This month’s Yale Climate Connections “This is Not Cool” video captures the perspectives of some of the nation’s most well-known and highly regarded climate scientists on the recently negotiated Paris agreement reached in December.
The video exploits context-setting remarks and analyses by two of the more prolific and knowledgeable print journalists regularly covering climate science issues – Seth Borenstein of AP and Rolling Stone contributing editor Jeff Goodell. It moves then to a number of one-on-one interviews with scientists during the December annual fall conference of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.
“Everybody knows it’s not enough, but you have to start somewhere,” says MIT scientist Kerry Emanuel. He says he is “very happy … we have the agreement that we have” and acknowledges, as do other scientists, the need for more progress and more hard work ahead. National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) scientist Kevin Trenberth says the Paris agreement is “about as good as you can get” given the challenges of bringing together nearly 200 countries from across the planet and the attendant political challenges in reaching a unanimous agreement. “A very good basis for moving ahead,” Trenberth says … but it alone “doesn’t solve the problem by any means.”
To Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientist and National Academy of Sciences member Ben Santer, the Paris agreement some 20 years from now will be widely seen as a “turning point” in the global reliance on fossil fuels. Penn State University’s Michael Mann agrees: “I don’t think we can overstate how important that agreement was,” with nearly 200 nations “for the first time committing to lowering their carbon emissions.”
Not all the scientists voicing their views in the video were so complimentary, notwithstanding that all did agree the Paris Agreement amounts to a start, a foundation on which to build, and in no way a “solution.” Jason Box of the Geologic Survey of Denmark and Greenland said the agreement itself calls for holding global temperature increases to no more than 1.5 degrees C above preindustrial levels; but he said the commitments in the current agreement, assuming they’re met, would lead to a 3.5-degree C increase — “a disaster for the ice sheets, sea level, drought, and so on.”
Former NASA climate scientist James Hansen said he thinks “the biggest place for optimism” going forward is China, given what he said is a national leadership’s acceptance of the underlying science, Hansen points to China’s needing to improve the “terrible” air pollution problems the country is facing, and its citizens are feeling. “They want to move to clean energies,” Hansen said of the Chinese leaders and find alternatives to coal burning and fossil fuel use.