This first book by James Hansen, the dean of American climate scientists and the man who introduced a mass audience to the concept of “global warming” in a Congressional hearing nearly a quarter of a century ago, was published right before the failed Copenhagen conference at the end of 2009, and not quite drowned out by the phony “Climategate” email scandal. It contains long and detailed tales of high-level political disappointment, as his assumption that once the danger we are in was publicly known, rational authorities would do something, dissolved under the lobbying and disinformation campaigns of narrow special interests, in cahoots with a faith-based ideology that believed there would be compensatory mechanisms (that are not in fact apparent) built into God’s (or whoever’s) plan for human climate. After all, it is our planet, isn’t it? So the Holocene must continue? Interestingly, he places less faith in modeling the future than in the patterns that emerge from millions of years of inference from the climate record – and which indicate that we are heading for disaster, and approaching the point – positive feedback loops – of no return.
The book concludes with an indifferent (but who cares?) piece of science fiction in which, by the 26th century, the earth has become a hot desert planet, devoid of life (or at least any as we know it). It’s Hansen’s (disputed) contention that if we burn up all the coal, the climate will spiral out of control to the point where Earth will become, irretrievably, like Venus. Coming from such an authority, this is scary. He doesn’t mention this in his recent TED talk, but that does, like the book, draw on his fears for his grandchildren as well as his scientific background – making a cogent appeal, both emotional and rational, probably lost amid all the preachers of infinitely more clever devices and the singularity.
So we carry on regardless, and before my grandchildren are grown, if not born, will be like alcoholics fighting over the last drops in the bottle while the house burns down around us.