March 29, 2008

James Hansen: Practical Moves to Halt Climate Change

James Hansen is one of the most respected scientists on the topic of climate change. His 1988 Congressional testimony (yes, 20 years ago) opened the policy agenda when he testified that he was 99% confident that the globe was warming and that human CO2 emissions were the cause. Despite documented attempts by the current administration to muzzle Mr. Hansen and others with messages inconvenient to what he calls “well oiled” politicians, he has continued to grow in respect and has refused to be silenced. That is largely because facts over the last 20 years have shown his predictions to be consistently and highly reliable.

He has just released a draft paper now available on Columbia University’s website, "Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?" In a short summary of his well-reasoned but technical paper (second link below), NRDC reports on his conclusions that current concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (about 385 ppm) are already in dangerous territory and that we should be aiming to lower concentrations back to 350 ppm, rather than aiming to stabilize them at about 450 ppm, as previously suggested.

In a separate short message, "Rampant Negativity -- No Reason to be so Glum," Hansen dismisses claims that halting climate change is impractical. “What nonsense,” he says in his non-technical message, where Hansen provides his guidance that is directly responsive to the coal plant proposal:

(more after the jump)

(quoting) “In this paper we show that if emissions from coal are phased out linearly between 2020 and 2050 atmospheric CO2 will not exceed ~450 ppm, with the exact peak CO2 depending on the true amount of oil and gas reserves, about which there is some dispute. (Long-term coal use is permitted, but only with carbon capture and storage). The ~450 ppm CO2 peak also depends on the assumption that the world does not turn to unconventional fossil fuels (such as tar shale) as fossil fuels are depleted. Emissions from unconventional fossil fuels so far are negligible (mainly a small bit from tar sands), and that will always be the case if an appropriate price is placed on carbon emissions.” (endquote)

He goes on with some specific advice:
(quote) “People can help assure that maximum CO2 stays close to 400 ppm by vociferously opposing oil drilling in environmentally sensitive regions such as the Arctic and Antarctic, on public land, in off-shore regions where states and other governments can foil the desire of oil companies to extract every last drop of oil, etc. Of course the most effective way to assure that we do not act as desperate addicts, refusing to move to the cleaner world beyond fossil fuels, tearing up the land for every last bit of fossil fuels, is via a significant and gradually rising price on carbon emissions.

Hansen continues:
“The public must take the lead, because there are so many “well-oiled” officials in our governments, and not just in the United States. To summarize the present and prior discussions, important things that the public can do are:
1. Fight for a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants,
2. Oppose extraction of fossil fuels in public and environmentally sensitive regions,
3. Vote for politicians who take the Stewardship pledge
– do not vote for “well-oiled” politicians who accept funding from fossil fuel interests.
” (endquote).

Those who have bet on James Hansen being wrong have usually lost. I am betting that he knows what he is talking about. Defeating domestic addicts seeking to sacrifice our children’s future for current jobs will be manageable. The hard nut to crack will be China, which is building new coal-fired plants every day. But the first step in getting your friend “clean and sober” is to get clean and sober oneself. Jan. 20, 2009 can’t come too soon.

Thanks to NRDC's Switchboard for the heads-up to Hansen's papers.

Posted by dougsimpson at March 29, 2008 11:10 AM