Top climate scientist says business interests winning in climate change debate

By Alison Hawkes

Top climate scientist James Hansen has become increasingly political in effort to combat climate change. Photo: chesapeakeclimate on Flickr

NASA’s top climate scientist James Hansen took world governments to task for choosing business interests over the needs of future generations in the fight against climate change.

Speaking at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco this week, Hansen was promoting his first book, Storms of My Grandchildren, which mixes science with political observation in a way that one reviewer labeled “An Inconvenient Truth on steroids.”

“All governments are heavily under the influence of fossil fuel money,” said Hansen to several hundred scientists, many of them climate change researchers. “People are profiting from business as usual. They have much more influence on governments than my children and grandchildren or your children and grandchildren.”

After a 1988 Congressional testimony, the first to raise major awareness on climate change, Hansen ducked from public attention and buried himself in the science. He said it took him 15 years to remerge in the public eye, the second time sparking a high profile tiff with the Bush White House after he gave 2004 speech at the University of Iowa in which he complained about the muzzling of government climate scientists. At the 2006 AGU meeting in San Francisco, Hansen said without U.S. leadership, climate change would leave the earth a “different planet.”

Since then, Hansen has become increasingly outspoken and his delve into activism through participation in political demonstrations (in which he’s been arrested several times) has been both unusual and the subject of debate among normally reticent scientists. Hansen said he is donating all the proceeds from his most recent book to the climate change activist organization 350.0rg, which he considers “the most effective organization for getting the public’s attention.”

350 parts per million concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is now the number that Hansen and others are aiming for as the safe threshold. Hansen said that amount is only possible with the abandonment of coal and unconventional forms of fossil fuel that are now being exploited, like tar sands.

A big part of Hansen’s book is organized around his grandchildren (he showed numerous pictures of them in his slideshow). Hansen talks about the “intergenerational injustice” of leaving future generations with a world “they won’t be able to deal with.” Governments talk a good game about their intentions to solve the problem but Hansen notes “a huge gap between the rhetoric — what governments say — and reality.”

To that end, he doesn’t believe cap-and-trade legislation would work, and calls the strategy “more of business as usual.” He advocates instead to cap and price on carbon emissions, the proceeds of which would be paid out to members of the public as a kind of payment to cover the cost to society of having a warmer world.

The idea is not where most international climate change discussions have been going, although aid to developing countries to offset the negative impacts of climate change moved forward in recent global talks in Cancun, Mexico.

Tags: cap and trade, james hansen

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