By Chris Mooney

An influential group of scientists led by James Hansen, the former NASA scientist often credited with having drawn the first major attention to climate change in 1988 congressional testimony, has published a dire climate study that suggests the impact of global warming will be quicker and more catastrophic than generally envisioned.

The research invokes collapsing ice sheets, violent megastorms and even the hurling of boulders by giant waves in its quest to suggest that even 2 degrees Celsius of global warming above pre-industrial levels would be far too much. Hansen has called it the most important work he has ever done.

The sweeping paper, 52 pages in length and with 19 authors, draws on evidence from ancient climate change or “paleo-climatology,” as well as climate experiments using computer models and some modern observations. Calling it a “paper” really isn’t quite right — it’s actually a synthesis of a wide range of old, and new, evidence…

…There is a great deal at stake. Hansen has cited the paper in court proceedings in a case playing out in Oregon, where a series of young plaintiffs, including his granddaughter Sophie, are suing the United States for violating their constitutional rights by allowing fossil fuel burning. While scientists will have to digest the new version of the paper, when the initial draft paper was released, at the website of Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussions, it prompted both scientific praise and also major skepticism.

David Archer, a geoscientist at the University of Chicago and a reviewer for the first round of the paper, called it “another Hansen masterwork of scholarly synthesis, modeling virtuosity, and insight, with profound implications.” But Peter Thorne, another official reviewer and a climate researcher with the National University of Ireland Maynooth, wrote that “it is far from certain that the results contended shall match what will happen in the real-world.” Thorne also expressed his “personal discomfort at the paper being openly and actively publicized before the discussion period is complete.”

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