Last Wednesday, 13 July 2011, was HD5 or Hansen Day Five.  It marked the fifth anniversary of James Hansen’s 2006 essay in the New York Review of Books, in which he wrote: “…we have at most ten years—not ten years to decide upon action, but ten years to alter fundamentally the trajectory of global greenhouse emissions. Our previous decade of inaction has made the task more difficult, since emissions in the developing world are accelerating.” (The entire article is worth reading, or re-reading.)

Who cares what James Hansen thinks?  Aside from the unfortunate fact that Dr. Hansen looks like Homer Simpson come to life, he’s NASA’s top expert on global warming.  Sure, there are any number of people on the payroll of Charles and David Koch who will tell you Dr. Hansen is a scare monger, but when the data comes in (and it piles up, day by day, year by year), it shows Dr. Hansen’s predictions about climate change are right and the deniers are wrong.

Is it worth mentioning that I type this in a bath of my own sweat?  It’s July in Vermont, after all, the farmers are haying, the temperature’s in the 90s and the insects are droning in the trees.  Is it not true that I have been heard to say at least twice a year that if we don’t get a week of 90-degree weather, I don’t feel like we’ve had a summer and if we don’t get a few weeks of below-zero weather, I don’t feel we’ve had a winter?  True, all true.

We barely got a day or two of below-zero temperatures this past winter but the summer end of the deal is chugging right along.  In Washington, DC today the combination of heat and humidity is described as “dangerous” and the Washington Post is giving advice on maintaining one’s health in such temperatures.

Dr. Hansen, however, was not writing about “the weather” five years ago last week.  “The weather” is a short-term event over which we have no control.  Dr. Hansen was writing about “climate,” which is long-term (although not that long) and over which we have limited control, in that we can make it hotter by burning fossil fuels and we can slow the rate of that heating by curtailing said burning.  You know all this.

What’s significant about Dr. Hansen’s essay is the time frame: ten years to control what we can control.  Five of those years are gone and we have done nothing to “alter fundamentally the trajectory of global greenhouse gas emissions.”  The developing nations Dr. Hansen referred to are still increasing their greenhouse gas output and the developed nations are not significantly reducing theirs.

The Sierra Club today is announcing a $50 million gift from Michael Bloomberg to fight existing coal-burning power plants.  Good for him and good for them.  They’re already campaigning against proposed coal plants and have helped prevent 153 from opening.  Will it be enough?  Probably not.

People – young people who work for Greenpeace or people of all ages who are concerned about what they see – ask me what’s really happening with global warming.  (As if I’m keeping a secret.)

Here’s what I tell them: It’s real; it’s happening.  We cannot avoid the effects of global warming, because those effects are here.  Any actions we can take as individuals, or more important, as a society, are worthwhile because they will help blunt the worst effects of global warming.  Because we have failed to act we will have to deal with significant effects regardless.

So plan for it.  Plan for the aspects of global warming that you may enjoy, if any.  Might as well, there’ll be plenty you won’t enjoy, like economic disruption and mass migration.  Plan for that, too.  Plan to take care of the weak and vulnerable in your community or those who will soon join it.  Start thinking about your community and what you can do right now to make it stronger.

Happy summer, now and forever.

© Mark Floegel, 2011

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