“Serious as a Heart Attack”: RoseAnn DeMoro Explains How to Raise $350 Billion from Financial Transaction Tax

 

Photo Credit: Moyers & Company

 

 

Bill Moyers talks to RoseAnn DeMoro of National Nurses United about the union’s march in Chicago, this week, for the Robin Hood Financial Transaction Tax.

 

 

By Bill Moyers, May 13, 2012

Bill talks to RoseAnn DeMoro, who heads the largest registered nurses union in the country, and will lead a Chicago march protesting economic inequality on May 18. DeMoro is championing the Robin Hood Tax, a small government levy the financial sector would pay on commercial transactions like stocks and bonds. The money generated, which some estimate could be as much as $350 billion annually, could be used for social programs and job creation — ultimately to people who, without a doubt, need it more than the banks do.

DeMoro and her organization, National Nurses United, have an inspiring history of defeating some of the toughest opponents in government and politics.

BILL MOYERS: … I’m always amazed that there are people out across America who still fight back. Who don’t give up, no matter the odds.

Case in point: my next guest and the powerful union she heads will lead a march fighting back against economic inequality in Chicago on May 18th. The Chicago protest is part of a growing international movement in support of what’s called the Robin Hood tax, named after the legendary English outlaw who took from the rich and gave to the poor back in the 13th Century.

The Robin Hood tax is a small government levy the financial sector would pay on commercial transactions like stocks and bonds. Supporters say it’s a tiny tax to clean up the mess the banks helped create. The money generated could be used for social programs and job creation.

As the idea has spread around the world, it’s been estimated that a Robin Hood tax could raise as much as $77 billion in the European Union countries and $350 billion a year, here in the U.S., The movement has been embraced by Germany’s Angela Merkel, Pope Benedict, South African Bishop Desmond Tutu, and billionaire philanthropists Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. Its momentum has been bolstered by a savvy media campaign that ranges from slapstick…

BANKERS in ADVERTISEMENT: The bankers win! The bankers win! We’ve won again!

BILL MOYERS: To slickly produced videos…

MAN #1 in ADVERTISEMENT: Have you heard this idea about the Robin Hood bankers tax?

MAN #2 in ADVERTISEMENT: Yes, it’s a sweet little idea taxing the banks to help the poor, but I don’t think it would work. It’s very complicated and would be very tough on the banking sector.

MAN #1 in ADVERTISEMENT: Which has just been given billions of pounds in taxpayer monies to keep it going?

MAN #2 in ADVERTISEMENT: Well yeah, of course.

ROSEANN DEMORO: A very minimum tax could amount to at least $350 billion dollars, that could go back to our communities, that could go back to jobs, that could go back to health care.

BILL MOYERS: Here in the United States, leading the charge in support of the tax is RoseAnn DeMoro and the organization she leads, National Nurses United. It’s the largest registered nurses union in U.S. history.

And with nearly 170,000 members, it’s one of the country’s fastest growing unions. In recent years, the nurses staged some of the most organized and best-publicized campaigns for health care reform. Now they’re doing the same for the Robin Hood tax with a fight they call the Main Street Campaign.

Events already have been held in Washington and on Wall Street here in New York…

The May 18th march in Chicago originally was planned to coincide with the G8 summit of the world’s most powerful nations. President Obama then decided to move that meeting to Camp David, so intentionally or not, he’ll be dodging a confrontation with RoseAnn DeMoro and her nurses. RoseAnn, welcome.

ROSEANN DEMORO: Thank you, Bill. It’s so nice to be here.

BILL MOYERS: When you went to your membership and said, “I want us to get involved in taking on Wall Street. I want us to fight for the financial transaction tax,” did they scratch their head and say, “What the devil is that?”

ROSEANN DEMORO: You know what, Bill? It was the most fascinating thing. They got that in a heartbeat. The people who have billions of dollars, who could make a million dollars an hour, which is, you know, Wall Street, need to give a little bit back. It’s very American. It’s happened before. It’s not anything novel. And the nurses know that they pay tax. So when we explained that they complete got it. We did a lot of education around it. And then we fanned out into the capital.

We had a thousand nurses in Washington, D.C. last year. And we introduced the financial transaction tax. You know, there’s some sophisticated things about the financial transaction tax, but frankly, all you need to know is that people in this economy are hurting. They’re losing their homes. They have no health care. They’ve lost their jobs. Something’s wrong and everyone knows it. And when you look around and you see the billions of dollars and the billionaires and the excessive wealth that’s been taken out of the economy, everyone knows that.

They don’t necessarily know how to speak about derivatives or stocks or all of that. But they know that those people who have those things have the money. So when we went to the capitol, two stories I’ll relate very quickly.

One of the young nurses goes into one of the legislator’s offices and says, you know, “We want the financial transaction tax.” And this male legislator says, “Well, you nurses know a lot about financial transaction,” like, you know, “What would a nurse know? Or what would a woman know?” “You nurses need to lower your expectations.” And she said, “Would you like me to say that to you when I’m prepping you for surgery?” And it says the story right there, right, though, because ultimately we’re talking about the life and death of people. That’s what the nurses see. They see life and death. And so it’s that same body that’s presenting themselves to the nurse on that operating table. Those nurses see those patients in droves every single day. And they see people without hope. And they see fundamental despair. Another nurse told one of the legislators, “I don’t know a lot about the financial transaction tax, but I know I pay tax on everything I buy as a working person and they should too.” And that’s it. They have been able to essentially, the people in the financial industry have been able to ultimately take so much money out of the economy and not even have to pay a minimum sales tax on that money. Not even a minimum.

BILL MOYERS: So how did these two congressmen respond?

ROSEANN DEMORO: Very cynically, very cynically.

BILL MOYERS: Cynically?

ROSEANN DEMORO: Yeah, what happened was that then the nurses came back together, told the stories. And of course, that enraged everyone, because that’s the same experience they had in all the offices, dismissive. Our legislators have found that they can be dismissive, because labor doesn’t have anywhere to go. So we decided to take the campaign to establish a Main Street Campaign to take it back to the communities and talk to real people who are losing their homes, jobs, and health care.

And say, “There is an option. We can all get together. We can fight for a financial transaction tax, this tax.”

BILL MOYERS: We used to have a financial transaction tax in this country. From 1914 to 1966. Then, in 1987, at the time of another Wall Street crash, the first President Bush and Senator Bob Dole, a Republican, and several other Republicans called for restoring it. Didn’t happen.

ROSEANN DEMORO: No, and there’s even a financial transaction tax in the S.E.C. right now– a small one. There’s one in New York City, as well. I mean, so financial transaction tax, you know, has been here.

BILL MOYERS: There are many critics of the financial transaction tax. And they say, among other things, that the banks will simply pass the cost onto the consumer. They say that the banks — if they have fewer trades, will let people go. There’ll be unemployment on Wall Street. They say that the banks will flee, they’ll go abroad, they’ll go somewhere else with their business, as happened once when Sweden had a financial transaction tax, and lost a lot of trading activity. They say you’re killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

ROSEANN DEMORO: Well, I’m waiting to see the golden egg. The truth of the matter is you can fix the fleeing with regulation and with policy. That’s an easy fix.

In terms of jobs, there’s very few jobs actually that the financial sector hits– it’s a computerized industry. Nanosecond trading, and it’s very concentrated. And that’s part of their beauty, part of their scheme, right? It’s basically they’ve created an economy onto themselves without people.

And the problem is their lobbyists and the incredible amount of money they have buy and sell our legislature. They’ve got enormous amounts of money. But we can win this, because we have the people with us.

BILL MOYERS: So is the campaign for financial transaction tax largely leverage you’re seeking, just a means of getting the attention of the powers that be? Or are you serious about getting this $350 billion dollars from a 50 cent tax on every $100 dollars of transacting?

ROSEANN DEMORO: We’re as serious as a heart attack. Can I tell you that?

BILL MOYERS: You can tell me that.

ROSEANN DEMORO: If you’re going to fund social services– we assume we need about, what $500 billion to kind of jumpstart a jobs program. There aren’t real jobs left in America. We need real jobs. And we need health care. I mean, all of the things that we should have a society.

BILL MOYERS: But here’s what you’re up against. First of all, they’re not going to take you seriously, because you are nurses. What do nurses know about Wall Street? Secondly, they’re going to say that, you know, the banks will find a way to circumvent this tax, pass it on to the consumers.

ROSEANN DEMORO: Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t it amazing how bad our thinking is in this country? That people who have billions of dollars, who could make a million dollars an hour, which is, you know, Wall Street. That they shouldn’t have to pay 50 cents on $100 dollars of trade? I mean, that’s just– it shows how far we– afield we’ve come from where we need to be as a society.

Because otherwise, what we’re going to be is, you know, have this kind of industrial peasantry in this country. And I mean, that’s where this could go if something doesn’t change pretty dramatically. What I can’t understand is why our legislators– they know there’s a problem.

I don’t know what they think, how they think we’re going to solve the problem. You know, there’s a deficit created by speculation. And all of a sudden working people are supposed to pay for the deficit, that’s the rallying cry? Like a deficit that working people didn’t cause, that that’s the priority of this country to resolve a deficit caused by Wall Street rather than job creation?

BILL MOYERS: But, you know, I don’t know anyone who understands the castle better from the battering ram side than you. You’ve been out there with a battering ram for a long time. Trying to change Washington is virtually an impossible task, because of the entrenched, systemic corruption by which the town now runs.

ROSEANN DEMORO: Absolutely. The current way we practice politics, we are headed for devastation. I would agree with that. The only way we can do that is by changing ourselves. I’m very tired of all of us being disappointed in Democrats. I mean, okay, how many more Democrats can we be disappointed in? I– we have got to change ourselves. We have got to– that’s why I like the Occupy movement.

And hoping that it, you know, moves with structure and reform. And I’d say, you know, kind of non-reformist reforms. Like the financial transaction tax, because what that does is it starts having a different view on speculation and what’s a responsibility to society. But Occupy is extremely important to us, because it actually doesn’t buy into the fact that we’re all in this together.

We have been in this we’re all in this together bubble fantasy for so long. I mean, you know, things were supposed to trickle down. And then all of a sudden, we were supposed to be part of some bubble up. And I mean, it’s just everything’s trickling, but it’s trickling up.

BILL MOYERS: But suppose you get the $350 billion. What if it’s spent on bombing Iran?

ROSEANN DEMORO: Well, precisely. We’re not earmarking the money. We’re not saying, “Okay, we want $350 billion. And this part should go to health care and this part should go to education.” What we’re saying is that part of the process of obtaining the financial transaction tax is the movement itself.

Because if we can engage people to actually engage the legislators– I mean we have to continually hold them accountable. We can never give our power away. And we can never buy into the lies that have been told to us for so long. I mean, I don’t even recognize, you know, liberals anymore. I don’t even—

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?

ROSEANN DEMORO: Well, they will invariably be apologetic for anything that comes down. In health care reform, liberals, we want single payer. We absolutely want single payer. And then suddenly single payer was off the table. Even the president said at one point in time he supported a single payer system. Boy, you never hear those words anymore.

Then everyone said, “Okay, well, we’re you know, we’re drawing the line on the public option. We will never ever compromise off the public option.” All of a sudden public option’s gone. And then it came to an individual mandate. “We will never agree to tax, you know, workers benefits. We’ll never agree to tax our health care benefits.” And now all of a sudden liberals are rallying around taxing health care benefits. It’s like how low can you go? So I have, for myself and hopefully for a lot of other people, I’m looking at a stage now for absolutes. There’s got to be—

BILL MOYERS: Absolutes?

ROSEANN DEMORO: Absolutes. There’s going to be—

BILL MOYERS: In politics, a game of compromise, you’re looking for absolutes?

ROSEANN DEMORO: There you know, we’ve made the compromises. Look where these compromises have got us. Do I think that there’s an absolute right for people to have health care in this country? Absolutely. Absolutely. Do I think people are entitled to work and provide for themselves and their families? Absolutely. That’s an absolute.

Do I think that people should have a home to live in and to be able to care for the most vulnerable? Absolutely. Yes, I’m looking for absolutes. I’m not interested in the neo-liberal agenda. I’m not interested in bipartisanship. I’m interested in social change that actually puts society back with the people.

ROSEANN DEMORO: We have to start all over, in terms of how we do politics. Right now—

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?

ROSEANN DEMORO: We have to engage people in their communities to actually elect the people and tell those people what we want and tell them we will un-elect them if they don’t fulfill the needs of their community.

BILL MOYERS: Now you’re talking about a mass movement there.

ROSEANN DEMORO: I’m talking about an absolute mass movement.

BILL MOYERS: Because after the election, we both know that after the election, no matter how the voters have expressed themselves, it’s the donors who decide what the—

ROSEANN DEMORO: Absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: –incumbents do when they get into office. We know that.

ROSEANN DEMORO: Invariably what happens is the groups are called into the White House. And they’re told, “No.” And then they come back and they tell the coalition, “No.” And then everyone’s cutting side deals. And there’s no actual social movement.

What I like about Occupy is that a lot of groups tried to coopt it, and it stayed its own course. And we’ve got to have Occupy with a political– you know, strategic decisions that are actually going to push the agenda for the American people. Revolt is a good one, because ultimately revolt gets a lot of attention. But we also have to be on the demand side. And we’ve got to be able to reach everyday people who are actually out there struggling. And give them hope.

BILL MOYERS: The paradox, RoseAnn, is that you’re calling for more public action—

ROSEANN DEMORO: Absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: –for more public policy, for more government, at a time when there’s a growing powerful conservative movement that says government is the problem.

ROSEANN DEMORO: We want to have the corollary to that on the other side. Where we’re actually inspiring people toward a better vision for society, for hope, for a social movement that they can engage in, that’s not the politics of hatred, that’s not the politics of fear, but the politics of hope. Now to do that, we are going to tap the anger, because people should be angry. So we want to validate the anger, but not take it in a reactionary way. But a way that’s actually life affirming.

BILL MOYERS: Have you had any indirect or direct response from the White House to your campaign for the financial transaction tax?

ROSEANN DEMORO: We have from the White House precisely what– I can’t say from the White House, in all honesty. We have with the legislators precisely what happened to us in single payer. We had the financial transaction tax. We talked to the author of the bill, who’d done it twice before, in– in Congress. And asked him to reintroduce it again. And said that we were going to build a movement around it. He said, “Great, you know, wonderful.”

And all of a sudden, they came up with this tiny transaction tax which is effectively not much for deficit reduction, earmarked for deficit reduction. And so we were just astounded. And so what they told us– this is the same thing. This is the same speech of “You nurses need to lower your expectations. Well, we have to introduce the concept first.”

Well, the concept first of all is there. It has been introduced in America. We’ve had it historically in America, as you pointed out. We have it in New York. We have it in the S.E.C. We don’t need the concept. We have the concept. What we need is the money to jumpstart this economy.

But I think what they want to do is to make sure that they’re assuring Wall Street that it won’t actually hurt. The same thing is as what’s happened in health care reform.

BILL MOYERS: I ask this next question, knowing that within the world of labor leadership, you have your own politics. The AF of L-CIO, just recently endorsed Barack Obama for reelection. You’re on the executive committee of the AF of L-CIO. Did you vote for endorsing Obama?

ROSEANN DEMORO: No, I didn’t go to the meeting.

BILL MOYERS: Why?

ROSEANN DEMORO: We haven’t taken a position on Barack Obama. Our nurses worked so hard the last time on his campaign. They worked for months. I mean, people left their homes. They were excited. You know, they actually believed in his candidacy. They thought that he meant what he said when he actually supported single payer. And all we needed to do was get him there.

But we made a tremendous mistake. I mean, as a country, as the nurses, everyone. And that is he said, “You need to push me.” Well, no one pushed him, except for the right, and except for Wall Street. We didn’t push Barack Obama. In fact, we had the liberal groups who were yelling at anyone who stepped out of line to get in line.

So now we’re in a situation that we, in part, helped create. That’s the dilemma here. You can’t solve the problem without changing the way you do your own work. And so this isn’t about Barack Obama. We are in a process of figuring out if we’re even going to endorse legislators this year, because it’s so bad.

BILL MOYERS: But let me tell you what some of your liberal and progressive allies in Washington are saying. “Look me in the eye, they say, and tell me that you’re going to stand by with 170,000 powerful fighters out there for social justice and see Romney replace Barack Obama?” That’s what they’re saying. That’s not—

ROSEANN DEMORO: Of course they would say that. And that’s a reality. That’s the politics of today. And so for us, you know, whether or not we endorse Barack Obama or whomever is pretty much irrelevant. I don’t– yes, it’s true. We’re an activist organization. We have a phenomenal amount of power. We have a disproportionate amount of power, relative to where we are. Because it’s not just our members. We have, you know, we have millions of nurses who relate to us organizationally.

BILL MOYERS: It is. It’s a tough union.

ROSEANN DEMORO: Oh god.

BILL MOYERS: You in fact, I watched with incredulous eyes, when you actually took on Schwarzenegger, a very popular Republican celebrity governor.

ROSEANN DEMORO: I know.

BILL MOYERS: And you helped bring him down.

ROSEANN DEMORO: We did. We did. Actually, you know, his Waterloo was when he said in front of a woman’s conference, “I kick nurse’s butts.”

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: Pay no attention to those voices over there, by the way. Those are the special interests, if you know what I mean. The special interests just don’t like me in Sacramento because I’m always kicking their butt.

That’s why they don’t like me.

ROSEANN DEMORO: Well, we put that shoe on the other foot. And we—

BILL MOYERS: Why did he say that?

ROSEANN DEMORO: Because well, first of all, because he’s Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was above it all. But again, the way we practice politics. He became governor. Everyone thought it was more important to get his autograph than to actually hold him accountable for the policy. And so, what happened was he decided to– nurses have patient ratios in California, which is a phenomenal law.

He decided to roll that back. And then he wanted to meet with us. And we said, “No, we’re you know, leave that legislation alone or we’re not meeting with you.” Well, he attempted to roll it back. We set out on a campaign. And I’ll tell you, we took his popularity from up here to down here. And he never regained his popularity again. He was so shocked and off of his game that he thought that, you know, he could just be dismissive of just about everyone. He was Hollywood. He was the governor. He was above it all. And you know what—

BILL MOYERS: He was the Terminator.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER in Terminator: I’ll be back.

ROSEANN DEMORO: He was the Terminator. He was the Terminator. But, you know what, it shows you the power of these nurses. Right there, right there, it tells you how much power they actually have. When a nurses speaks, the legislators know that a nurse can be a very scary person. And for Arnold Schwarzenegger and the California legislators certainly know that. When Arnold Schwarzenegger decided to take on the nurses, I swear the legislators were like, “Oh my God.”

BILL MOYERS: I don’t want to put you on the spot, but well, I do want to put you on the spot. Why doesn’t all of organized labor have that today? You know, I know that organized labor has been anemic. It’s been under fire, of course, for 30 years. There’s been a strong conservative business campaign to make them impotent in our society. And they’ve largely succeeded. But there’s a pathology in the union movement that has contributed to its own anemic—

ROSEANN DEMORO: It has.

BILL MOYERS: What is it? What’s happened?

ROSEANN DEMORO: I think it’s class shame. You know, in the last 30 years, everyone was supposed to be middle class. Working class was a bad thing. To be from the working class was you know, no one was from– even labor uses that. You know, you working families. They don’t say the working class and they don’t say working people.

Everyone says middle class or working families, and you’re supposed to have disdain for the working class. They bought into the paradigm, to where they became vulnerable to middle class consultants who redefined what they were supposed to be. So, I had one of the major labor leaders who has since left come to me one day 12 years ago or so and say, “We went through this consultant training and oh, you could learn so much from it.”

And he said, “The thing that you could learn the most is non-confrontational language.” And I thought, “Well, why in the hell would I want to do that?” You know, I mean, not be confrontational? There are people out there who are trying to harm my members, working people, poor people, and I don’t want to confront them? Of course I want to confront them.

What it told me was that fighting became actually defined as something that was pathological. And the labor movement bought in. And why in the world the labor movement would buy in, I don’t know.

BILL MOYERS: Assuming you will retire one day, do you have a bucket list of what you’d like to accomplish before you retire?

ROSEANN DEMORO: Yes. And it has things that are fundamental and things that we’ve been working on, all of our lives. And that is a just society, health care for all, taking money out of politics, of course. Jobs. Good paying jobs in America. Pride in being an American. Although I will say that we’re working on the global scene, and the opportunities to actually have one world and one people, and even though that sounds pie in the sky are presenting itself in a way for the first time that I’ve seen in my life.

Because the financial transaction tax is seen by all of our allies internationally as a way of addressing the economy of the world. And that’s why it’s not the financial transaction tax in and of itself, it’s the reconceptualization of what we should be as a society of people.

I am really sick of the people who are apologists for finance. From my perspective, and it may sound simplistic, but working people built this country. And you know what, Bill, if we have to, we can build it again.

BILL MOYERS: I can see you’re going to have to postpone your retirement for lord knows how long.

ROSEANN DEMORO: Well, you can be my role model for it.

BILL MOYERS: Thank you, RoseAnn DeMoro, for being with me.

ROSEANN DEMORO: Thank you so much.

BILL MOYERS: Joining RoseAnn DeMoro and the nurses at their Chicago march and rally on May 18 will be the rock star activist Tom Morello — who just happens to be my guest on next week’s edition of Moyers & Company. Tom Morello came to fame 20 years ago as the lead guitarist in Rage Against the Machine. Some of you will know Rage as one of the most successful and political rock bands of the nineties. And one of the most controversial. When the group disbanded, Tom Morello became a one-man revolution: a troubadour singing songs of protest across the land from the steps of the Wisconsin State Capitol…

 

Rose Ann DeMoro, Director of National Nurses United

 

Rose Ann DeMoro is the second speaker on MOYERS & COMPANY

 

“Fighting for Fair Play on TV and Taxes”
Political ads and tax fairness with Kathleen Hall Jamieson and RoseAnn DeMoro

 

Graphic Credit:  Johnny Selman

 

 

The New York Times, by James Hansen PhD, May 14, 2012  –  GLOBAL warming isn’t a prediction. It is happening. That is why I was so troubled to read a recent interview with President Obama in Rolling Stone in which he said that Canada would exploit the oil in its vast tar sands reserves “regardless of what we do.”

If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.

Canada’s tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history. If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control. Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities. Global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50 percent of the planet’s species would be driven to extinction. Civilization would be at risk.

That is the long-term outlook. But near-term, things will be bad enough. Over the next several decades, the Western United States and the semi-arid region from North Dakota to Texas will develop semi-permanent drought, with rain, when it does come, occurring in extreme events with heavy flooding. Economic losses would be incalculable. More and more of the Midwest would be a dust bowl. California’s Central Valley could no longer be irrigated. Food prices would rise to unprecedented levels.

If this sounds apocalyptic, it is. This is why we need to reduce emissions dramatically. President Obama has the power not only to deny tar sands oil additional access to Gulf Coast refining, which Canada desires in part for export markets, but also to encourage economic incentives to leave tar sands and other dirty fuels in the ground.

The global warming signal is now louder than the noise of random weather, as I predicted would happen by now in the journal Science in 1981. Extremely hot summers have increased noticeably. We can say with high confidence that the recent heat waves in Texas and Russia, and the one in Europe in 2003, which killed tens of thousands, were not natural events — they were caused by human-induced climate change.

We have known since the 1800s that carbon dioxide traps heat in the atmosphere. The right amount keeps the climate conducive to human life. But add too much, as we are doing now, and temperatures will inevitably rise too high. This is not the result of natural variability, as some argue. The earth is currently in the part of its long-term orbit cycle where temperatures would normally be cooling. But they are rising — and it’s because we are forcing them higher with fossil fuel emissions.

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen from 280 parts per million to 393 p.p.m. over the last 150 years. The tar sands contain enough carbon — 240 gigatons — to add 120 p.p.m. Tar shale, a close cousin of tar sands found mainly in the United States, contains at least an additional 300 gigatons of carbon. If we turn to these dirtiest of fuels, instead of finding ways to phase out our addiction to fossil fuels, there is no hope of keeping carbon concentrations below 500 p.p.m. — a level that would, as earth’s history shows, leave our children a climate system that is out of their control.

We need to start reducing emissions significantly, not create new ways to increase them. We should impose a gradually rising carbon fee, collected from fossil fuel companies, then distribute 100 percent of the collections to all Americans on a per-capita basis every month. The government would not get a penny. This market-based approach would stimulate innovation, jobs and economic growth, avoid enlarging government or having it pick winners or losers. Most Americans, except the heaviest energy users, would get more back than they paid in increased prices. Not only that, the reduction in oil use resulting from the carbon price would be nearly six times as great as the oil supply from the proposed pipeline from Canada, rendering the pipeline superfluous, according to economic models driven by a slowly rising carbon price.

But instead of placing a rising fee on carbon emissions to make fossil fuels pay their true costs, leveling the energy playing field, the world’s governments are forcing the public to subsidize fossil fuels with hundreds of billions of dollars per year. This encourages a frantic stampede to extract every fossil fuel through mountaintop removal, longwall mining, hydraulic fracturing, tar sands and tar shale extraction, and deep ocean and Arctic drilling.

President Obama speaks of a “planet in peril,” but he does not provide the leadership needed to change the world’s course. Our leaders must speak candidly to the public — which yearns for open, honest discussion — explaining that our continued technological leadership and economic well-being demand a reasoned change of our energy course. History has shown that the American public can rise to the challenge, but leadership is essential.

The science of the situation is clear — it’s time for the politics to follow. This is a plan that can unify conservatives and liberals, environmentalists and business. Every major national science academy in the world has reported that global warming is real, caused mostly by humans, and requires urgent action. The cost of acting goes far higher the longer we wait — we can’t wait any longer to avoid the worst and be judged immoral by coming generations.

James Hansen directs the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and is the author of “Storms of My Grandchildren.”

 

 

 

Global Warming & Climate Change

 

Photo Credit:  Steen Ulrik Johannessen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Updated: March 27, 2012

 

 

The New York Times, May 14, 2012  –  Global warming has become perhaps the most complicated issue facing world leaders. Warnings from the scientific community are becoming louder, as an increasing body of science points to rising dangers from the ongoing buildup of human-related greenhouse gases — produced mainly by the burning of fossil fuels and forests.

Global emissions of carbon dioxide jumped by the largest amount on record in 2010, upending the notion that the brief decline during the recession might persist through the recovery. Emissions rose 5.9 percent in 2010, according to the Global Carbon Project, an international collaboration of scientists. The increase solidified a trend of ever-rising emissions that scientists fear will make it difficult, if not impossible, to forestall severe climate change in coming decades.

However, the technological, economic and political issues that have to be resolved before a concerted worldwide effort to reduce emissions can begin have gotten no simpler, particularly in the face of a global economic slowdown.

For almost two decades, the United Nations has sponsored annual global talks, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, an international treaty signed by 194 countries to cooperatively discuss global climate change and its impact. The conferences operate on the principle of consensus, meaning that any of the participating nations can hold up an agreement.

The conflicts and controversies discussed are monotonously familiar: the differing obligations of industrialized and developing nations, the question of who will pay to help poor nations adapt, the urgency of protecting tropical forests and the need to rapidly develop and deploy clean energy technology.

But the meetings have often ended in disillusionment, with incremental political progress but little real impact on the climate. The negotiating process itself has come under fire from some quarters, including the poorest nations who believe their needs are being neglected in the fight among the major economic powers. Criticism has also come from a small but vocal band of climate-change skeptics, many of them members of the United States Congress, who doubt the existence of human influence on the climate and ridicule international efforts to deal with it.

A Global Initiative Led by the U.S.

In mid-February 2012, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was expected to announce a new international effort focused on reducing emissions of common pollutants that contribute to rapid climate change and widespread health problems.

Impatient with the slow pace of international negotiations, the United States and a small group of countries — Bangladesh, Canada, Ghana, Mexico and Sweden as well as the United Nations Environment Program — are starting a program that will address short-lived pollutants like soot (also referred to as black carbon), methane and hydrofluorocarbons that have an outsize influence on global warming, accounting for 30 to 40 percent of global warming. Soot from diesel exhausts and the burning of wood, agricultural waste and dung for heating and cooking causes an estimated two million premature deaths a year, particularly in the poorest countries

Scientists say that concerted action on these substances can reduce global temperatures by 0.5 degrees Celsius by 2050 and prevent millions of cases of lung and heart disease by 2030.

The United States intends to contribute $12 million and Canada $3 million over two years to get the program off the ground and to help recruit other countries to participate. The United Nations Environment Program will run the project.

Officials hope that by tackling these fast-acting, climate-changing agents they can get results quicker than through the laborious and highly political negotiations conducted under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

2011 Global Talks in Durban

At the 2011 conference delegates from about 200 nations gathered together in Durban, South Africa. One of the issues left unresolved was the future of the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 agreement that requires major industrialized nations to meet targets on emissions reduction but imposes no mandates on developing countries, including emerging economic powers and sources of global greenhouse gas emissions like China, India, Brazil and South Africa.

The United States is not a party to the protocol, having refused to even consider ratifying it because of those asymmetrical obligations. Some major countries, including Canada, Japan and Russia, have said they will not agree to an extension of the protocol next year unless the unbalanced requirements of developing and developed countries are changed. That is similar to the United States’ position, which is that any successor treaty must apply equally to all major economies.

Expectations for the meeting were low, and it ended with modest accomplishments: the promise to work toward a new global treaty in coming years and the establishment of a new climate fund.

The deal on a future treaty renewed the Kyoto Protocol for several more years. But it also began a process for replacing the protocol with something that treats all countries — including the economic powerhouses China, India and Brazil — equally. The future treaty deal was the most highly contested element of a package of agreements that emerged from the extended talks among the nations here.

The expiration date of the protocol — 2017 or 2020 — and the terms of any agreement that replaces it will be negotiated at future sessions.

The delegates also agreed on the creation of a fund to help poor countries adapt to climate change — though the precise sources of the money have yet to be determined — and to measures involving the preservation of tropical forests and the development of clean-energy technology. The reserve, called the Green Climate Fund, would help mobilize a promised $100 billion a year in public and private financing by 2020 to assist developing countries in adapting to climate change and converting to clean energy sources.

2010 Global Talks in Cancún

The United Nations conference on climate change in Cancún, Mexico, produced only modest achievements but ended with the toughest issues unresolved. The package that was approved, known as the Cancún Agreements, set up a new fund to help poor countries adapt to climate changes, created new mechanisms for transfer of clean energy technology, provided compensation for the preservation of tropical forests and strengthened the emissions reductions pledges that came out of the U.N. climate change meeting in Copenhagen in 2009.

The conference approved the agreement over the objections of Bolivia, which condemned the pact as too weak. But those protests did not block its acceptance. Delegates from island states and the least-developed countries warmly welcomed the pact because it would start the flow of billions of dollars to assist them in adopting cleaner energy systems and adapting to inevitable changes in the climate, like sea rise and drought.

But where the promised aid from wealthy nations — $100 billion — would come from was left unresolved.

The E.U. Gets Tough With Airline Emissions

In December 2011, the European Union’s highest court endorsed the bloc’s plan to begin charging the world’s biggest airlines for their greenhouse gas emissions from Jan. 1, 2012, setting the stage for a potentially costly trade war with the United States, China and other countries.

A group of United States airlines had argued that forcing them to participate in the potentially costly emissions-trading system infringed on national sovereignty and conflicted with existing international aviation treaties.

But in a final ruling , the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg affirmed an opinion issued in October by its advocate general, who had rejected their claim.

The court’s decision came amid increasing pressure from some of the biggest trading partners of the 27-member bloc to suspend or amend application of the legislation to expressly exclude non-E.U. countries — at least initially. Failing that, several governments have vowed to take their own legal action or retaliate with countervailing trade measures.

Although airlines initially will receive most of the permits they will need for free, the European Union estimates that ticket prices could rise by as much as €12, or nearly $16, on some long-haul flights to cover the cost of additional permits required.

Airlines for America, an industry lobby group and one of the plaintiffs in the case, said that its members would be required to pay more than $3.1 billion to the E.U. between 2012 and 2020. It said its members would comply with the system “under protest,” but would also review options for pursuing the case in Britain’s High Court, which had referred the original complaint to the European court in 2009.

The European initiative involves folding aviation into the Union’s six-year-old Emissions Trading System, in which polluters can buy and sell a limited quantity of permits, each representing a ton of carbon dioxide. The legislation mandates that airlines account for their emissions for the entirety of any flight that takes off from — or lands at — any airport in the 27-member bloc.

The goal, European officials have said, is to speed up the adoption of greener technologies at a time when air traffic, which represents about 3 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, is growing much faster than gains in efficiency.

The U.S. and Climate Change

The United States has been criticized at the United Nations gatherings for years, in part because of its rejection of the Kyoto framework and in part because it has not adopted a comprehensive domestic program for reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions. President Obama has pledged to reduce American emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, but his preferred approach, a nationwide cap-and-trade system for carbon pollution, was passed by the House in 2009 but died in the Senate the next year. United States emissions are down about 6 percent over the past five years, largely because of the drop in industrial and electricity production caused by the recession.

In January 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency began imposing regulations related to greenhouse gas emissions. The immediate effect on utilities, refiners and major manufacturers was minor, with the new rules applying only to those planning to build large new facilities or make major modifications to existing plants. Over the next decade, however, the agency plans to regulate virtually all sources of greenhouse gases, imposing efficiency and emissions requirements on nearly every industry and every region.

A Draft Rule Stands in the Way of New Coal-Fired Plants

In March 2012, the E.P.A. unveiled a draft rule that would limit carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants to 1,000 pounds per megawatt-hour.

Recently built power plants fired by natural gas already easily meet the new standards, so the rule presents little obstacle for new gas plants. But coal-fired plants face a far greater challenge, since no easily accessible technology can bring their emissions under the limit. Coal-fired plants are a major source emissions associated with global warming. The new rules do not apply to existing plants.

The declining price of natural gas has made it the fuel of choice in recent years for companies planning new plants. The E.P.A.’s move follows a shift that is already unfolding in the electric power market.

The proposed rule is rooted in a 2007 directive from the Supreme Court instructing the E.P.A. to decide whether carbon dioxide was a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. In late 2009, the agency declared that it was, and so had to be regulated.

It took more than two years for the agency to work out the regulatory details.

To open an avenue to companies still planning to build coal plants, for example, the E.P.A. said it would allow new ones to begin operating with higher levels of emissions as long as the average annual emissions over a period of 30 years met the standard.

Environmental groups generally applauded the standards, although some expressed disappointment with the agency’s decision not to regulate existing power plants for the moment.

Steps Toward a Response

The debate over climate questions pales next to the fight over what to do, or not do, in a world where fossil fuels still underpin both rich and emerging economies.

With the completion of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at the Earth Summit in 1992, the world’s nations pledged to avoid dangerously disrupting the climate through the buildup of greenhouse gases, but they never defined how much warming was too much.

Nonetheless, recognizing that the original climate treaty was proving ineffective, all of the world’s industrialized countries except for the United States accepted binding restrictions on their greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol, which was negotiated in Japan in 1997. That accord took effect in 2005 and its gas restrictions expire in 2012. The United States signed the treaty, but it was never submitted for ratification in the face of overwhelming opposition in the Senate because the pact required no steps by China or other fast-growing developing countries.

It took until 2009 for the leaders of the world’s largest economic powers to agree on a dangerous climate threshold: an increase of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) from the average global temperature recorded just before the Industrial Revolution kicked into gear. (This translates into an increase of 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit above the Earth’s current average temperature, about 59 degrees.)

The Group of 8 industrial powers also agreed in 2009 to a goal of reducing global emissions 50 percent by 2050, with the richest countries leading the way by cutting their emissions 80 percent. But they did not set a baseline from which to measure that reduction, and so far firm interim targets — which many climate scientists say would be more meaningful — have not been defined.

At the same time, fast-growing emerging economic powerhouses, led by China and India, opposed taking on mandatory obligations to curb their emissions. They said they will do what they can to rein in growth in emissions — as long as their economies do not suffer.

In many ways, the debate over global climate policy is a result of a global “climate divide.’’ Emissions of carbon dioxide per person range from less than 2 tons per year in India, where 400 million people lack access to electricity, to more than 20 in the United States. The richest countries are also best able to use wealth and technology to insulate themselves from climate hazards, while the poorest, which have done the least to cause the problem, are the most exposed.

Background

Scientists learned long ago that the earth’s climate has powerfully shaped the history of the human species — biologically, culturally and geographically. But only in the last few decades has research revealed that humans can be a powerful influence on the climate, as well.

A growing body of scientific evidence indicates that since 1950, the world’s climate has been warming, primarily as a result of emissions from unfettered burning of fossil fuels and the razing of tropical forests. Such activity adds to the atmosphere’s invisible blanket of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping “greenhouse” gases. Recent research has shown that methane, which flows from landfills, livestock and oil and gas facilities, is a close second to carbon dioxide as an impact on the atmosphere.

That conclusion has emerged through a broad body of analysis in fields as disparate as glaciology, the study of glacial formations, and palynology, the study of the distribution of pollen grains in lake mud. It is based on a host of assessments by the world’s leading organizations of climate and earth scientists.

In the last several years, the scientific case that the rising human influence on climate could become disruptive has become particularly robust.

Some fluctuations in the earth’s temperature are inevitable regardless of human activity — because of decades-long ocean cycles, for example. But centuries of rising temperatures and seas lie ahead if the release of emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation continues unabated, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore.

In addition, a report released by the I.P.C.C. in November 2011 predicted that global warming will cause more dangerous and “unprecedented extreme weather” in the future.

Despite the scientific consensus on these basic conclusions, enormously important details remain murky. That reality has been seized upon by some groups and scientists disputing the overall consensus and opposing changes in energy policies.

For example, estimates of the amount of warming that would result from a doubling of greenhouse gas concentrations (compared to the level just before the Industrial Revolution got under way in the early 19th century) range from 3.6 degrees to 8 degrees Fahrenheit. The intergovernmental climate panel said it could not rule out even higher temperatures. While the low end could probably be tolerated, the high end would almost certainly result in calamitous, long-lasting disruptions of ecosystems and economies, a host of studies have concluded. A wide range of economists and earth scientists say that level of risk justifies an aggressive response.

Other questions have persisted despite a century-long accumulation of studies pointing to human-driven warming. The rate and extent at which sea levels will rise in this century as ice sheets erode remains highly uncertain, even as the long-term forecast of centuries of retreating shorelines remains intact. Scientists are struggling more than ever to disentangle how the heat building in the seas and atmosphere will affect the strength and number of tropical cyclones. The latest science suggests there will be more hurricanes and typhoons that reach the most dangerous categories of intensity, but fewer storms overall.

Impatient with the slow pace of international negotiations, the United States and a small group of countries — Bangladesh, Canada, Ghana, Mexico and Sweden as well as the United Nations Environment Program — are starting a program that will address short-lived pollutants like soot (also referred to as black carbon), methane and hydrofluorocarbons that have an outsize influence on global warming, accounting for 30 to 40 percent of global warming. Soot from diesel exhausts and the burning of wood, agricultural waste and dung for heating and cooking causes an estimated two million premature deaths a year, particularly in the poorest countries

Scientists say that concerted action on these substances can reduce global temperatures by 0.5 degrees Celsius by 2050 and prevent millions of cases of lung and heart disease by 2030.

The United States intends to contribute $12 million and Canada $3 million over two years to get the program off the ground and to help recruit other countries to participate. The United Nations Environment Program will run the project.

Officials hope that by tackling these fast-acting, climate-changing agents they can get results quicker than through the laborious and highly political negotiations conducted under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

2011 Global Talks in Durban

At the 2011 conference delegates from about 200 nations gathered together in Durban, South Africa. One of the issues left unresolved was the future of the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 agreement that requires major industrialized nations to meet targets on emissions reduction but imposes no mandates on developing countries, including emerging economic powers and sources of global greenhouse gas emissions like China, India, Brazil and South Africa.

The United States is not a party to the protocol, having refused to even consider ratifying it because of those asymmetrical obligations. Some major countries, including Canada, Japan and Russia, have said they will not agree to an extension of the protocol next year unless the unbalanced requirements of developing and developed countries are changed. That is similar to the United States’ position, which is that any successor treaty must apply equally to all major economies.

Expectations for the meeting were low, and it ended with modest accomplishments: the promise to work toward a new global treaty in coming years and the establishment of a new climate fund.

The deal on a future treaty renewed the Kyoto Protocol for several more years. But it also began a process for replacing the protocol with something that treats all countries — including the economic powerhouses China, India and Brazil — equally. The future treaty deal was the most highly contested element of a package of agreements that emerged from the extended talks among the nations here.

The expiration date of the protocol — 2017 or 2020 — and the terms of any agreement that replaces it will be negotiated at future sessions.

The delegates also agreed on the creation of a fund to help poor countries adapt to climate change — though the precise sources of the money have yet to be determined — and to measures involving the preservation of tropical forests and the development of clean-energy technology. The reserve, called the Green Climate Fund, would help mobilize a promised $100 billion a year in public and private financing by 2020 to assist developing countries in adapting to climate change and converting to clean energy sources.

2010 Global Talks in Cancún

The United Nations conference on climate change in Cancún, Mexico, produced only modest achievements but ended with the toughest issues unresolved. The package that was approved, known as the Cancún Agreements, set up a new fund to help poor countries adapt to climate changes, created new mechanisms for transfer of clean energy technology, provided compensation for the preservation of tropical forests and strengthened the emissions reductions pledges that came out of the U.N. climate change meeting in Copenhagen in 2009.

The conference approved the agreement over the objections of Bolivia, which condemned the pact as too weak. But those protests did not block its acceptance. Delegates from island states and the least-developed countries warmly welcomed the pact because it would start the flow of billions of dollars to assist them in adopting cleaner energy systems and adapting to inevitable changes in the climate, like sea rise and drought.

But where the promised aid from wealthy nations — $100 billion — would come from was left unresolved.

The E.U. Gets Tough With Airline Emissions

In December 2011, the European Union’s highest court endorsed the bloc’s plan to begin charging the world’s biggest airlines for their greenhouse gas emissions from Jan. 1, 2012, setting the stage for a potentially costly trade war with the United States, China and other countries.

A group of United States airlines had argued that forcing them to participate in the potentially costly emissions-trading system infringed on national sovereignty and conflicted with existing international aviation treaties.

But in a final ruling , the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg affirmed an opinion issued in October by its advocate general, who had rejected their claim.

The court’s decision came amid increasing pressure from some of the biggest trading partners of the 27-member bloc to suspend or amend application of the legislation to expressly exclude non-E.U. countries — at least initially. Failing that, several governments have vowed to take their own legal action or retaliate with countervailing trade measures.

Although airlines initially will receive most of the permits they will need for free, the European Union estimates that ticket prices could rise by as much as €12, or nearly $16, on some long-haul flights to cover the cost of additional permits required.

Airlines for America, an industry lobby group and one of the plaintiffs in the case, said that its members would be required to pay more than $3.1 billion to the E.U. between 2012 and 2020. It said its members would comply with the system “under protest,” but would also review options for pursuing the case in Britain’s High Court, which had referred the original complaint to the European court in 2009.

The European initiative involves folding aviation into the Union’s six-year-old Emissions Trading System, in which polluters can buy and sell a limited quantity of permits, each representing a ton of carbon dioxide. The legislation mandates that airlines account for their emissions for the entirety of any flight that takes off from — or lands at — any airport in the 27-member bloc.

The goal, European officials have said, is to speed up the adoption of greener technologies at a time when air traffic, which represents about 3 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, is growing much faster than gains in efficiency.

The U.S. and Climate Change

The United States has been criticized at the United Nations gatherings for years, in part because of its rejection of the Kyoto framework and in part because it has not adopted a comprehensive domestic program for reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions. President Obama has pledged to reduce American emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, but his preferred approach, a nationwide cap-and-trade system for carbon pollution, was passed by the House in 2009 but died in the Senate the next year. United States emissions are down about 6 percent over the past five years, largely because of the drop in industrial and electricity production caused by the recession.

In January 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency began imposing regulations related to greenhouse gas emissions. The immediate effect on utilities, refiners and major manufacturers was minor, with the new rules applying only to those planning to build large new facilities or make major modifications to existing plants. Over the next decade, however, the agency plans to regulate virtually all sources of greenhouse gases, imposing efficiency and emissions requirements on nearly every industry and every region.

A Draft Rule Stands in the Way of New Coal-Fired Plants

In March 2012, the E.P.A. unveiled a draft rule that would limit carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants to 1,000 pounds per megawatt-hour.

Recently built power plants fired by natural gas already easily meet the new standards, so the rule presents little obstacle for new gas plants. But coal-fired plants face a far greater challenge, since no easily accessible technology can bring their emissions under the limit. Coal-fired plants are a major source emissions associated with global warming. The new rules do not apply to existing plants.

The declining price of natural gas has made it the fuel of choice in recent years for companies planning new plants. The E.P.A.’s move follows a shift that is already unfolding in the electric power market.

The proposed rule is rooted in a 2007 directive from the Supreme Court instructing the E.P.A. to decide whether carbon dioxide was a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. In late 2009, the agency declared that it was, and so had to be regulated.

It took more than two years for the agency to work out the regulatory details.

To open an avenue to companies still planning to build coal plants, for example, the E.P.A. said it would allow new ones to begin operating with higher levels of emissions as long as the average annual emissions over a period of 30 years met the standard.

Environmental groups generally applauded the standards, although some expressed disappointment with the agency’s decision not to regulate existing power plants for the moment.

Steps Toward a Response

The debate over climate questions pales next to the fight over what to do, or not do, in a world where fossil fuels still underpin both rich and emerging economies.

With the completion of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at the Earth Summit in 1992, the world’s nations pledged to avoid dangerously disrupting the climate through the buildup of greenhouse gases, but they never defined how much warming was too much.

Nonetheless, recognizing that the original climate treaty was proving ineffective, all of the world’s industrialized countries except for the United States accepted binding restrictions on their greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol, which was negotiated in Japan in 1997. That accord took effect in 2005 and its gas restrictions expire in 2012. The United States signed the treaty, but it was never submitted for ratification in the face of overwhelming opposition in the Senate because the pact required no steps by China or other fast-growing developing countries.

It took until 2009 for the leaders of the world’s largest economic powers to agree on a dangerous climate threshold: an increase of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) from the average global temperature recorded just before the Industrial Revolution kicked into gear. (This translates into an increase of 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit above the Earth’s current average temperature, about 59 degrees.)

The Group of 8 industrial powers also agreed in 2009 to a goal of reducing global emissions 50 percent by 2050, with the richest countries leading the way by cutting their emissions 80 percent. But they did not set a baseline from which to measure that reduction, and so far firm interim targets — which many climate scientists say would be more meaningful — have not been defined.

At the same time, fast-growing emerging economic powerhouses, led by China and India, opposed taking on mandatory obligations to curb their emissions. They said they will do what they can to rein in growth in emissions — as long as their economies do not suffer.

In many ways, the debate over global climate policy is a result of a global “climate divide.’’ Emissions of carbon dioxide per person range from less than 2 tons per year in India, where 400 million people lack access to electricity, to more than 20 in the United States. The richest countries are also best able to use wealth and technology to insulate themselves from climate hazards, while the poorest, which have done the least to cause the problem, are the most exposed.

Background

Scientists learned long ago that the earth’s climate has powerfully shaped the history of the human species — biologically, culturally and geographically. But only in the last few decades has research revealed that humans can be a powerful influence on the climate, as well.

A growing body of scientific evidence indicates that since 1950, the world’s climate has been warming, primarily as a result of emissions from unfettered burning of fossil fuels and the razing of tropical forests. Such activity adds to the atmosphere’s invisible blanket of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping “greenhouse” gases. Recent research has shown that methane, which flows from landfills, livestock and oil and gas facilities, is a close second to carbon dioxide as an impact on the atmosphere.

That conclusion has emerged through a broad body of analysis in fields as disparate as glaciology, the study of glacial formations, and palynology, the study of the distribution of pollen grains in lake mud. It is based on a host of assessments by the world’s leading organizations of climate and earth scientists.

In the last several years, the scientific case that the rising human influence on climate could become disruptive has become particularly robust.

Some fluctuations in the earth’s temperature are inevitable regardless of human activity — because of decades-long ocean cycles, for example. But centuries of rising temperatures and seas lie ahead if the release of emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation continues unabated, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore.

In addition, a report released by the I.P.C.C. in November 2011 predicted that global warming will cause more dangerous and “unprecedented extreme weather” in the future.

Despite the scientific consensus on these basic conclusions, enormously important details remain murky. That reality has been seized upon by some groups and scientists disputing the overall consensus and opposing changes in energy policies.

For example, estimates of the amount of warming that would result from a doubling of greenhouse gas concentrations (compared to the level just before the Industrial Revolution got under way in the early 19th century) range from 3.6 degrees to 8 degrees Fahrenheit. The intergovernmental climate panel said it could not rule out even higher temperatures. While the low end could probably be tolerated, the high end would almost certainly result in calamitous, long-lasting disruptions of ecosystems and economies, a host of studies have concluded. A wide range of economists and earth scientists say that level of risk justifies an aggressive response.

Other questions have persisted despite a century-long accumulation of studies pointing to human-driven warming. The rate and extent at which sea levels will rise in this century as ice sheets erode remains highly uncertain, even as the long-term forecast of centuries of retreating shorelines remains intact. Scientists are struggling more than ever to disentangle how the heat building in the seas and atmosphere will affect the strength and number of tropical cyclones. The latest science suggests there will be more hurricanes and typhoons that reach the most dangerous categories of intensity, but fewer storms overall.