 20-college tour, joined by Nobel laureate and South African human-rights activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to pressure university boards, via student protests, to end university endowment’s holdings in fossil fuels.

“Two hundred colleges divested their holdings in companies that did business with South Africa. And when Nelson Mandela got out of prison, the first place he came was not the White House—it was California to thank University of California students who had helped get their system to divest $3 billion in holdings in South Africa,” McKibben said.

“As Desmond Tutu says, this is the next great moral issue that we face, and the same kind of tactic is what’s necessary to face it.”

Earlier CSW posts:

McKibben on Keystone XL, the Obama problem, and fossil fuel divestment

Fossil fuel divestment campaign: “If it’s wrong to wreck the climate then it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage.”

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A new report from the National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council, Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change: Anticipating Surprises, deals with potential threats to nature and society posed both by “abrupt changes in the physical climate system and steady changes in climate that can trigger abrupt changes in other physical, biological, and human systems.” Some key messages from the report:

    • There is a new recognition that, in addition to abrupt changes in the climate system itself, steady climate change can cross thresholds that trigger abrupt changes in other physical, natural, and human systems.
    • The report highlights two abrupt changes that are already underway, making these changes a primary concern for near-term societal decision making and a priority for research. First, warmer Arctic temperatures have caused a rapid decline in sea ice over the past decade, with potential impacts on the Arctic ecosystem and on Arctic shipping and resource extraction. Another abrupt change already underway is increased extinction pressure on plant and animal species; this gradual climate pressure, in combination with other sources of habitat loss, degradation, and over-exploitation, is already putting some species at greater risk of extinction.
    • Large uncertainties about the likelihood of some potential abrupt changes highlight the need for expanded research and monitoring. For example, as climate warms, the destabilization of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet could raise sea level rapidly, with serious consequences for coastal communities.
    • The committee believes that action is needed to develop an abrupt change early warning system. Such a system would be part of an overall risk management strategy, providing information for hazard identification and risk assessment. These data would help identify vulnerabilities to assist in tailoring risk mitigation and preparedness efforts and to ensure warnings result in appropriate protective actions, with the ultimate goal of preempting catastrophes.
    • Abrupt climate changes and impacts present substantial risks to society and nature. Although there is still much to learn, to ignore the threat of abrupt change would lead to more costs, loss of life, suffering, and environmental degradation. The time is here to be serious about the threat of tipping points, so as to better anticipate and prepare ourselves for the inevitable surprises.

See also:

Bud Ward at The Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media, Some Good News (and Plenty of Bad) in NRC Abrupt Climate Change Report

Dan Vergano at National Geographic, Abrupt Climate Disaster Threat Raises Call for Early Warning System

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A new article by James Hansen and colleagues, “Assessing ‘Dangerous Climate Change’: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature,” deals with intergenerational justice and the carbon budget. Hansen et al. synthesize and interpret the findings from a large, multidisciplinary body of climate research on global temperature and the Earth’s energy balance; climate change impacts; climate change, the carbon cycle, and fossil fuel emissions; and the danger of initiating uncontrollable climate change, and conclude with a discussion of policy implications. The concluding sections of the article are a current statement of Hansen’s effort to ‘connect the dots,’ viewing the implications of climate science for policy, economics, international agreements, intergenerational justice, and human rights. The article is heavily referenced and the text is quite accessible to nonspecialist readers with the attention span to follow the argument.


We assess climate impacts of global warming using ongoing observations and paleoclimate data. We use Earth’s measured energy imbalance, paleoclimate data, and simple representations of the global carbon cycle and temperature to define emission reductions needed to stabilize climate and avoid potentially disastrous impacts on today’s young people, future generations, and nature. A cumulative industrial-era limit of ~500 GtC fossil fuel emissions and 100 GtC storage in the biosphere and soil would keep climate close to the Holocene range to which humanity and other species are adapted. Cumulative emissions of ~1000 GtC, sometimes associated with 2°C global warming, would spur “slow” feedbacks and eventual warming of 3–4°C with disastrous consequences. Rapid emissions reduction is required to restore Earth’s energy balance and avoid ocean heat uptake that would practically guarantee irreversible effects. Continuation of high fossil fuel emissions, given current knowledge of the consequences, would be an act of extraordinary witting intergenerational injustice. Responsible policymaking requires a rising price on carbon emissions that would preclude emissions from most remaining coal and unconventional fossil fuels and phase down emissions from conventional fossil fuels.

See also:

Bud Ward at The Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media, Hansen: 2 Degree C Goal for Global Warming ‘Disastrous’

Earlier CSW posts:

Hansen: Climate science and moral responsibility

James Hansen on NASA retirement and climate action

Richard Somerville: Concerns of a Climate Scientist

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The Heartland Institute Hijacks American Meteorological Society’s Name, and AMS Fights Back, post by Michael Halpern at the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science and Democracy, leads with:

The Heartland Institute—you know, the friendly folks behind the ads comparing climate scientists to the Unabomber—is at it again. In an email sent Thanksgiving week, the organization attempted to use the good name of the American Meteorological Society to misrepresent the views of society members regarding global warming science. It’s the latest in a series of attempts by groups such as Heartland to hide behind the names of legitimate scientific organizations to influence public understanding of climate science. …

Also see:

Chris Mooney at Mother Jones, December 4: Why Some Meteorologists Still Deny Global Warming

Earlier CSW posts:

Boston Globe columnist distorts survey and study to deny climate consensus

Taylor distorts poll of meteorologists on climate change to reach opposite conclusion of study authors

Heartland Institute and its NIPCC report fail the credibility test

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