Thursday, 3 December 2009

Climate scientist James Hansen hopes summit will fail

James Bone in New York

A leading scientist acclaimed as the grandfather of global warming has denounced the Copenhagen summit on climate change next week as a farce.
James Hansen, the director of Nasa’s Goddard Insitute for Space Studies, told The Times that he planned to boycott the UN conference because it was seeking a counter-productive agreement to limit emissions through a “cap and trade” system.
“They are selling indulgences there. The developed nations want to continue basically business as usual so they are expected to purchase indulgences to give some small amount of money to developing countries. They do that in the form of offsets and adaptation funds.” he said.
Dr Hansen, 68, the fifth of seven children of an Iowa farmer, joined Nasa after taking his PhD to study Venus but changed course when he realised that man-made emissions were choking the atmosphere on his own planet.

He was one of the first voices to raise the alarm about rising global temperatures in the early 1980s, forecasting correctly that the planet would warm in the coming decades.
Next week he publishes his first book, entitled Storms of my Grandchildren, warning that “our planet, with its remarkable array of life, is in imminent danger of crashing” and declaring, “It is our last chance”.
He decries the cap and trade system envisaged by governments trying to “seal the deal” at Copenhagen as ineffective in stemming carbon emissions. Under such systems, governments set limits on overall emissions and polluters trade quotas among themselves.
“The fundamental problem is that fossil fuels are the cheapest form of energy. As long as they are, they are going to be used,” he said. “It’s remarkable. They refuse to recognise and address the fundamental problem and the obvious solution.”
He dismisses government announcements of national targets for greenhouse gas emissions as promises that will not be kept, noting that even Japan missed its goals under the Kyoto Protocol. He said that it would be better for the summit to fail rather than reach the type of cap and trade-based system envisaged.
“If they sign on to anything like they are talking about then it’s definitely counter-productive. Any time you start down that path, it’s time wasted. We would do better taking a year time-out and figuring out a better path.”
Dr Hansen, an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Earth Institute in New York, argued that the only effective way to control global warming was to institute an increasing “carbon tax”, not “cap and trade”.
“We are going to have to move beyond fossil fuels at some point. Why continue to stretch it out longer?” he said. “The only way we can do that is by putting a price on carbon emissions. The business community and the public need to understand that there will be a gradually increasing price on carbon emissions.”
He proposes that the “carbon tax” start at the equivalent of about $1 per gallon of petrol but rise in future years. The tax revenues should be returned directly to the public in the form a dividend, he said.
He added that the world must be prepared to abandon coal unless its emissions are captured and embrace a new generation of nuclear power.
Dr Hansen, who was a young post-doctoral student at Columbia University at the time of student unrest against the Vietnam War on the campus in the late 1960s, said that government inaction on global warming called for similar “civil resistance” now. He said: “That is the kind of activism we need.”