James Hansen on Clean Energy Politics: Excerpts from his paper “Strategies to Address Global Warming”


Dr. Hansen was arrested for trespassing on Massey Coal property in West Virginia at a mountaintop removal coal mining protest in June, and has since published a plea in the Huffington Post to President Obama to outlaw mountain top removal. His support of biochar is paramount.  Next to Al Gore, he is the most vocal advocate of government action to alleviate and prevent further stress on our planet.  As demonstrated in his paper, however, he does not simply support any policy measures taken; he warns that half-hearted attempts to create legislation can be more damaging to our efforts than no legislation at all.

“…I spoke with a German Minister.  We found that we were in good agreement with the startling conclusion that we are already moving into dangerous levels of atmospheric CO2.  Yet Germany plans to build more coal-fired power plants.  His rationalization was that they could “tighten the carbon cap” on cap and trade.  I pointed out that, if coal emissions continued, that cap would somehow have to force “Russia to leave its oil in the ground.  I asked how he would convince Russia to do that.  He had no answer.

“The Waxman-Markey bill fails the test in the same way as the German plans: it builds in approval of new coal-fired power plants!  There is no need for these plants except to enrich utility and coal special interests – they are included only because the monstrous 1400-page absurdity was hatched in Washington after energetic insemination by special interests.

Dr. Hansen has been a notable opponent of the Waxman-Markey bill, expressing doubt that the legislation will provide significant impact towards reducing atmospheric carbon concentrations.

“The truth is, the climate course set by Waxman-Markey is a disaster course.  It is an exceedingly inefficient way to get a small reduction of emissions.  It is less than worthless, because it would delay by at least a decade or two the possibility of getting on a path that is fundamentally sound from economic and climate preservation standpoints.

“A rising carbon fee is the best enforcement mechanism for building standards, and it provides an incentive to move to ever higher energy efficiencies and carbon-free energy sources.  A tipping point soon would be reached, with rapid phase-over to future post-fossil energy sources.  Tar shale would be dead and there would be no need to go to the extremes of Earth to find the last drop of oil.

Dr. Hansen’s remarks are particularly relevant vis a vis a recent study from West Virginia University which purports that coal mining in Appalachia is economically unprofitable (not to mention environmentally destructive).

“The geophysical boundary conditions dictate a course that causes coal emissions to be phased out expeditiously, although not necessarily coal use.  There should be an immediate halt to construction of coal-fired power plants that do not capture all emissions, including carbon dioxide.  Mountaintop removal, with its blasphemous environmental damage, should be banned – it provides only seven percent of United States coal, less than our exports.

“The truth is that the climate problem cannot be solved without taking on special interests, specifically the coal industry.  That is possible.  The coal industry is but a fraction of what it once was; alternative industries will be far more beneficial to the nation and provide better jobs.  President Franklin Roosevelt, for the general good, took on more powerful special interests.  Margaret Thatcher showed that the coal industry is not omnipotent.  This does not mean that coal workers should be abandoned – on the contrary, it would be straightforward to have programs in the affected states that provide support and opportunities for all of today’s coal workers.

“President Obama is our best hope, perhaps the only hope, of achieving real change in the near term.  But we have to level with him.  President Obama recently came out with a full- throated endorsement of Waxman-Markey.  Was he properly advised about its contents?  Perhaps so, but he chose to overrule the advice?  His Science Adviser, John Holdren, has said that he cannot discuss what he has said to the President.

“Al Gore probably has the strongest voice that the President would listen to.”

His paper, in addition to conceptualizing background on the climate situation and fossil fuel emissions, also provides insight into the discussion of civil disobedience in the green movement.  To read the paper in full, click on this .pdf link.

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