Scientipic Whiz-Dim

Regional climate change and national responsibilities

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From one of two excellent 2016 papers by Dr. James E. Hansen et. al. Dr. Hansen was the top American climate scientist at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies: NASA GISS until his retirement in April 2013 after 46 years of government service. Many of his works are available to the public at

These excerpts are from Dr. Hansen’s first 2016 paper, “Regional climate change and national responsibilities,” with Dr. Makiko Sato coauthoring. It was published 2 March 2016 in Environmental Research Letters, Volume 11, Number 3, last retrieved 6/20/2017. The headings are my own additions.


Climate as bell curves show decadal shifts toward hot and chaotic

Figure 1

The bell curve shifts in 2005–2015 are only about one-third of the shift that will occur with 2 °C global warming. (Although warming of land areas in 2005–2015 is ~0.8 °C, figure 4, global mean warming is only ~0.6 °C relative to 1951–80; 1951–80 is ~0.3 °C warmer than pre-industrial, Hansen et al (2010), so 2 °C warming above pre-industrial implies 1.7 °C relative to 1951–1980.) Given the approximate linearity between mean temperature increase and bell curve shift, 2 °C global warming would yield a shift of about six standard deviations during summer in the Mediterranean, Middle East, Sahara and Sahel regions and a similar shift in all seasons in the African Rainforest and Southeast Asia (figure 3).

Regional climate decadal shifts as bell curves worse for some

Figure 2

Implications of these regional climate shifts are manifold. We note several consequences, focusing on their geographically uneven impact, especially the difference between developing countries at low latitudes and more developed northern nations. The examples and not a review of these burgeoning research areas, but they are sufficient to introduce discussion of relevance of these regional changes to the issue of dangerous human-made climate change.

Figure 3


Climate change and human conflict

Hsiang et al (2013) assemble the results of 60 quantitative studies of the relation between climate change and human conflict spanning the last 10 000 years and all major world regions. They find that interpersonal violence increases by 4% and intergroup conflict by 14% for each standard deviation change in temperature toward warmer temperatures. [Standard deviations are the numbers along the bottom axis in the bell curve charts.] Such findings do not constitute natural laws, but they provide a useful empirical estimate of impacts that can be used for at least a limited range of temperature increase. Increases we infer of 2–6 standard deviations with 2 °C global warming imply significant effects in all regions, but with larger effects at lower latitudes. Conflicts in turn tend to result in migrations with effects on both displaced and host populations (McMichael et al 2012).

Climate change and newly uninhabitable areas

Temperature rise itself imposes a strong disproportionately large effect on low latitude countries. Pal and Eltahir (2016) note that business-as-usual fossil fuel emissions result in some regions in the Middle East becoming practically uninhabitable by the end of this century as the wet bulb temperature approaches the level at which the human body is unable to cool itself under even well-ventilated outdoor conditions (Sherwood and Huber 2010) [“fit people can just disintegrate into a pool of useless people on stretchers. That’s what I see happening to society, to cultures” – Huber from “Limits to Adaptability”]. Today’s global temperature distribution has notable nonlinear effect on economic productivity (Burke et al 2015). Middle latitude countries have near-optimum temperature and limited impact from projected temperature change, but, in contrast, warmer countries, such as Indonesia, India and Nigeria are on a steep slope with rapidly declining productivity as temperature rises (figure 2, Burke et al 2015).

Climate change and sea level rise

These regional consequences of warming are accompanied by a threat that sea level rise poses to global coastlines, thus jointly creating a need for prompt strong actions to avoid tragic results. Earth’s history suggests that warming of even 1 °C above pre-industrial levels could eventually lead to 6–9 m sea level rise (Dutton et al 2015). IPCC (2013) estimates that about 1 m or less sea level rise would occur by 2100, but Hansen et al (2015) argue that amplifying feedbacks make a highly nonlinear response likely with potential for several meters of sea level rise this century and recent ice sheet models explore mechanisms that may contribute to rapid ice sheet collapse (Pollard et al 2015). If the ocean continues to accumulate heat and increase melting of marine-terminating ice shelves of Antarctica and Greenland, a point may be reached at which it is impossible to avoid large scale ice sheet disintegration. Given that a majority of large global cities are located on coastlines, sea level rise would add another source of migration pressure.


Climate change prevention remains the goal

The United Nations 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC 1992) stated its objective as ‘…stabilization of GHG concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system’. The 15th Conference of the Parties (Copenhagen Accord 2009) changed the focus to a goal to ‘…reduce global emissions so as to hold the increase of global temperature below 2 °C…’, and the 21st Conference of the parties added an aspirational goal of below 1.5 °C (Davenport 2015). However, we suggest that the UNFCCC (1992) objective to stabilize GHG concentrations is fundamental and starkly informs policy requirements.

Prompt restoration of 350 ppm CO2 ceiling hard but necessary

Atmospheric CO2 amount, in particular, is a great challenge in limiting GHG concentration. Earth’s paleoclimate history, especially the sensitivity of sea level to global temperature (Dutton et al 2015), and knowledge of Earth’s carbon cycle (Archer 2005, IPCC 2013, ch 6 ) provide a strong constraint, which Hansen et al (2008) use to infer that CO2 must be restored to a level no higher than ~350 ppm, with restoration prompt enough to avoid practically irreversible ocean warming and ice sheet disintegration. This estimate for the CO2 ceiling was affirmed by accurate measurements of Earth’s present energy imbalance (Hansen et al 2011, von Schuckmann et al 2016).

Dangerous human interference with climate system includes both insufficient action and geoengineering

Restoration of CO2 to a level at or below 350 ppm within a century, even with optimistic assumptions about restoration of biospheric and soil carbon, would require reductions of fossil fuel emissions by 5%–7% per year if reductions are started promptly (Hansen et al 2013b). Failure to achieve such reduction will result in continued long-term energy imbalance with Earth’s surface and ocean continuing to warm, growing regional climate impacts, accelerating ice sheet disintegration, and more rapidly rising sea level. As evidence of the situation and consequences grows, there may be increasing calls for climate ‘geo-engineering’ (Royal Society 2009) with unknown consequences (Sillmann et al 2015).

Voluntary goal effectiveness will require a rising price on carbon distributed uniformly to the public

Country-by-country goals, the approach of the 21st Conference of the Parties (Davenport 2015), will not lead to planetary energy balance and climate stabilitzation if fossil fuels are the cheapest energy. It is necessary to include ‘external’ costs to society in the fossil fuel price, especially the costs of climate change and air and water pollution (Ackerman and Stanton 2012), so that carbon-free energies and energy efficiency can supplant fossil fuels more rapidly. Such inclusive pricing of fossil fuels makes economies more efficient and reduces net economic hardships, if the carbon fee, collected from fossil fuel companies at domestic mines and ports of entry, rises gradually and if the funds are distributed uniformly to the public (Hansen 2015).

A few cooperating major powers can and must initiate

A carbon fee can be initiated by a few major economic powers and spread to most nations via border duties on fossil-fuel-derived products from non-participating nations and fee rebates to domestic manufacturers for goods shipped to non-participating nations (Hsu 2011). Issues raised by ‘coercive cooperation’ implicit in border adjustments (Bohringer et al 2012) will be subdued, once the severity and urgency of the climate threat is widely appreciated, by realization that fossil fuels cannot be phased out if some countries are allowed to export products made with untaxed fossil fuels. Developing countries have rights, recognized in the concept of common but differentiated responsibilities, and leverage to achieve economic assistance, which should be tied to the improved agricultural and forestry practices needed to limit trace gas emissions and store more carbon in the soil and biosphere. Finally, international cooperation in generating more affordable carbon-free energies is needed, or economic development in many nations will continue to be based on fossil fuels, despite pollution and climate impacts.

Dr. Hansen is one of my all-time heroes working on behalf of all children to come. DO GET INVOLVED in preserving a livable world: volunteer today –


Free Market Solutions to Climate Change

“Houston, we’ve had a problem”…but for not much longer!

With every election held in America, citizens come together to compete at the ballot box for their chosen candidates and proposals. More insistent and on a far larger scale, the economy and society our representatives are elected to govern cooperate in a spirit of opportunity and enterprise to rapidly forward a better future. Increasingly fierce competition in ideas and projects has ever perfected our union, bringing us solutions to problems once feared intractable. The population explosion, formerly deadly diseases like typhoid, yellow fever and smallpox, clean water, food, public education, a national highway system, air travel, even landing on the moon proved solvable when citizens of good will have come together around a real solution.

This work is not over! There remain externalities that prevent our economy and society from solving some very real and pressing problems. Our next common-sense solution, emerging over this next year, addresses the most challenging problem not only for America, but around the world. For the past 157 years, Houston’s mainstay industry, producing energy from oil and other fossil fuels has not internalized the costs of disposing its waste products into the open atmosphere, clearly causing climate to change the ocean and atmosphere in unprecedented ways. Mounting costs of severely damaging and crazy weather, rising and acidifying seas, melting permafrost, rising extinctions and reduced biodiversity from shifting climate zones, greater competition for fresh water with less snowfall and retreating glaciers, advancing wildfires and diseases, failing crops…are all currently left to public funding sources for clean up or recovery, or simply ignored and punted into an unknown future.

Amid calls for solutions ranging from dire – like geoengineering – to ineffectual – like cap-and-trade, there’s one clear stand-out. It is the carbon fee-and-dividend. It is revenue-neutral, unlike a tax. The substantial and slowly rising fee is charged directly at the source to each company that generates fossil-carbon-based fuels – on the order of a thousand entities in the US – and is directly proportional to the amount of carbon these fuels contain. This means that coal will bear about 1.6 times the carbon fee that natural gas will bear, with gasoline sandwiched somewhere between, and truly cleaner fuels charging less. It is the missing incentive that the free market and its consumers – we –need to make reasonable choices among, and beyond, fossil fuels.

Because a carbon fee is charged at the source – the wellhead, mine or international port of entry – it will inevitably be passed on to the consumers of fuels produced from these natural resources. That’s why the second half of the carbon fee-and-dividend solution becomes so important. A direct dividend is put back into the pockets of consumers on a straight per-capita basis. All of the fees collected during a given period – say a month or a week – will be evenly distributed to all legal residents of our nation at the rate of 1 share per adult, and half-shares per child up to two children total. Those persons who do better than average mitigating against climate change will see their outlays for the increased cost of fossil fuels returned to them, with a small premium for their trouble. Those who do better than average at mitigating fossil fuel use will include most of the people – over 80% – because as the richest quantile will quickly discover, they consume vast amounts of fossil fuel! These dividends become a convenient way for the common person to save and invest in personal solutions that further limit their exposure to carbon fees – say a photo-voltaic solar system, organic and better-tasting locally-grown fruit, a fully-electric vehicle, a more efficient air conditioner, low-e windows or simply better insulation and weather sealing.

This solution works. It uses the free market’s greatest strengths! An upper bound exists at the current price of physically scrubbing carbon and returning it to solid earth reservoirs! The carbon price rises reliably and imperceptibly as a fractional portion of natural market price increases that occur! Anger at rising fossil fuel prices will remain where it does the most good – against unrepentant fossil fuel cabal members! All incentives will align to boost consumer action toward ever-greater fossil fuel independence just as corporate America is kick-started to innovate to meet this increasing consumer demand! Those with the greatest exposure to fossil fuel expenses can reasonably be expected to exert themselves to reduce this liability as quickly as possible!

All the collateral benefits of reduced fossil fuel use will also accrue to the public – lower levels of toxic air pollutants and the health risks these present, healthier foods and the health benefits these represent, gradual retirement of fossil fuel infrastructure and the safety and environmental risks these represent! All without increasing government agency, nor entanglement with government coffers! A carbon fee and its direct dividend distributed to the public are the kind of carbon price signal that is proven most effective at quickly reversing our trend toward ever-greater fossil fuel burning in the most natural – and comfortable – way possible! Even fossil fuel companies, now led by Exxon-Mobil, will gain valuable public permission to operate while consumers transition from sending fossil fuel expenses down a black hole, to receiving a regular dividend! Carbon fee-and-dividend incentivizes forthright action across the US and global marketplace!

If you want to find out more about the carbon-fee-and-dividend proposal, please visit to get answers and to find other people just like you who are discovering that what once seemed impossible to solve in fact has found resolution. It’s a solution we can unite around – people from every sector and strata. And with protection against nonconforming nation-states, we can even unite for a fee-and-dividend across the globe. It’s a simple and elegant solution that properly reflects conservative values of our center-right majority, AND the urgent direct action demanded by the center-left minority to solve our most encompassing and complex issue with greatest clarity.