Future generations might need to employ a nearly $20 trillion vacuum cleaner to suck pollution and deadly carbon emissions out of the atmosphere, according to a study from former NASA scientist James Hansen.
Climate change could force younger generations to use special “negative emissions” technology for pulling carbon dioxide out of the air if world leaders do not set a 1-degree target on Earth’s temperature, Hansen’s study notes. A recent lawsuit brought by 21 children against the government for supposedly failing to act quickly enough on global warming inspired the study.
The young plaintiffs in the lawsuit want to use a court order to force the U.S. into phasing out fossil fuel use and reduce atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide to 350 parts per million by the end of the century. Hansen is one of the plaintiffs in the children’s climate crusade, which is expected to go to trial in 2018.
Hansen and his colleagues argue that the Paris agreement on climate change’s target of limiting global temperatures within to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit of their preindustrial levels isn’t strong enough. The Earth is experiencing temperature levels today on par with those during the interglacial period, which resulted in six to nine meters of sea level rise, they noted.
If people immediately begin reducing greenhouse gas levels by 6 percent each year, then costs for the vacuum technology could range anywhere from $8 trillion to nearly $18.5 trillion. But if the world does not double-down on Paris climate-like reductions, then the costs could rise above $500 trillion through the end of the century.
Some of Hansen’s fellow activists have noted a hint of skepticism about the study and suggest that the founder of the global warming movement is reaching.
Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, for instance, told reporters Wednesday that some aspects of the study were “alarmist” and that if changes come slowly enough, society will be able to adapt to them. He also said the 1-degree target is unjustified and thinks that even 1.5 degrees is “unrealistic.”
The study is meant to impress upon people the importance battling man-made global warming, Hanen wrote in the study, which was published Tuesday in the journal Earth Systems Dynamics.
“Some consequences [of climate change] are already becoming inevitable, but as yet it could be moderate if we begin to reduce emissions rapidly,” Hansen noted in the study. “So that’s the objective — to try to get the global community to understand the importance of beginning those emissions reductions soon, and keeping the task that we’re leaving for young people one that they can manage.”
Activists have been using children as reasons to fight global warming. Former President Barack Obama, for example, used his own daughter’s asthma attacks to personalize the climate debate. Environmental groups have jumped on this bandwagon and routinely claim global warming will make asthma and other respiratory illnesses much worse.
Hansen, who has been called the grandfather of the global warming movement, has consistently expressed disdain for the Paris agreement’s non-binding component. The deal obligated the U.S. to reduce by 30 percent its greenhouse gas levels.
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