Climate change: After 30 years of failure, we have no choice but to act on James Hansen's historic warning – Scotsman comment

In June 1988, Nasa scientist James Hansen told the US Senate, and the world, that human-induced climate change was real and already large enough to increase the chance of extreme weather.

Climatologist Dr James Hansen lays flowers on a mock grave reading 'Climate change, a matter of life or death' in Coventry in 2009 (Picture: Carl de Souza/AFP via Getty Images)
Climatologist Dr James Hansen lays flowers on a mock grave reading 'Climate change, a matter of life or death' in Coventry in 2009 (Picture: Carl de Souza/AFP via Getty Images)

Some realised the danger. Speaking to the United Nations the following year, then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, said: “The environmental challenge that confronts the whole world demands an equivalent response from the whole world. Every country will be affected and no-one can opt out.”

However, since then, far too many countries have done just that and those that have acted, including the UK, have not done enough. And while the Scottish Government has made much of its pledge to reduce carbon emissions faster than the UK – aiming to reach net-zero by 2045, rather than 2050 – it has now missed its annual targets for a third year in a row.

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The price of failing to take climate change seriously is that we now need to move more quickly than we might like and the changes to our way of life will be more disruptive.

One such change could be a carbon-reduction scheme that would increase the cost of running a petrol car by £100 a year and the average annual gas bill by £170, according to the Times. Ministers are also said to be considering carbon pricing for farms, although some are concerned about a potential increase in the cost of food.

These are policies that most governments would much rather not do, given they will cause real financial pain to many voters. The fact this is even being considered by the current Conservative government shows that radical steps really are necessary.

The Scotsman quoted the Queen as we sought to make a similar point in yesterday’s leader and we make no apology for ‘banging on’ about it again. Further delaying the steps needed to put us back on track to meet our emission-reduction targets will only mean even more painful changes to our way of life in the future.

On the 30th anniversary of his testimony to the Senate, Hansen told the Associated Press he regretted not being able to “make this story clear enough for the public” so that “the warning be heeded and actions be taken”.

It is not too late to heed his warning, but it very nearly is.

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