Tax fossil fuels or risk kids' future: US climate scientist

October 4, 2016
The planet's three most dangerous greenhouse gases are rising, and fossil fuels must be taxed to protect children from the costly turmoil of rising seas and extreme storms, says world-renowned climate scientist James Hansen

Levels of the planet's three most dangerous greenhouse gases are rising, and fossil fuels must be taxed to protect children from the turmoil of rising seas and extreme storms, climate scientist James Hansen warned Tuesday.

Otherwise, young people face the "dubious" proposition of somehow sucking carbon dioxide from the air at a price tag of hundreds of trillions of dollars in the next century, said Hansen, who leads the climate science program at Columbia University's Earth Institute.

"The science has become crystal clear," Hansen told reporters on a conference call to discuss his latest research paper, entitled "Young People's Burden: The Requirement of Negative CO2 Emissions."

"We have to phase out carbon emissions over the next few decades," said Hansen, describing the actions of the US government up until now as "grossly inadequate."

Hansen, formerly of NASA, is suing the US government along with 21 youths across the country, including his 18-year-old granddaughter.

The suit alleges that by continuing to burn fossil fuels and causing climate change, the United States is failing to protect essential "public trust" resources such as clean air and water, thereby depriving future generations of their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property.

The paper, published Tuesday in Earth Systems Dynamics Discussion, has not yet been peer-reviewed, but Hansen said he wanted it released now because time is of the essence.

"Some people might object to discussing such a paper before it has gone through the peer-review process. But I am going to do that simply because we are running out of time on the climate issue," Hansen said.

Leaving 'a mess' for young people

The paper, authored by Hansen and 11 prominent climate scientists, warns that the global average temperature is already 1.3 degrees Celsius (2.3 Fahrenheit) warmer than pre-industrial times, defined as 1880-1920.

That is perilously close to the level agreed during last year's Paris talks, when global leaders committed to holding the increase of global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Meanwhile, the heat-trapping gases carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are all rising, ensuring more global warming in years to come.

Already, fossil fuel burning has unnaturally propelled the Earth to a temperature range last seen 115,000-130,000 years ago, "when sea level was six to nine meters (20-30 feet) higher than today," said the paper.

As a result, glaciers and ice sheets are melting, the oceans are acidifying and rising seas will engulf coastal cities worldwide in the coming centuries.

Climate change: the basics

"That's not fair. Today's adults benefit from fossil fuel burning and leave the waste for young people to clean up," said Hansen's granddaughter, Sophie Kivlehan, in a video message released along with Hansen's paper.

"We should be moving on to clean energy, leaving dirty energy in the ground."

'Like a cancer '

"The assumption that young (people) will somehow figure out a way to undo the deeds of their forebears has crept into and spread like a cancer through United Nations climate scenarios," said the paper.

In the absence of sharp cuts to emissions, future generations are saddled with figuring out some way to extract CO2 from the atmosphere in order to limit climate change, Hansen argued.

That would require risky, unproven technologies such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), at a price tag of between $104-570 trillion this century.

"It is a very dubious idea and the cost of it is not negligeable," Hansen said.

Proposed solutions

Hansen said the way to reverse course is to place a gradually rising tax on carbon and end government subsidies for polluting fossils fuels like coal, oil and natural gas.

"Make the price of fossil fuels honest. Stop subsidizing them. And make them pay their cost to society," Hansen said.

"If we put a gradually rising fee on carbon emissions, it will spur the business community and entrepreneurs and the public to develop carbon-free energies and energy efficiency, and it will spur the public to change their choices so that we move rapidly to reducing emissions and move to clean energy."

Hansen said he was optimistic that the lawsuit, organized by Our Children's Trust, will go forward.

In April, the case survived an attempt by the fossil fuel industry and US government to get it tossed out of court, and is currently under review by US District Judge Ann Aiken.

She heard oral arguments on September 13 and is expected to announce her decision by mid-November. Then, the case will head either to trial or appeal.

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12 comments

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Eikka
2.3 / 5 (6) Oct 04, 2016
Taxing anything is a sure way to keep it forever, because the government becomes dependent on the tax revenue. It won't cut the hand that feeds it, so it wouldn't make the decisions that would make fossil fuels go away. It's a simple economic trap. The government can't cut spending without losing voters, whereas it will gain voters by increasing spending, so the government expenses tend to go up over time with any new source of tax income.

Besides, a carbon tax will increase the price of energy, which will piss off the voters anyhow and make it more expensive to do anything, like drive to work to build more renewable energy. That's because renewable energy isn't yet a closed system that can produce itself: carbon is used to produce everything from concrete to steel and semiconductors, and so a carbon tax makes renewable energy more unattainable.

KCONNEEN
1 / 5 (1) Oct 04, 2016
The only road to stave off the worst effect of climate change is nuclear power. The 1940s cowboy days of nuclear research yielded weapons and a minor effort at power generation. Power generation research is barely funded and yet has shown that a concerted, expensive engineering effort can provide the world with safe, cheap and carbon free power. We know that if we change a couple of thing there will be no hydrogen explosions or graphite fires. These two, hydrogen explosions and burning carbon caused Chernobyl and Fukushima to spread radioactive material.
ddaye
5 / 5 (1) Oct 04, 2016
The warnings and suggested courses of action --and the suggested agents for implementing that action-- are orders of magnitude apart. If the required changes are to be implemented gracefully, the only actors in position and practical power to do it are the owners and investors of the dirty carbon industries. Their interests dominate the funding of politicians to get into power so even if we were to try to leverage government to take the lead, the politicians can't act unless dirty carbon allows them to do it. It's an unconscionable squandering of precious time and energy to convince governments that lack the basic power and position to act sufficiently even after convinced. The case needs to be put to global business ownership who in concert may be able to find ways to get the job done. Nobody else can, not soon enough.
Anonym
2.7 / 5 (7) Oct 12, 2016
Can't believe anybody still takes Hansen seriously. This guy has been the Chicken Little of "climate science" since the '60s ---- only then, he was howling about how we were all going to freeze to death because of global COOLING caused by carbon --- not CO2 but soot. He was equally convinced of this, until he wasn't. Oops. Not cooling. Warming. Not warming. But catastrophic warming. If you can't see this agit-prop chameleon for the Club of Rome sock puppet that he is, you have been blinded by "science."
greenonions
5 / 5 (4) Oct 12, 2016
Anonym
only then, he was howling about how we were all going to freeze to death because of global COOLING
Do you have any support for that assertion? You may be interested in this link - http://www.skepti...70s.html
Anonym
1.8 / 5 (5) Oct 12, 2016
"Skeptical Science" sounds redundant, but in the case of that website, it is simply misleading; the site is anything but skeptical.

I was alive and paying attention in the late '60s. Hansen's particulate model was used to validate the theory of global cooling, which was the consensus expectation. He didn't dispute the model's output, so he must have believed it was predictive. OK, the howling came later.

Global coolers and global warmers are the same people: they believe the End can only be averted by making energy use a luxury. Seems like they've gone back to believing that we can placate the gods with human sacrifice. But I don't see them volunteering to lie on the altar. I do see them generating enormous "carbon" emissions jetting around the world to spread their gospel. Humble scientist Hansen, I notice, is earning over a million a year as an activist. Al Gore has tens of thousands of square feet to heat and cool in his many homes. What sacrifice?
gkam
2.3 / 5 (6) Oct 12, 2016
" they believe the End can only be averted by making energy use a luxury. "
---------------------------
Just the opposite: With alternative energy, they are not indebted to foreign nations, nor in hock for dirty fuels. Alternative energy is the power of the people, not the corporate masters.
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (2) Oct 13, 2016
Global coolers and global warmers are the same people: they believe the End can only be averted by making energy use a luxury
@anonym
i can understand your reluctance to accept the word of a person, however, this comment is absolute rubbish.

there may well have been people who "believed" in global cooling because [insert claim] but there is ample evidence to support global warming

it aint about "belief" at all, it's about evidence and science

as someone who accepts the science and the evidence, i am what you would consider a "global warmer", and i am not advocating that "making energy use a luxury" is a good thing. we need to use energy - the world is driven by the need for energy
... but we also need to accept that our use caused problems and continuing the same use is making things worse

we need to do something about CO2 as well as continue to research greener energy sources... and i don't discount nuke power as a temp fix
greenonions
5 / 5 (2) Oct 13, 2016
Anonym - my question was "Do you have any support for that assertion?" You did a nice little tap dance - lots of anecdotal - but not one shred of support. Skeptical Science provides links - and evidence for their assertions. Deniers prefer to talk about what they personally remember from 40 years ago. Of course you don't like the site - it disputes your rubbish - with support.
antigoracle
1 / 5 (1) Oct 14, 2016
Skeptical Science provides links - and evidence for their assertions. Deniers prefer to talk about what they personally remember from 40 years ago. Of course you don't like the site - it disputes your rubbish - with support.
-- onion jackass hee....hawwws again.
This jackass knows all the science and all the links, yet he boasted about his 1200 mile, CO2 spewing jaunt, during which he emitted over a tenth of the US annual average, in JUST 2 DAYS. Now, the jackass thinks that by braying at the heretics he's saving the world.
dustywells
1 / 5 (1) Oct 16, 2016
greenonions
Anonym - my question was "Do you have any support for that assertion?" You did a nice little tap dance - lots of anecdotal - but not one shred of support
It seems to me that you are the one doing the "tap dance."
Anonym's answer: "Hansen's particulate model was used to validate the theory of global cooling, which was the consensus expectation. He didn't dispute the model's output" is supported by the link you provided.
greenonions
not rated yet Oct 16, 2016
dustywells - obviously you did not read the link I provided. Saying that Hansen's model was used to validate this theory - is like saying his pen was used to write the paper - and therefore he is responsible for the paper. Please show evidence of Hansen claiming that we are headed for an ice age. Please show evidence for
This guy has been the Chicken Little of "climate science" since the '60s ---- only then, he was howling about how we were all going to freeze to death because of global COOLING caused by carbon --- not CO2 but soot.
Then moving the goal post - and saying well some other scientist used Hansen's model to predict global cooling does NOT support that statement. You and Anonym are incapable of following an argument. Anonym has NOT supported his/her false assertion - but has done a tap dance.

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