James Hansen & Dan Galpern – Sue the ******, Solve the Problem

James Hansen & Dan Galpern – Sue the ******, Solve the Problem


I Want to thank you all for coming to another scientists warning program. My name is Stuart Scott and we’re coming to you live from the UN climate negotiations COP25 in Madrid, Spain. Here’s a contact email address which will show again at the end. Today’s guests: Dr. James Hansen, really needs no introduction. He’s currently the director of the Climate Science Awareness and Solutions Program out of the Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York. He was formerly the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City for 32 years – a bit more about that later. And joining us also is Dan Galpin. He’s an environmental attorney and legal adviser to Dr. Hansen. And today’s program: we’ve had to curb our enthusiasm, shall we say…. So sue the? Mmm, and you can imagine whatever you want in the mmm, and solve the problem now. I wanted to point out that Dr. Hansen has been trying to move the needle for decades. This is a somewhat grainy photo from when he testified before the US Senate in 1988 and Here’s the New York Times article that came out afterwards. Global Warming Has Begun, Expert tells the Senate. Sharp Cut in Burning of Fossil Fuels is urged. Duh!, we’ve been trying for 30 years, over 30 years, to get nations to wake up, but they keep kicking the can down the road – Duh! Now. I’d like to let Dr. Hanson speak for a while and then Dan Galpern will take the floor. Thanks very much, Stuart. Well when I was a young scientist I studied planetary atmospheres for more than a decade and we learned Venus in particular was my target and we learned that Venus was very hot – hot enough to melt lead – because it had a lot of carbon dioxide in its atmosphere It had a runaway greenhouse effect all the CO2 in the crust got baked into the atmosphere. So, I resigned as the principal investigator on a Pioneer Venus and began to work on the Earth’s climate because we knew that CO2 and methane were increasing in the Earth’s atmosphere, and that was in 1976. By 1981 we published our first major paper in Science magazine. It was reported on the front page of the New York Times. We said that the warming should emerge from noise level by the end of the century. There was a high probability of warming in the 1980s and in the 21st century there would be creation of drought-prone regions, erosion of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet with a consequent worldwide rise in sea level, and opening of the fabled Northwest Passage. Well, in fact all of those things have occurred. The next year I was asked to organize, or help organize, a symposium at Lamont Geophysical Observatory in Palisades, New York and we invited EE David jr. , the president of Exxon Research Engineering to give the keynote talk; and in his talk, he said, “Exxon is a hundred years old this year. We have a long corporate memory of the very profound social and economic transformations that our business activities have helped to bring about and how we and society have had to adapt further in response,” and further he correctly assessed the climate situation. He said faith and technologies, markets and correcting feedback mechanisms is less than satisfying in a situation such as the one you are studying at this year’s symposium. The critical problem is that the environmental impacts of the CO2 build-up may be so long delayed: a look at the theory of feedback systems shows that where there is such a long delay the system breaks down unless there is anticipation built into the loop. Well, that was a correct assessment; that this climate system has a delayed response and it has amplifying feedbacks and therefore you need anticipation. The obvious anticipation was developed carbon-free fuels. Instead, they decided to go down the path of fracking. It took them decades to perfect it, but they did: and they also went into the business of denial and changing textbooks to question the science of climate change. So I think they have some guilt. I think we need to get, because we really need to get the captains of industry to be on the side of the carbon free technologies. And if we have to push them with lawsuits, I think that’s a good thing to do and I’m gonna turn that over to Dan. One comment before Dan takes over: The corporation is an artificial person that has rights, but very few responsibilities, especially in the ethical arena and corporations, as artificial people, don’t have conscience. They have the collective conscience of their members, such as the scientists who worked for Exxon, who understood the problem – but as the corporation they don’t. And so they’ve continued to make wrong decisions for society motivated by money. Dan. Thank you, Stuart. Thank you, Jim. Justice Brennan, the great jurist from the United States, observed once that it is enforcement of the law that really matters. Of course, there’s some truth to that. Well, it’s also important to ensure that we have adequate law to enforce. I’ve been working as an environmental attorney for approximately 15 years now, but over the last 7 year period I’ve worked intensively with Dr. Hansen, in climate matters that we have brought in California, Oregon ,Washington, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Oklahoma and internationally in Canada, Columbia Great Britain, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines and Uganda. In these efforts, we attempt to use the law and to extend it, as necessary and feasible, so as to take the climate crisis head-on, including to try to stop enormous unconventional fossil fuel expansions and also, increasingly, such as recently in our work in Colombia, and presently in California, to preserve forests as important carbon sinks. A couple words about the science, now. To overcome a crisis, one must see the truth. Para superar una crisis, uno debe ver la verdad. Our planet is in peril due to rising energy imbalance, and this is clearly established in the record, before even 1950 and anticipated much earlier. It’s illustrated here in this chart that was produced and updated by Dr. Hansen and his team this October. The positive climate forcing effect of greenhouse gas pollution, as you can see here, overwhelms the cooling effect of aerosols so that the net net effect, shown on the right, is the heating up of the planet. This chart, also from Dr. Hanson’s group, shows the Increase in fossil fuel emission since the turn of the prior century. Again, it has been an inexorable and steep since roughly 1950. Coal emissions remain at near-record levels worldwide, while emissions from oil approached those of coal in recent decades. Carbon emissions are received in the atmosphere and taken up, in part by carbon sinks on the land and in the ocean, as is shown by this graphic which is part of a report that was released just yesterday by the Global Carbon Project. There are limits to the amount of CO2 that’s rapidly taken up in the land in the ocean and the balance, as you can see here ,remains in the atmosphere. The problem is only getting worse as additional CO2 accumulates and so we are now in a climate crisis. And the part that’s taken up by the oceans is not doing us any good either. It’s destroying the ocean. Yes. It’s acidifying the oceans and and, at a certain point, the ocean maybe can’t, may become a source rather than a sink, but in any event, we are now in a climate crisis for these reasons. And, in response to this envelopping crisis, citizens and several jurisdictions have begun to take legal action. And they, I think they fall into two broad categories: First – actions against governments – To get governments to take action or to stop climate damaging projects that they are initiating on their own, or permitting. And second – actions against the major fossil fuel companies, the so-called carbon majors. Perhaps the most significant to date, such legal action in terms of challenging government inaction or lack of action was the 2015 decision in favor of The Agenda Foundation which is a citizens’ group in the Netherlands. Agenda challenged the adequacy of the Netherlands planned climate action. This was before the Paris agreement. Under the Constitution, under the European Convention on Human Rights and on general tort principles, in particular that the government was not meeting a duty of care. It owed the citizens protection against dangerous climate change. Now, similar effort by Plan B Earth and The United Kingdom resulted in a technical defeat in the court last year, but it really galvanized the public which then pressed Parliament successfully, this year, to declare a climate emergency. We’ll see what happens with that. There are complaints that the government is not acting as if it’s a climate emergency, even though the Parliament declared it. ” Today, Mr Speaker this house must declare an environment and climate emergency, we…” That’s been repeated in many places. You can buy time as an institution by saying, “Oh, this is an emergency, but it’s nothing we’re going to do about it for a while.” In Colombia, another case that Dr. Hansen intervened on, a case was brought by the citizens group – Dejusticia and it successfully challenged the government’s failure to protect the Amazon rainforest as a key component of its obligations under Paris – it’s nationally determined contributions under Paris. This case achieved, I think, some notable effect. It is being put into practice. But the struggle in Colombia and elsewhere for additional protections of the Amazon continues. In Germany a farmer in Peru brought his case to Germany saying that fossil fuel companies were responsible for accelerated melting of glaciers that were threatening his farm in his village… a very bold move, and he demanded that that nation’s largest fossil fuel utility pay for anticipated climate damages to his village. That case is now on appeal. If I may just Interject here; I really appreciate that you brought up Colombia and the individual in Peru, to bring in the global South into the conversation, and I was just wondering if there are any other nations that have attempted to hold the fossil fuel industries responsible for difficulties they’re facing through climate change. Well, I should be clear: those cases were brought by citizens groups, in the case of Colombia , as are these other cases that I mentioned. And in the case, of the case that’s being prosecuted in Germany on behalf of the Peruvian farmer, just by that farmer. Nations have not come forward yet and exercised the, what I think is the considerable opportunity that they have to bring and prosecute these cases and I’ll return to that at the end if there’s time. But I appreciate that. Now, It would be unseemly of Dan to be openly seeking clients, but but I am looking for some threaten nation to come see this attorney about getting a case together. Now, also in the Netherlands – a very interesting case has been brought by the citizens group, milieudefensie, against Royal Dutch Shell, demanding that it become a energy company, rather than a fossil fuel company. They, The complaint was filed and then Shell responded, just a couple weeks ago. Essentially their answer was “No, we will not do that.” And specifically, they are arguing that they do not have specific obligations under the Paris agreement to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change: they have duties only to the Government, the government has duties to adhere to the Paris agreement, so we need to respond only to the dictates of the government, but not directly to the mandates of international law. We’ll see how that goes – that’s ongoing. In the United States, there’s a number of jurisdictions that have brought some creative lawsuits. They include the city of Baltimore, the State of Rhode Island, the City and County of Boulder, Colorado, a number of jurisdictions in California and also one citizens group, the West Coast Fisherman’s Association, demanding competitory damages, damages from the fossil fuel companies for harms to the jurisdictions, or, in the case of the the fisherman’s group, to the fishery and compensation for additional, certain damages that will attend continued climate change. All of these cases remain in a preliminary state There’s an argument as to whether they should have been brought under federal law. All these cases were brought under state law. And I anticipate that we will see some significant progress in 2020; perhaps some determinations of liability. Some such determination of liability would be exceptionally helpful. But again, these are cases that seek damages for expenditures by the jurisdiction. They don’t necessarily address the underlying problem. And it’s important that we begin to address the underlying problem , and I’ll illustrate that by look , taking a look at some endangered island countries. My office has produced high sea levels, as aerial factsheets. With these kinds of maps for all 44 AOSIS members (Association of Small Island States} as well as, they, as for a number of other vulnerable states. And I have these maps with me. These maps that we’ve produced from the database from the Climate Central, in their mapping tool, correct the prior satellite-based measurements that estimated elevation from the tops of buildings and the tops of trees, for example, and thus they minimize the projected impacts, including displacement of people, from anticipated sea level rise. So, these maps correct for that and as you can imagine the anticipated displacement numbers are much worse than otherwise. Here is the Republic of the Marshall Islands, virtually entirely submerged, by the year 2100 in the event of continued high emissions in a severe scenario. Here is The Solomon Islands. The Solomon Islands are higher in elevation, on average. But still a substantial chunk of the northern coastline would be submerged, with people displaced under the high sea level rise scenario. So , you’re showing the slides of these island nations that’ll be submerged. However, that doesn’t account for increased storm surge. Am I correct? So, It’s, no, this does account for increased storm surge. Okay, but there are other impacts other than those that would be correlated with higher sea level rise, that are important , including to island nations, including severe droughts. Many of them have been, even though the island nations have been been suffering from severe droughts. Same thing as with the Solomons, with the the island of the Pacific island of Vanuatu: the new database on which we rely estimates here that nearly 16 percent of the of the populace will be displaced by the year 2100 – not as horrendous as for the Republic of the Marshall Islands, but still severe enough. And Kiribati in the South Pacific: gone by 2100 if we don’t get our act together. Significant impacts for Nicaragua and also significant impacts for Costa Rica. So there is then every reason, in my view, that highly impacted States should begin to take action now, before it’s too late. Certain principles need to be made clear about this. First: for vulnerable nations merely to confine their efforts to those which they’re obligated to take under the Paris agreement is, potentially to consign their nation to untold misery. Take, for example, New Zealand. It’s commited, this last year, to expediting its own efforts at decarbonisation to achieve earlier compliance with its naturally determined contribution. Good for New Zealand! But their laudable effort, as far as I understand it, will be little solace to the nearly four hundred & forty thousand residents who face displacement under this high-impact scenario by 2100, that is, if emissions levels stay high and there remains little concerted effort to draw down excess atmospheric CO2. Second principle, and finally here, nations most at risk of early loss and damage are In fact, those who retain now, the highest standing to commence effective legal action. I wrote about this nearly five years ago in the paper that’s mentioned here, along with a colleague, and I think it’s even more obviously urgent now than before, particularly for nations that have already suffered significant impacts. We’re open to considering how we might help you to take effective action to preserve a viable future for future generations. The reason is pretty clear. Reliance of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate system may not suffice. Thank you. So the island states or the places that are most in danger and should be the clearest cases to be brought to court also have the least amount of funds to do that. Big problem. Island cases and also low-lying nations and desert nations. For example , I met with a delegate from Mali today. And the rainy season, he says, because of global warming, has shortened from four months to two months extent, as you know, leading to desertification – increase of the desert area – in his nation. It is a crisis for many nations, but the most obvious ones are the ones with significant coastlines or low-lying. So, if you can get a nation, to, a vulnerable nation, to stand up and be a plaintiff in such a suit: how does that funding gap for the lawsuit, because the lawsuits are not cheap…. Yeah, but that’s a detail. I mean, you know we… Nations, I mean, and and and think about the cost of not standing up. Oh, yeah. You know what? I’m trying to illustrate here. Is that a number of these nations face severe dislocation – unless we begin to, unless we rapidly succeed in phasing out fossil fuel emissions and drawing down excess atmospheric CO2 : the prescription that Dr. Hanson has been talking about for well over two decades. Just just one quick question: so, for me 2100 seems like it’s just a snap and here it is, but so many people are able to say, “Ooh, that’s almost a hundred years from now. It won’t affect me, I don’t care.” But there have to be some, interim, you know, some effects that will occur before 2100 , and when do you think, What will some of those effects be and in terms of climate migration? When do you think that that will also take effect, if no action is taken? Well, actually, I’d like to turn that one over to Dr. Hanson because it’s my understanding that we are now experiencing significant climate impacts. Well, we are already seeing sea level rise which is beginning to impact the effect of storms, for example, along the east coast of the United States sea level has risen more than the global average and that effected storms like Sandy, and caused it to be worse than it was, and the one in the Carolinas, and the one in Houston but, as far as global cities are concerned and more than half of the cities are on coastlines., the issue is really the stability of the ice sheets. We wrote a paper 2016 I believe it was, or 2015, ice melt, sea level rise and super storms , in which we pointed out that the oceans’ overturning circulation ‘has, already appear to be slowing down and that is an amplifying feedback because it causes the warming in the ocean at the level of the ice shelves to increase. And the observations show that is happening. So it could be as short as fifty years: we estimate 50 to 150 years to get multi-metre sea-level rise. So it could, you could very well lose coastal cities this century, by the early part of the second half of this century. So it may be closer than people think. The IPCC reports have repeatedly been conservative. Each report goes up, but I don’t think they’ve reached the correct number yet. If we stay on “business as usual.” That’s why we have to get off of “business as usual.” We want to thank the International Society for Ecological Economics the Tzu Chi Buddhist Aid Foundation , the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, for all helping us make this program possible. Thank you very much.

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