did you become an activist?" I was surprised by
the question. I never considered myself an activist. I am a slow-paced
scientist from the Midwest US. Most of my relatives are pretty
can imagine attitudes at home toward "activists".
Dr. James Hansen:
I an activist for caring about my grandchildren's future? I guess I am.
had I been suckered into being an "activist"? Weren't there other
ways to do things in a democracy?
James Hansen: Why I must speak out about climate
change - TED video
about to protest the characterisation – but I had been arrested,
more than once. And I had testified in defence of others who had broken the law.
Sure, we only meant to
draw attention to problems of continued fossil fuel addiction. But
there other ways to do that in a democracy? How had I been sucked into
grandchildren had a lot to do with it. It happened step by
step. First, in 2004, I broke a 15-year self-imposed effort to stay out
media. I gave a public lecture, backed by scientific papers, showing
to slow greenhouse gas emissions – and I criticised the Bush
its lack of appropriate policies. My grandchildren came into the talk
props – holding 1-watt Christmas tree bulbs to help explain climate
months later I gave another public talk – connecting
the dots from global warming to policy implications to criticisms of
fuel industry for promoting misinformation. This time my grandchildren
rationalisation for a talk likely to draw ire from the administration.
explained that I did not want my children to look back and say: "Opa
understood what was happening, but he never made it clear."
had become clear was that our planet is close to climate tipping
points. Ice is
melting in the Arctic, Greenland and Antarctica, and on mountain
worldwide. Many species are stressed by environmental destruction and climate change.
Continuing fossil fuel emissions, if unabated, will cause sea levels to
and species to become extinct beyond our control. Increasing
vapour is already magnifying climate extremes, increasing overall
precipitation, causing greater floods and stronger storms.
climate requires restoring our planet's energy balance.
The physics is straightforward.
The effect of increasing carbon dioxide on Earth's energy imbalance is
confirmed by precise measurements of ocean heat gain. The principal
is defined by the geophysics, by the size of fossil fuel reservoirs.
put, there is a limit on how much carbon dioxide we can pour into the
atmosphere. We cannot burn all fossil fuels.
Specifically, we must (1) phase out coal use rapidly, (2) leave tar
the ground, and (3) not go after the last drops of oil.
needed for the world to move on to clean energies of the
future are feasible. The actions could restore clean air and water
But the actions are not happening. At
first I thought it was poor communication. Scientists must
not have made the story clear enough to world leaders. So
I wrote letters to national leaders and visited more than
half a dozen nations, as described in my book, Storms of My
I found in each case was greenwash – a pretence of concern about
policies dictated by fossil fuel special interests.
situation is epitomised by my recent trip to Norway. I hoped
that Norway, because of its history of environmentalism, might be able
real action to address climate change, drawing attention to the
the words and pseudo-actions of other nations.
I wrote a letter to the prime minister suggesting that
Norway, as majority owner of Statoil, should intervene in its plans to
the tar sands of Canada. I received a polite response, by letter, from
deputy minister of petroleum and energy. The government position is
tar sands investment is "a commercial decision", that the government
should not interfere, and that a "vast majority in the Norwegian
parliament" agree that this constitutes "good corporate
governance". The deputy minister concluded his letter: "I can however
assure you that we will continue our offensive stance on climate change
both at home and abroad."
Norwegian grandfather, upon reading the deputy minister's
letter, quoted Saint Augustine: "Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice
to virtue." The
Norwegian position is a staggering reaffirmation of the
global situation: even the greenest governments find it too
address the implication of scientific facts.
becomes clear that concerted action will happen only if the
public, somehow, becomes forcefully involved. One way citizens can help
blocking coal plants, tar sands, and the mining of the last drops of
fossil fuel addiction can be solved only when we
recognise an economic law as certain as the law of gravity: as long as
fuels are the cheapest energy they will be used. Solution therefore
rising fee on oil, gas and coal – a carbon fee collected from fossil
companies at the domestic mine or port of entry. All funds collected
distributed to the public on a per capita basis to allow lifestyle
and spur clean energy innovations. As the fee rises, fossil fuels will
phased out, replaced by carbon-free energy and efficiency.
carbon fee is the only realistic path to global action. China
and India will not accept caps, but they need a carbon fee to spur
and avoid fossil fuel addiction.
today, instead, talk of "cap-and-trade with
offsets", a system rigged by big banks and fossil fuel interests.
Cap-and-trade invites corruption. Worse, it is ineffectual, assuring
fossil fuel addiction to the last drop and environmental catastrophe.
the executive and legislative branches of our
governments turn a deaf ear to the science, the judicial branch may
best opportunity to redress the situation. Our governments have a
responsibility to protect the rights of young people and future
look forward to standing with young people and their
supporters, helping them develop their case, as they demand their
and fight for nature and their future. I guess that makes me an
* * *
* * *
James Hansen has headed NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New
York since 1981 and is also an adjuct professor in the Department of
Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University.
Taken from a Guardian article August 26 2010
and used here with permission. See
Also, James Hansen - Climate change is a moral issue on a par with
slavery - link