Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

James Hansen: 2C Temperature Rise Would Be 'Disastrous'

Climate
James Hansen: 2C Temperature Rise Would Be 'Disastrous'

By Tim Radford

Governments have set the wrong target to limit climate change. The goal at present—to limit global warming to a maximum of two degree Celsius higher than the average for most of human history—“would have consequences that can be described as disastrous,” say 18 scientists in a review paper in the journal PLOS One.

The goal at present—to limit global warming to a two degree Celsius rise scenario—will still have dire consequences, leading scientists have found.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

With a two degree Celsius increase, “sea level rise of several meters could be expected,” they say. “Increased climate extremes, already apparent at 0.8 degrees Celsuis warming, would be more severe. Coral reefs and associated species, already stressed with current conditions, would be decimated by increased acidification, temperature and sea level rise.

The paper’s lead author is James Hansen, now at Columbia University, NY, and the former NASA scientist who in 1988 put global warming on the world’s front pages by telling a U.S. government committee that, “It's time to stop waffling so much and say the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here.”

Hansen’s fellow authors include the economist Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University and the biologist Camille Parmesan, of the University of Plymouth in the UK and the University of Texas at Austin.

Their argument is that humanity and nature—“the modern world as we know it”—is adapted to what scientists call the Holocene climate that has existed for more than 10,000 years—since the end of the Ice Age, the beginnings of agriculture and the first settlement of the cities.

Warming of one degree Celsius relative to 1880–1920 keeps global temperature close to the Holocene range, but warming of two degree Celsius, could cause “major dislocations for civilization.”

The scientists study, uncompromisingly entitled Assessing ‘Dangerous Climate Change’: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature differs from many such climate analyses because it sets out its argument with remarkable directness and clarity, and serves as a useful briefing document for anyone—politicians, journalists and lay audiences—anxious to better understand the machinery of climate, and the forces that seem to be about to dictate climate change.

Its critics will point out that it is also remarkably short on the usual circumlocutions, caveats, disclaimers and equivocations that tend to characterise most scientific papers. Hansen and his co-authors are however quite open about the major areas of uncertainty: their implicit argument is that if the worst outcomes turn out to be true, the consequences for humankind could be catastrophic.

The scientists case is that most political debate addresses the questions of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but does not and perhaps cannot factor in the all potentially dangerous unknowns—the slow feedbacks that will follow the thawing of the Arctic, the release of frozen reserves of methane and carbon dioxide in the permafrost and the melting of polar ice into the oceans. They point out that 170 nations have agreed on the need to limit fossil fuel emissions to avoid dangerous human-made climate change.

“However the stark reality is that global emissions have accelerated, and new efforts are underway to massively expand fossil fuel extractions by drilling to increasing ocean depths and into the Arctic, squeezing oil from tar sands and tar shale, hydro-fracking to expand extraction of natural gas, developing exploitation of methane hydrates and mining of coal via mountain-top removal and mechanized long wall-mining,” the scientists write. 

The scientists argue that swift and drastic action to limit global greenhouse gas emissions and contain warming to around one degree Celsius would have two useful consequences. One is that it would not be far from the climate variations experienced as normal during the last 10,000 years, and secondly that it would make it more likely that the biosphere, and the soil, would be able to sequester a substantial proportion of the carbon dioxide  (CO2) released by human industrial civilization.

Trees are, in essence, captive carbon dioxide. But the warmer the world becomes, the more likely it is that existing forests—the Amazon, for example—will start to release more CO2 than they absorb, making the planet progressively even warmer.

Therefore the scientists make a case for limiting overall global carbon emissions to 500 giga-tons rather than the 1,000 billion tons in the two degree Celsius rise scenario.

“Although there is merit in simply chronicling what is happening, there is still opportunity for humanity to exercise free will,” says Hansen.

Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Sir David Attenborough look at a piece of ice core from the Antarctic during a naming ceremony for the polar research ship the RSS Sir David Attenborough on Sept. 26, 2019 in Birkenhead, England. Asadour Guzelian - WPA Pool / Getty Images

By Elliot Douglas

In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

These microfibers, smaller than five millimeters, are shed when synthetic clothes are washed. Cris Cantón / Getty Images
A new study from the University of California at Santa Barbara has found that synthetic clothes released about 4,000 metric tons of plastic microfibers into California's environment in 2019.
Read More Show Less

Trending

The 1.4-gigawatt coal-fired Kingston Steam Plant, just outside Kingston, Tennessee on the shore of Watts Bar Lake on March 31, 2019. In 2008, a coal ash pond at the plant collapsed, leading to the largest industrial spill in modern U.S. history and subsequent industry regulations in 2015. Paul Harris / Getty Images

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a rule change on Friday that will allow some coal power plants to ignore a court order to clean up coal ash ponds, which leech toxic materials into soil and groundwater. The rule change will allow some coal ash ponds to stay open for years while others that have no barrier to protect surrounding areas are allowed to stay open indefinitely, according to the AP.

Read More Show Less
President Donald Trump prepares to sign an Executive Order to begin the roll-back of environmental regulations put in place by the Obama administration, on February 28, 2017 in the White House in Washington, D.C. Aude Guerrucci-Pool / Getty Images

By Brett Wilkins

With President Donald Trump's re-election very much in doubt, his administration is rushing to ram through regulatory rollbacks that could adversely affect millions of Americans, the environment, and the ability of Joe Biden—should he win—to pursue his agenda or even undo the damage done over the past four years.

Read More Show Less
A man carries a plastic shopping plastic bag as he walks along Times Square in New York City on April 2, 2019. Eduardo MunozAlvarez / VIEWpress / Corbis via Getty Images

New York is finally bagging plastic bags.

The statewide ban on the highly polluting items actually went into effect March 1. But enforcement, which was supposed to start a month later, was delayed by the one-two punch of a lawsuit and the coronavirus pandemic, NY1 reported. Now, more than six months later, enforcement is set to begin Monday.

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch