On Hansen’s Chapter “The Venus Syndrome”

As I mentioned before, I’ve been reading James Hansen’s Storms of My Grandchildren.  As I also mentioned before I previewed the chapter referenced in this week’s title and knew it to be significant in terms of Hansen clearly being on the verge of joining me in my dire predictions of the future of the Earth and, in particular, the future of life on this planet.

What I didn’t report on was Hansen’s advocacy of a solution for the problem, or his detail in explaining his science.  The latter makes the book both very convincing to someone like myself, whose training and temperament prepares me well for reading this kind of dense, tedious text.  Unfortunately, it simultaneously prevents the book from ever gaining much of an audience outside the realm of scientists.  Most of those are already fully on board in believing Climate Change is real and caused by humans, so one has to wonder what the point of such a stylistic choice is.

Hansen’s solution is to give up entirely on schemes involving cap and trade, which he regards as little more than “more of the same,” and opt for a universal tax on carbon at the source, with refunds to the general public equivalent to the additional revenues produced thereby.  His arguments for his idea being superior to cap and trade are pretty convincing, but, unfortunately, stray very profoundly into an arena in which he clearly-and demonstrably-has no expertise whatsoever.  On politics and the implementation of policy, he is clearly not qualified to do much in the way of diagnosis or projection.  Dick Cheney and company completely outclassed him in this arena.

The chapter on the Venus syndrome, which I am just now reading, suspends his optimistic belief that governments will stop serving their corporate masters and begin to implement effective anti-climate change policies.  In that context he begins to discuss runaway greenhouse, runaway snowball Earth scenarios, and what happened in the PETM (Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum) something like 60 million years ago.
Hank’s comments in response to my posts on having hope directly addressed his belief that humanity could not end in death of all life on this planet, citing the PETM as evidence.  Hank’s sense of security for the lifeforce is, by far, the most common response I get when trying to explain my Vision of the extent of the tragedy we court.  “We might extinguish ourselves, but we are incapable of killing the whole planet.”

The runaway greenhouse would do exactly that: kill the entire planet-witness the effects on planet Venus.

Re the possibility of runaway greenhouse on planet Earth, following a discussion of climate sensitivity to forcing (an example of Hansen’s opaque but detailed style) he says: “the fact that some scientists have estimated that CO2 was much larger earlier in Earth’s history, perhaps even by a few thousand parts per million, does not mean that we could tolerate that much carbon dioxide now without hitting runaway conditions, because the sun is brighter now.”

I await Hansen’s continued expression of faith in the human condition which will, I assume, emerge to convince him that not only his grandchildren, but every living being on planet Earth will avoid the ultimate disaster without having to abandon this Garden of Eden called planet Earth that life has built for itself.

But, personally, I think our best chance of preserving any of it is to commence attempting to build another Garden elsewhere, where humanity will not start out in such dominance of other lifeforms that it is capable of diverting the energies of the lifeforce to the service of only one species.

That’s how our garden grew, and is the only way it will ever grow again..

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