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James Hansen and Colleagues Offer Evidence for a Disruptive Call to Action

The article PLOS ONE publishes today from James Hansen and colleagues, “Assessing Dangerous Climate Change:  Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature” is extraordinary in many ways. From its diverse list of authors to the breadth of the analysis and the conclusions that emerge, the paper goes beyond the scope of a traditional research article by dismantling boundaries between disciplines and adding a moral dimension to the collective dialogue. Most significant for scientists and non-scientists alike is the paper’s prediction that current carbon emissions targets will prove too high to prevent long-lasting, irreversible damage to the planet. As a result, the authors say, cohesive, unified action is required – now — to reduce fossil fuel emissions to pre-Industrial Era levels.

The former head of NASA’s ONE_Climate-change-250x250Goddard Institute for Space Studies is joined on this paper by seventeen high-profile academics with expertise across the climate research spectrum, from atmospheric science, earth science, and environmental science, to economics, global change, and public health, with the paper’s analysis reflecting all these topics. The authors assess climate impacts of global warming using ongoing observations and paleoclimate data. By calculating atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) as a function of fossil fuel emissions and examining the potential for reducing atmospheric CO2 through reforestation efforts and attempts to increase carbon in the soil, the authors re-evaluate fossil fuel emission reduction scenarios and conclude that an appropriate target is to keep global temperature within or close to the temperature range estimated for the Holocene, the interglacial period in which civilization first developed.

By accompanying their scientific analysis with an explicit call for action by governments, scientists, and average citizens, Hansen et al. go a large distance toward connecting the dots of current scientific and political discourse on climate change. They demonstrate why reductions delayed are far less meaningful than reductions now, how damaging the warming will be without these reductions, and the challenges presented by carbon extraction.

New Territory

For PLOS ONE, which has in the past primarily published biomedical research, this paper represents a broadening in scope. As often happens at our journal, it comes about in response to a need from the scientific community—in this case, the need to publish fully peer-reviewed climate research in a high-profile venue, fully accessible to the entire world for free.

Few areas can benefit as much from the force of Open Access as climate change research: the combination of public, scientific, and governmental interest with the mounting misinformation, unsubstantiated opinions, and unsourced data make public access to original, well-reported, and peer-reviewed climate change research of utmost importance. We hope that this paper will be the first of many that deal with this rapidly growing area of multidisciplinary research.

Call for Papers

To facilitate this objective, we are drawing on the findings of Hansen et al. to announce a call for papers in a new PLOS ONE Collection entitled, ‘Responding to Climate Change.’ The Collection will incorporate the broad range of areas covered in Hansen et al.’s paper, with a particular focus on work aimed at reducing fossil fuel emissions and returning the Earth and its ecosystems to a state of energy balance.

Areas in the call for papers include,

– atmospheric chemistry

– alternative energy research

– geoengineering

– science policy

– behavioural psychology

– economics of carbon trading

– ecosystem and habitat conservation

PLOS ONE’s wide subject matter scope and broad publication criteria make it a perfect venue to collate and curate relevant articles in these vastly differing areas of research into one place. Our hope, which we share with the Hansen and colleagues, is that by encouraging and facilitating further research, replication, and sharing of both positive and negative results, this Collection will become a catalyst for continued climate research and policy formation, and will, as the authors suggest, lead to an energy-conservative, habitable, and thriving climate that can be sustained for many generations to come.

Submission Guidelines

If you wish to submit your research to the PLOS Responding to Climate Change Collection, please consider the following when preparing your manuscript:

  • All articles must adhere to the Publication Criteria of PLOS ONE.
  • Standard PLOS policies and relevant publication fees apply to all submissions.
  • Submission to PLOS ONE as part of the Responding to Climate Change Collection does not guarantee publication.

All papers should be submitted to PLOS ONE, with a clear statement in the cover letter that they are intending to submit to the Responding to Climate Change Collection. This will ensure that the staff will be aware of your submission to the Collection.

Please contact PLOS Collections ( if you would like further information about how to submit your research to the PLOS Responding to Climate Change Collection.

Citation: Hansen J, Kharecha P, Sato M, Masson-Delmotte V, Ackerman F, et al. (2013) Assessing “Dangerous Climate Change”: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature. PLoS ONE 8(12): e81648. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0081648

Image Credits (clockwise from upper left): Shundong Bi, Jin Meng, Sarah McLean, Wenyu Wu, Xijun Ni, Jie Ye. PLOS ONE. January 2013. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0052625; Tom Schils. PLOS ONE. October 2012. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0046639; George Sangster, Ben F. King, Philippe Verbelen, Colin R. Trainor. PLOS ONE. February 2013. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0053712; Thomas Vignaud. PLOS Biology. April 2011. 9(4)

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