James Hansen

Dr. James Hansen is the director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Adjunct Professor at the Columbia University Earth Institute. These are his personal opinions, and they do not represent any organization.

Coal River Mountain Action

The story of our civil disobedience against mountaintop-removal coal mining

Several people asked for more information about the 23 June civil disobedience near Coal River Mountain. We need Dickens to describe the local situation, but you can glean something from a statement I was reading at the time we were arrested (reprinted below). Local pollution effects and regional environmental destruction should be enough to stop the practice of mountaintop removal. Vernon Haltom, head of Coal River Mountain Watch, provided the details therein. The group can make good use of any support. The bigger picture, including climate change, makes it clear that mountaintop removal, providing only 7 percent of United States …

Dear Barack and Michelle

An open letter to the president and first lady from the nation's top climate scientist

  29 December 2008 Michelle and Barack Obama Chicago and Washington, D.C. United States of America Dear Michelle and Barack, We write to you as fellow parents concerned about the Earth that will be inherited by our children, grandchildren, and those yet to be born. Barack has spoken of "a planet in peril" and noted that actions needed to stem climate change have other merits. However, the nature of the chosen actions will be of crucial importance. We apologize for the length of this letter. But your personal attention to these details could make all the difference in what surely will be the most important matter of our times. Jim has advised governments previously through regular channels. But urgency now dictates a personal appeal. Scientists at the forefront of climate research have seen a stream of new data in the past few years with startling implications for humanity and all life on Earth. Yet the information that most needs to be communicated to you concerns the failure of policy approaches employed by nations most sincere and concerned about stabilizing climate. Policies being discussed in national and international circles now, which focus on 'goals' for emission reduction and 'cap and trade,' have the same basic approach as the Kyoto Protocol. This approach is ineffectual and not commensurate with the climate threat. It could waste another decade, locking in disastrous consequences for our planet and humanity. The enclosure, "Tell Barack Obama the Truth -- the Whole Truth" [PDF] was sent to colleagues for comments as we left for a trip to Europe. Their main suggestion was to add a summary of the specific recommendations, preferably in a cover letter sent to both of you. There is a profound disconnect between actions that policy circles are considering and what the science demands for preservation of the planet. A stark scientific conclusion, that we must reduce greenhouse gases below present amounts to preserve nature and humanity, has become clear to the relevant experts. The validity of this statement could be verified by the National Academy of Sciences, which can deliver prompt authoritative reports in response to a Presidential request1. NAS was set up by President Lincoln for just such advisory purposes. Science and policy cannot be divorced. It is still feasible to avert climate disasters, but only if policies are consistent with what science indicates to be required. Our three recommendations derive from the science, including logical inferences based on empirical information about the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of specific past policy approaches.

Obstruction of justice

Virginian coal protesters receive B-minus plea bargain for Kingsworth-like activism

“You’re Hannah, right?” Hannah Morgan, a 20-year old from Appalachia, Virginia, was one of 11 protesters in handcuffs early Monday morning on Sept. 15 at the construction site for a coal-fired power plant being built in Wise County Virginia by Dominion Power. The handcuffs were applied by the police, but the questioner, it turns out, was from Dominion Power. “Mumble, mumble, mumble,” the discussion between police and the Dominion man were too far away to be heard by the young people. But it almost seemed that the police were working for Dominion. Maybe that’s the way it works in a …

Trumping old King Coal

Kingsnorth six acquitted in U.K. for coal-plant protest and vandalism

Good news from the U.K.: The Kingsnorth Six were acquitted by a Crown Court jury. They were members of a group of 23 Greenpeace volunteers who had attempted to shut down the Kingsnorth coal-fired power plant, specifically the six were the ones painting the smokestack with “Gordon Bin It” when interrupted by the police. Their defense was “lawful excuse”: that they were protecting property of greater value (the Earth!) from the impact of climate change. We will need our Mercedes-driving lawyer friends to tell us if the verdict has greater significance — but the jurors were common people, not politicians. …

Dear Governor Greenwash

Hansen: Governors aren’t getting it

My recent experience with governors raises a question about whether this is an effective way to communicate about climate change. (Apologies for the length -- you may skip the three tales and go to the bottom line.) Dear Governor Pawlenty [PDF] Minnesota Gov. Pawlenty presides over a population that appreciates nature. Explorer Will Steger has done a marvelous job of informing the public there about climate change in the Arctic, the threat of climate change to species and indigenous people, and the relevance of climate change to Minnesota. Early actions made it appear that Minnesota would be a leader, defining energy policies and directions that would be a great example for other states. Specifically (get this!), in spring 2007 Minnesota passed and Gov. Pawlenty signed a law called the Next Generation Energy Act of 2007, requiring 25 percent renewable energy by 2025 and a 1.5 percent per year improvement in energy efficiency. Some people used this to help paint Gov. Pawlenty green, second in greenness only to Arnold Schwarzenegger among Republican governors. Pawlenty, according to the Washington Post, is at the top of the list of candidates to be John McCain's running mate. Coincidentally, the Republican convention will be in Minnesota in September. But ... read on.

Yankee ticket prices and fossil fuels

Fossil fuel moguls inflate reserve estimates to prevent efforts to move beyond their products

When I was young, Yankee Stadium had ~70,000 seats. It seldom sold out, and almost any kid could afford the cheap seats. Capacity was reduced to ~57,000 when the stadium was remodeled in the 1970s. Most games sell out now, and prices have gone up. The new stadium, opening next year, will reduce seating further, to ~51,800. This intentional contraction is aimed at guaranteeing sellouts, increasing demand, allowing the owners, in pretty short order, to hike prices to double, triple, and more. The owners know that scarcity will fatten their wallets, even though it reduces the number of sales. This is more than a bit distasteful, as it discriminates against the lower middle class. Nevertheless, it should be a great stadium and as long as the owner is footing the bill without public subsidies for the stadium itself, we may have little grounds for complaint. The reason that I draw your attention to this practice is that fossil fuel moguls are intent on hoodwinking the entire planet with an analogous scheme. The basic trick is this: fossil fuel reserves are overstated. Government "energy information" departments parrot industry. Partly because of this disinformation, the major efforts needed to develop energies "beyond fossil fuels" have not been made.

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