December 3, 2013:
The paper 'Assessing "Dangerous Climate Change": Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature' (pdf) is being published today in the leading open-access journal PLOS ONE. A 2-page paper summary + 4-page opinion (Hansen & Kharecha) re policy implications is available here (pdf) or from my web site.
The paper was written to provide the scientific basis for legal actions against federal and state governments, in the United States and other nations, for not doing their job of protecting the rights of young people. The legal actions being filed by Our Children's Trust ask the courts to require the government to provide a plan for how they will reduce fossil fuel emissions consistent with stabilizing climate.
We dispute the common assumption that the world necessarily is going to develop all fossil fuels that can be found, thus making large global warming inevitable. Humanity does not need to be a bunch of lemmings headed over a cliff. Indeed, appropriate policies that phase out fossil fuel emissions over decades would be economically and environmentally beneficial. The editors of PLOS ONE, noting our statement "...there is still an opportunity for humanity to exercise free will", are establishing a "Responding to Climate Change" Collection in the journal PLOS ONE. They invite paper submissions in all areas of research and a broad range of disciplines aimed at returning Earth to a state of energy balance.
The paper draws attention to the moral and ethical issues caused by the inertia of the climate system, which causes most of the impacts of climate change to be felt by young people and future generations, as a consequence of action or inaction of the current generation. Besides this moral issue, we point out that effective government policies, collecting a rising carbon fee from the fossil fuel industry that made fossil fuels pay their costs to society, would be a path to economic prosperity, while business-as-usual only assures economic decline.