A Free-Market Energy Blog

James Hansen: Revisiting His False Alarms (10-year warning coming due!)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- July 14, 2015

“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.”

– James Hansen, 2006 (“The Threat to the Planet,” New York Times Review of Books)

“We cannot afford to put off [climate policy] change any longer. We have to get on a new path within this new administration. We have only four years left for Obama to set an example to the rest of the world. America must take the lead.”

– James Hansen, 2009 (“President ‘has four years to save Earth’“, The Guardian, January 17)

Science historian Thomas Kuhn warned of “scientists … behav[ing] differently” and experiencing “pronounced professional insecurity” when one of their long-held beliefs comes under increasing pressure from new science (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 1962. Reprint. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970, pp. 24, 67–68).

Enter NASA scientist James Hansen, who had had a history of putting his foot where his mouth is. It is not only his immutable certainty where equally reputable scientists disagree. It is his bizarre personal behavior (getting arrested, etc.).

Add to this his declaration that Al Gore’s depiction of manmade global warming is “scientifically accurate … a coherent account of a complex topic that Americans desperately need to understand,” and one wonders if Dr. Hansen can be trusted at all.

What is next from James Hansen? The world is smartly going against his intellectual commands, forcing his hand to do something even more dramatic. Might a hunger strike be in the offing?

His false alarms, which are continuing in his regular updates, are getting old. [1] In a 2009 interview in The Guardian, he stated that President Obama has “four years to save the earth.” This latest incarnation of his great climate alarm is mostly based on a projected rise in sea level rise, a scenario that climate scientist Chip Knappenberger analyzed critically at the time here at MasterResource (and has criticized since.)

Hansen’s grand-daddy prediction relates to a 2006 essay he published in the New York Review of Books:

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.

The clock is now ticking on Hansen’s 10th and final year. Will he head to the hills, as did the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth authors in 1972 to await the collapse? Or will the climate crusader just give thanks that ‘we still have a little time’ and bark out fee-and-dividend, a revenue-neutral carbon tax by another name.

Exaggeration, Hate Speech

Hansen has analogized conventional electricity-generation to the Holocaust:

If we cannot stop the building of more coal-fired power plants, those coal trains will be death trains — no less gruesome than if they were boxcars headed to crematoria, loaded with uncountable irreplaceable species.

He has also defended criminal obstruction at UK coal plants.

Most chillingly, Hansen has stated:

CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of long-term consequences of continued business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.

James Hansen the private citizen can engage in hate speech; as a man in power he would be the tyrant, the despot, that F. A. Hayek warned about in the Road to Serfdom.

Is Hansen a scientist behaving strangely, as his increasing bets on climate alarmism are contradicted by Mother Nature? Only the future will tell. But given the inability of the political process to address his alarm, the rest of us may want to shift public-policy course to favor adaptation to climate change rather than (ineffectual) mitigation.

Resources are scarce, and tradeoffs must be made. The optimal carbon tax is zero, if not negative under real-world assumptions in place of perfect knowledge and the environmental Pope.


[1] Hansen’s latest from June 26th of this year: “The only way to win the carbon war soon enough to avert unacceptable casualties of young people and other life on the planet is to carry out the battle on several fronts simultaneously.”


  1. Joshua Rosen  

    Are you trying to suggest that all of Hansen’s theories and predictions are wrong? Or are you merely trying to suggest that he has made many mistakes and is a global alarmist ( just like Al Gore )without him being wrong in his many predictions and future scenarios, just being wrong with the fact that we have a lot more time, and the effects won’t be nearly as disastrous as he believes.


  2. rbradley  

    Good question–thanks.

    I am suggesting that Hansen is claiming and acting upon settled science as if his model sensitivities were objective and correct–and he is completely ignoring the physical science of the positives of CO2 enrichment.

    Then, going to public policy, Hansen is completely blind to the problems of government intervention that makes energy more expensive and lowers lifestyles. The wealth-is-health argument basically says that the climate could be ‘worse’ in the future but its effect ‘better’ because of richer societies.

    Hansen is great on the limits of renewable energy and the mess of cap-and-trade, however. See the posts here: http://www.masterresource.org/category/hansen-james/

    I personally am a ‘global lukewarmer’ who believes the net effect of increasing atmospheric concentrations of CO2 is positive–and government intervention is all pain and no gain, really highly negative gain.


  3. Tomas  

    The “positives” of increasing CO2 in the atmosphere will only last a short time. Then all the negatives will be realized. Then what?


  4. rbradley  

    The positives of CO2 enrichment last and last and last as replacement and growth continues. The ‘optimal’ level for most plants and trees is way beyond current levels.

    The temp effect of increasing CO2 levels grows but at a continually declining level–it is less than linear.

    Avoiding regulation is the greatest gain of all.


  5. Tomas  

    Plants will grow. But will the plants nutrients also increase?

    What are the effects on animals, insects and humans of increased CO2 levels?

    CO2 levels have been higher but not when humans were around. So this is

    new territory.

    I’m just trying to figure all this out. Thanks for your insight.


  6. rbradley  


    You might consult Craig Idso’s CO2 Science website: http://www.co2science.org/about/chairman.php


  7. Ray  

    You might also find Dr. Segalstad informative.


  8. Jeffrey Eric Grant  

    There is no empirical scientific evidence that CO2 increases in the atmosphere will cause a catastrophic increase in atmospheric temperature….none! And without such a rise, all of the consequential outcomes are in question. I support adaptation and continued scientific study – especially on the natural side of the question.


  9. Mitigation Math: Is Climate Activism Futile? (Judith Curry thinks so) - Master Resource  

    […] on fossil-fuel reliance, a prediction made in 2006 in The New York Review of Books. When that prediction came due, Hansen floated the need to go emissions-negative. Wow! Then, just a couple of months later, he […]


  10. Ronald Chappell  

    “putting his foot where his mouth”
    He must be quite a contortionist, considering where his head is 🙂


  11. rbradley  

    Need to add this false alarm:

    On the twentieth anniversary of his testimony (2008), Hansen made this prediction. As reported by AP science writer Seth Borenstein:

    “We see a tipping point occurring right before our eyes. The Arctic is the first tipping point and it’s occurring exactly the way we said it would.” Hansen, echoing work by other scientists, said that in five to 10 years, the Arctic will be free of sea ice in the summer.


    What about Hansen’s declaration about the Arctic’s “tipping point” and prediction of ice-free summers? It hasn’t happened yet, and the summer minimum has changed little in recent decades, according to the federal government’s climate website.


Leave a Reply