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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.

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  • A letter from James Hansen pleads for action on coal-fired power plants

    The following is a draft letter to UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, on the subject of proposed new coal-fired power plants. (A similar letter is in the works to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.) The author would appreciate feedback.

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    Dear Prime Minister Brown,

    Your leadership is needed on a matter concerning coal-fired power plants in your country, a matter with global ramifications, as I will clarify.

    For the sake of identification, I am a United States citizen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Adjunct Professor at the Columbia University Earth Institute. I write, however, as a private citizen, a resident of Kintnersville, Pennsylvania, on behalf of the planet and life on Earth, including all species.

    I recognize that you strongly support policies aimed at reducing the danger of global warming. Also Great Britain has been a leader in pressing for appropriate international actions.

    Yet there are plans for construction of new coal-fired power plants in Great Britain. Consummation of those plans would contribute to foreseeable adverse consequences of global warming. Conversely, a choice not to build could be a tipping point that seeds a transition that is needed to solve the global warming problem.

    Basic Fossil Fuel Facts

    The role of coal in global warming is clarified by a small number of well-documented facts. Figure 1 shows the fraction of fossil fuel carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that remains in the air over time. One-third of the CO2 is still in the air after 100 years, and one-fifth is still in the air after 1000 years.