Twenty-six years ago today, Dr. James Hansen of NASA told a Congressional committee that the space agency was 99 percent certain that the global warming trend had a clear culprit: gases, such as carbon dioxide, from man-made sources.
As The New York Times reported at the time:
“Global warming has reached a level such that we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause and effect relationship between the greenhouse effect and observed warming,” Dr. Hansen said at the hearing today, adding, “It is already happening now.”
Between 1988 and today, the Billboard hits may have changed from Guns N’ Roses to Katy Perry, but Dr. Hansen’s warning is still playing on repeat.
Scientists at the 1988 hearing called for a sharp reduction in the burning of fossil fuels that release carbon dioxide, and recommended “a vigorous program of reforestation” to absorb excess carbon from the atmosphere. Instead, global carbon emissions have risen from about 20,000 tons to more than 30,000 tons (see the change here) while deforestation has dramatically accelerated.
In a classic case of better-late-than-never, however, America is finally beginning to address its carbon dioxide emissions. As we describe in the current issue of The Appalachian Voice, the Supreme Court gave the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency the authority to regulate climate-altering gases back in 2007. This month the EPA proposed the first limits on the amount of carbon dioxide that existing power plants can emit. Since these power plants are responsible for 40 percent of nationwide carbon dioxide emissions, the EPA’s proposals would go a long way toward curbing climate change and advancing clean energy.
So, 26 years from now will we look back on Dr. Hansen’s warning and regret that we failed to act? Or will we be grateful that in 2014 we finally took action to lessen the impacts of climate change and promote a sustainable energy future? The choice is ours, though we’re probably stuck with the chart-topping hits of the ‘80s regardless.