I got a lot of responses to my first Memo to James Hansen on his ill-conceived and unhelpful opposition to Waxman-Markey.  Needless to say, it gives me no joy to criticize the nation’s top climate scientist, a man who inspired me to write my book and this blog, a man whose work is reprinted more than anyone else’s on this blog (see partial list of links at the end).

I discuss below what we can learn from the experience with the global effort to save the ozone layer, which also began with a far-too-weak effort that was strengthened over time, much as I expect a U.S. climate bill like Waxman-Markey will be.

But first:  I wasn’t going to post again on Hansen, but then I saw that WattsUpWithThat, perhaps the country’s top anti-science blog, had reposted Hansen’s entire new attack on cap-and-trade (see Jim Hansen calls Cap and Trade the “Temple of Doom”).

Now Anthony Watts is one of the hard-core deniers.  Not content to simply dispute the science with disinformation, he publishes and republishes attacks on climate scientists like Hansen himself.  Indeed Watts said ealier this year that Hansen is “no longer a scientist” and called on NASA to fire Hansen.  But then Watts routinely smears all climate scientists, approvingly reprinting denier manifestos that claim global warming “is the biggest whopper ever sold to the public in the history of humankind” — see Diagnosing a victim of anti-science syndrome (ASS).

To all those who think my post or my word choice was inapproprite, I ask, what exactly should I do when someone like Hansen publishes a post titled “Worshipping the Temple of Doom“?   He uses language that is more appropriate for attacks on deniers than on the many serious people struggling to craft a politically possible piece of energy and climate legislation:

Cap-and-trade is the temple of doom. It would lock in disasters for our children and grandchildren. Why do people continue to worship a disastrous approach? Its fecklessness was proven by the Kyoto Protocol. It took a decade to implement the treaty, as countries extracted concessions that weakened even mild goals. Most countries that claim to have met their obligations actually increased their emissions. Others found that even modest reductions of emissions were inconvenient, and thus they simply ignored their goals.

Why is this cap-and-trade temple of doom worshipped? The 648 page cap-and-trade monstrosity that is being foisted on the U.S. Congress provides the answer. Not a single Congressperson has read it. They don’t need to – they just need to add more paragraphs to support their own special interests. By the way, the Congress people do not write most of those paragraphs – they are “suggested” by people in alligator shoes.

Seriously.  Waxman-Markey was mostly written by people in alligator shoes?  Not.

Again, I repeat, Nobelist Al Gore, who also embraces a 350 ppm target like Hansen, combines political realism with his climate science realism, which is why he takes the exact opposite view that Hansen does — see Gore on Waxman-Markey: “One of the most important pieces of legislation ever introduced in the Congress … has the moral significance” of 1960s civil rights legislation and Marshall Plan.

Again, I simply don’t believe that Hansen is in a position to criticize anybody because he refuses to put forward a policy solution that would achieve 350 ppm (see “An open letter to James Hansen on the real truth about stabilizing at 350 ppm”).

Note Hansen’s core criticism:

The only defense of this monstrous absurdity that I have heard is “well, you are right, it’s no good, but the train has left the station”. If the train has left, it had better be derailed soon or the planet, and all of us, will be in deep do-do. People with the gumption to parse the 648-pages come out with estimates of a price impact on petrol between 12 and 20 cents per gallon. It has to be kept small and ineffectual, because they want to claim that it does not affect energy prices!

I must say that is just very, very naive or disingenuous, as I argued in Part 1.

Jim:  The reason the carbon price resulting from Waxman-Markey in, say, 2020 is going to be low has NOTHING to do with the fact that the bill is 648 pages long or that it utilizes the cap-and-trade approach. It has everything to do with the fact that the country lacks the political will for stronger action (thanks to the massive disinformation campaign, a feckless media, and poor messaging by scientists [not you], progressives, and environmentalists).

If Congress passed a carbon tax, it would have the same low carbon price and would ratchet up as slowly as under Waxman-Markey.

[As an aside, it is all but inconceivable that a carbon price will drive up the price of gasoline to get the kind of reductions needed in oil use (see EDF’s bizarre $10,000 contest: “What is a carbon cap and how will it cure our oil addiction?”).  Your own published work on the subject assumes, correctly, that peak oil will “deal” with conventional oil.]

Hey, does anybody know a great communicator, who might level with the public, explain
what is needed to break our addiction to fossil fuels, to gain energy independence, to assure a
future for young people? Who would explain what is really needed, rather than hide behind
future “goals” and a gimmick “cap”? Naw. Roosevelt and Churchill are dead. So is Kennedy.


You can read Hansen’s entire critique of cap-and-trade in his letter to Dr. Martin Parkinson, Secretary of the Australian Department of Climate Change.  I am sympathetic to many of his concerns, but most of them if not all of them would apply equally well to a politically plausible “simple carbon tax” bill as I argued in Part 1.

Again, Waxman-Markey is not going to get us to 350 ppm or 45o ppm.  But let me reprint what I wrote in Salon about the Montreal Protocol:


In 1974, climate scientists warned us that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were destroying the earth’s ozone layer, threatening to bring about a sharp increase in skin cancer. Within five years, the United States voluntarily banned their use in spray cans, and CFC production began to decline. But other uses for CFCs, as refrigerants and solvents, began driving up the demand again by the early 1980s.

In 1985, scientists discovered a hole in the ozone shield over Antarctica. As the National Academy of Sciences wrote, this was “the first unmistakable sign of human-induced change in the global environment period … Many scientists greeted the news with disbelief. Existing theory simply had not predicted it.”

Chlorine concentrations had been increasing over Antarctica for decades, up from the natural level of 0.6 parts per billion. Yet as Richard Benedick, President Ronald Reagan’s chief ozone negotiator, explained in a 2005 Senate hearing, “No effect on the ozone layer was evident until the concentration exceeded two parts per billion, which apparently triggered the totally unexpected collapse.” His ominous lesson for today: “Chlorine concentrations had tripled with no impact whatsoever on ozone until they crossed an unanticipated threshold.” The earth’s climate system is approaching many such thresholds faster than expected, which is why climate scientists are desperate that humanity act now.”

The stunning revelation of an ozone hole drove the world to negotiate the Montreal Protocol. The 1987 agreement called for a 50 percent cut in CFC production by 1999. Significantly, the protocol’s targets and timetables slowed the rate of growth of concentrations only slightly and would have still led to millions of extra skin cancer cases by midcentury. Further, the protocol allowed developing countries to delay implementing the control measures for about 10 years. It also required rich countries to give developing ones access to alternative chemicals and technologies, together with financial aid.

Nevertheless, President Reagan endorsed the protocol, and the Senate ratified it. By the end of 1988, 29 countries and the European Economic Community — but not China or India — had ratified it. The treaty came into effect the next year. But it took many more years of negotiations, continuous strengthening of the scientific consensus, and significant concessions to developing countries before amendments to the treaty were strong enough and had enough support from both rich and poor countries to ensure that CFC concentrations in the air would be reduced.

The analogy of the ozone layer and the Montreal Protocol to global warming and the UNFCCC process from Kyoto to Copenhagen is far from perfect — greenhouse gases are more integral to modern life than CFCs ever were. American politics has changed in two decades, and conservatives would no doubt unanimously oppose the Montreal Protocol today, especially without ratification by China and India. Yet this small first step by the rich nations jump-started a multiyear process that saved the ozone layer and prevented millions of cases of skin cancer.

So yes, I support the Waxman-Markey approach, warts and all, as a crucial first step for this country.  I’d like to see the bill strengthened now, but I’m certain it will be strengthened over the next decade and then strengthened again.  And again.  Supporters of it are not worshiping at the Temple of Doom.  They, like Gore, match scientific realism with political realism.