Madeline Ostrander interviewed James Hansen for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Madeline is YES! Magazine’s senior editor. Before the text of the interview, she introduces YES! readers to Dr. Hansen.
The following is a Zemanta enhanced version of the introduction with the usual added images, captions, and Easter eggs by yours truly, plus, as extra special holiday bonus, some snarky interjections.
NASA climate scientist James Hansen never expected the U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen to amount to much. He told the British Guardian newspaper that it would be better if Copenhagen failed. That’s because Hansen is a vocal critic of the economic policies discussed there, and he hopes Copenhagen’s failure gives the public a chance to talk about new options.
Hansen is arguably the world’s best known and most respected climate scientist. Sometimes called the “grandfather of climate change,” he began modeling the effects of warming three decades ago and first testified about climate change before Congress in 1988. He was one of the key figures to blow the whistle on the Bush Administration for censoring science and trying to muzzle warnings about the urgency of the climate crisis.
In the past few years, Hansen has expanded his activities outside the laboratory and into the political fray. In June, he was arrested after marching at a rally against mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia.
The Massey site is quite proximate to Marsh Elementary School, thus well-chosen as the spot for more arrests, to include the arrest of NASA’s chief climate scientist. By quite proximate we mean the elementary school playground, in which several hundred protesters gathered, is less than 300 feet away from Massey Energy’s Goals Coal preparation plant.
This blog also would like to interject that he developed a very simple method for evaluating climate change policy, which this blog refers to as the Hansen Test. One question, “Does the action (or inaction) allow coal to continue to be used and emit CO2 in the atmosphere?”
The fact that he is a renown spokesperson emphasizing the critical importance of reducing coal emissions is reason enough for his statements to be attacked. Back to the introduction of Dr. Hansen to YES! readers.
More recently, he has become a leading opponent of cap-and-trade, a market approach to greenhouse gas regulation that puts a limit on how much carbon can be emitted and then allows polluters to trade permits to emit. Hansen claims the approach ultimately will not produce the kinds of emissions cuts the world needs to avoid catastrophic climate change. It will simply allow “polluters and Wall Street traders to fleece the public out of billions of dollars,” he says. He is especially critical of the large number of offsets available under the current policy proposals, which allow polluters to pay for emissions reductions elsewhere in the world. He points to some offset schemes that have led to fraud, giving credit for pollution reductions that never actually happened.
Hansen is championing an alternative solution called fee-and-dividend, which would impose a fee on any pollution source (mines, ports of entry) and distribute the revenue back to the public. Both fee-and-dividend and cap-and-trade attempt to reduce carbon emissions by raising the price of fossil fuels, but Hansen insists the former is simpler and less vulnerable to speculation and gaming.
Advocates of cap-and-trade have been dismissive of Hansen’s arguments. David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council says Hansen is simply wrong about cap-and-trade, insists the approach has been effective in the European Union, and maintains that the leading bills now before Congress have enough safeguards to avoid market manipulation. Economist Paul Krugman accuses Hansen of naïve thinking: “hard-science guys tend to assume that [economists are] witch doctors with nothing to tell them.”
Coal,” says a foremost climatologist, NASA’s James Hansen, is the single greatest threat to civilization and all life on our planet.”
Hansen has faced off critics before. He is not alone in his critique. Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine, says that “carbon-trading represents an unprecedented privatization of the atmosphere, and … offsets … threaten to become a resource grab of colonial proportions.” The Indigenous Environmental Network calls cap-and-trade a false solution “that will allow the fossil fuel industry to continue to do what they do—drill, baby, drill.” In November, two longtime U.S. EPA attorneys published a video online calling cap-and-trade “a huge mistake.”
The point of re-posting the YES! introduction? Well, Dr. Hansen got his wish. At least, the part about COP15 failing to introduce carbon trading on a global scale. This blog is unsure whether his proposal could work; a knee jerk response is that it fails because it is an intervention designed to protect life on the planet as we know it, rather than finding away to afford the real limousines to the soiree after a 2-week conference fails miserably.
BTW: Calling James Hansen naive is like calling Amory Lovins stupid. You possibly could be right in some way, yet very much run the risk of being tarred with the same brush. Beside, if you asked Hansen if he is an expert on international economics or policy, no doubt he would disavow such expertise. Unfortunately, for 3 decades he has seen a failure of climate policy, and, so believes it necessary to speak out. And, quite frankly he is correct that a fee on the raw material mined or drilled would be a deterrent.
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- James Hansen, In His Own Words (treehugger.com)