Articles by 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.
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.
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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.