Dr. James Hansen Appeals to Obama on Climate Change
by Charles Lemos, Thu Jan 01, 2009 at 08:52:55 PM EST
Dr. James Hansen, head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and of one of the world's most prominent and vocal advocates of tackling global climate change head-on, has written jointly with his wife a lenghty letter addressed to both Barack and Michelle Obama. The letter is a personal appeal that warns the President-elect of the "profound disconnect between actions that policy circles are considering and what the science demands for preservation of the planet". The introduction of letter notes that Dr. Hansen has advised governments previously through regular channels but the urgency of the situation now dictates a "personal appeal."
The letter was released to The Guardian and published as well on Dr. Hansen's website at Columbia University.
Calling climate change "the most important matter of our times," Dr. Hansen encourages the President-elect to undertake three policy directives to address climatic change. First, Dr. Hansen calls for a moratorium and phasing out of coal-fired power stations that do not incorporate carbon capture adding that this step is "the sine qua non for solving the climate problem." Continuing to build coal-fired power plants, which he calls "factories of death," would "raise atmospheric carbon dioxide to a level at least approaching 500 ppm (parts per million)" and lead to "the extinction of perhaps a million species." Current carbon dioxide levels are 385 ppm up from 280 ppm in the pre-industrial period. Dr. Hansen concludes that an urgent geophysical fact has become clear: "burning all the fossil fuels will destroy the planet we know."
Second, he proposes a "carbon tax and 100% dividend" scheme. The idea is to tax carbon at the source, then redistribute the revenue equally among taxpayers, so that high carbon users are penalized while low carbon users are rewarded with a rebate. However, the carbon tax is revenue neutral apart from administrative costs for the Federal government. According to Dr. Hansen, high fossil fuel taxes are essential to "decarbonize" the economy but they are also required to "spur innovation as entrepreneurs compete to develop and market low-carbon and no-carbon energies and products." He adds that "the carbon tax has social benefits. It is progressive. It is useful to those most in need in hard times, providing them an opportunity for larger dividend than tax."
Finally, Dr. Hansen urges a renewed research effort into fourth generation nuclear plants (4th GNP), which can "burn" nuclear waste, leaving a small volume of waste with a half-life of decades rather than thousands of years as with current nuclear plants. Noting that extensive R&D is still required (the plants are unlikely to come on-stream before 2030) but Dr. Hansen argues that only a substantial effort to develop 4th GNP will wean China and India off coal-fired power plants.
In the letter, Dr. Hansen argues strongly against a "cap and trade" system stating that such a system will generate "special interests, lobbyists, and trading schemes, yielding non productive millionaires, all at public expense." The full letter is at the UK Guardian.
If you're interested here's an analysis of cap and trade versus carbon tax from the World Watch Institute.