UPDATE:  Hansen just won The Sophie Prize (see below).

The country’s top climatologist, NASA’s James Hansen, writes in HuffPost:

The predominant moral issue of the 21st century, almost surely, will be climate change, comparable to Nazism faced by Churchill in the 20th century and slavery faced by Lincoln in the 19th century. Our fossil fuel addiction, if unabated, threatens our children and grandchildren, and most species on the planet.

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I have no doubt that this will be the predominant moral issue of the 21st century.  In general, though, I don’t think it’s a good idea to compare un-comparable things, like unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions and slavery and Nazism.

That’s especially true in a blog post (on a highly trafficked website) that doesn’t actually make the scientific case or even link to the scientific case, either of which HuffPost would have allowed.  I wish Hansen would spend more time articulating the science, where he is a credible expert and where the public polling has dipped a tad, and less time opining on policy, where he isn’t an expert and where public support remains high (see “Memo to policymakers: Public STILL favors the transition to clean energy“).

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Hansen has long decried cap-and-trade, and so his strong criticism of cap-and-dividend, while it may be surprising to some, is at least consistent:


But so far Congress has been steamrolled by special interests. Congressional leaders add giveaways in their bills to attract industry support and specific votes. The best of the lot, the Cantwell-Collins bill, returns 75 percent of the revenue to the public.But it is still a cap-and-trade scheme, and its low carbon price and offset-type projects create little incentive for clean energy and would have only small impact on carbon emissions.

I and others have criticized the low carbon price, but I was wondering when somebody would point out that Cantwell-Collins uses offset-type projects.

That said, making compromises to attract “support” and “votes” to pass legislation is something politicians must do, but scientists don’t.  By rejecting this core component of our political process, Hansen renders himself irrelevant.  It does, however, leave Hansen free to propose something that is politically inconceivable.

The fundamental requirement for solving our fossil fuel addiction and moving to a clean energy future is a rising price on carbon emissions.

Can’t argue with that.

An essential corollary to the rising carbon price is 100 percent redistribution of collected fees to the public — otherwise the public will never allow the fee to be high enough to affect lifestyles and energy choices. The fee must be collected from fossil fuel companies across-the-board at the mine, wellhead, or port of entry. Revenues should be divided equally among all legal adult residents, with half-shares for children up to two per family, distributed monthly as a “green check”. Part of the revenue could be used to reduce taxes, provided the tax reduction is transparent and verifiable.

He’s starting to lose people here.

The fee-and-green-check approach is transparent, fair and effective. Congressman John Larson defined an appropriate rising fee. $15 per ton of carbon dioxide the first year and $10 more per ton each year. Economic modeling shows that carbon emissions would decline 30 percent by 2020. The annual dividend then would be $2000-3000 per legal adult resident, $6000-9000 per family with two or more children.

I suppose as an intellectual exercise, this might have value, though again it would be nice if he actually linked to a study.  In any case, as a contribution to public policy, this is just wasting everybody’s time.

This bill wouldn’t get double digit support in either the House or the Senate.  It is just brutal to businesses, among other things.  Here’s the kicker:

The public, if well-informed, can be expected to support this policy.

Damnit, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a miracle worker!

Seriously, though, this single sentence explains why Hansen is wasting his time with this blog post, indeed with focusing virtually all of his piece on policy.

The scientific community has utterly failed to inform the public well, as Hansen knows better than most (see “Publicize or perish: The scientific community is failing miserably in communicating the potential catastrophe of climate change“).  Yes, much of this is the fault of the status quo media and a staggeringly well-funded disinformation campaign that borrows the best of the tobacco industry’s tactics to blow smoke in the public’s eyes.

But scientists need to go back to job one — messaging well on science.  And that is something Hansen has been doing longer and better than most (see links below).

UPDATE:  Hansen just won the $100,000 Sophie Prize:

James E. Hansen (born 1941) has played a key role for the development of our understanding of human-induced climate change. In his early career he researched atmospheres of other planets, but began studying Earth’s climate as evidence of possible human effects emerged in the 1970s. As early as 1988 he presented results for the American congress testifying to the probability that human-induced climate change was a threat to the planet. His clear message has met resistance, and he experienced censorship of his scientifically based statements during the Bush-administration.

–  Researchers that have warned against climate change have for many years had to endure great personal costs in the US. Still James Hansen has chosen to warn us against the threat of human-induced climate change. He is an example to follow. Hansen is the person that has made it impossible for us to tell our grandchildren that we did not know what we were doing, says chair of the Sophie Prize Nina Drange.

Dr. James E. Hansen is an outstanding scientist with numerous scientific articles published in high-ranking journals. His conscience, and later his role as a “concerned grandfather”, has committed him to combine his research with political activism based on personal conviction. This has led him to participate in political demonstrations against coal mining, and has made him testify in court in defence of demonstrators using civil disobedience to stop the building of new coal-fired power plants in the UK. In 2009 he published the book STORMS OF MY GRANDCHILDREN – The truth about the coming climate catastrophe and our last chance to save humanity.

Industrial development has led
to an increased concentration of COin the atmosphere. The preindustrial level was 275 ppm (parts per million), but we now have a concentration of 387 ppm. This is continuously increasing. Based on his research Hansen has concluded that 350 ppm is the upper limit of CO2concentration in the atmosphere if we are to avoid dramatic climate change. This limit has inspired the formation of the world-wide movement 350.org, that were very involved in lead-up to the Copenhagen Summit.

Hansen strongly believes that we need to phase out our coal mining and let fossil reserves stay in the ground. If all reserves of oil, gas and coal that still exist on this planet are used and the emissions are let out into the atmosphere it will be the end of our civilization. Still “some see it as their God-given right to harvest and burn all fossil fuels that are within their territories”, states Hansen.

The Sophie Prize is awarded to one or several persons, or an organisation, which has created awareness of alternatives to modern-day development and/or initiated such alternatives in a pioneering or particularly inventive manner. The Sophie Prize is an annual environment and sustainable development prize (US$ 100.000). This is the thirteenth time it has been awarded. The prize was established in 1997 by the author Jostein Gaarder and Siri Dannevig.

Kudo to our top climatologist for a well deserved award.

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