NASA Climate Expert James Hansen: The Future Is Now—and It Is Hot

Climate change is already increasing the likelihood of weather extremes—like the droughts and heat waves like we’ve seen in recent years—according to a new report by one of NASA’s top climate scientists.
Cracked Earth photo by Edward Stojakovic

James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a well-known voice on climate change, published a report in August with a strong new take on global warming. The peer-reviewed report is “Perception of Climate Change,” published by the National Academy of Sciences. Using statistical analysis of temperature records rather than climate prediction models, Hansen and co-authors show that climate change is already increasing the likelihood of weather extremes, especially unusually hot weather.

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Hansen says his research shows that extremely hot temperatures covered about 
0.1 percent to 0.2 percent of the globe in the base period of the study, from 1951 to 1980. In the following 30 years, Hansen says, those extreme temperatures have become much more common and now occur on about 10 percent of the globe.

Those who deny that global warming is man-made typically argue that climate cycles occur naturally. But describing his latest findings for The Washington Post, Hansen wrote: “The odds that natural variability created these extremes are minuscule, vanishingly small. To count on those odds would be like quitting your job and playing the lottery every morning to pay the bills.”

Specifically, Hansen states that climate change caused the 2011 drought in Texas and Oklahoma, which caused $5 billion in damage; the 2010 heat waves in Russia and the Middle East, when thousands of people died; and the 2003 European heat wave, which killed more than 50,000 people.

Hansen said that we can still solve the challenge of climate change through measures 
such as imposing carbon fees on fossil fuel companies. But 
he warned that time is of the essence. “The future is now. And it is hot.”

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