A fork in the road – James Hansen

On the grounds that it’s too important not to repeat (and because it’s all too easy to not follow hyperlinks), I offer you the recent words of Dr James E Hansen, written in response to yet more nonsense penned by a VSP (very serious person). Bold text added by yours truly.

A Fork in the Road

We stand at a fork in the road. Conventional oil and gas supplies are limited. We can move down the path of dirtier more carbon-intensive unconventional fossil-fuels, digging up the dirtiest tar sands and tar shales, hydrofracking for gas, continued mountain-top removal and mechanized destructive long-wall coal mining. Or we can choose the alternative path of clean energies and energy efficiency.

The climate science is crystal clear. We cannot go down the path of the dirty fuels without guaranteeing that the climate system passes tipping points, leaving our children and grandchildren a situation out of their control, a situation of our making. Unstable ice sheets will lead to continually rising seas and devastation of coastal cities worldwide. A large fraction of Earth’s species will be driven to extinction by the combination of shifting climate zones and other stresses. Summer heat waves, scorching droughts, and intense wildfires will become more frequent and extreme. At other times and places, the warmer water bodies and increased evaporation will power stronger storms, heavier rains, greater floods.

The economics is crystal clear. We are all better off if fossil fuels are made to pay their honest costs to society. We must collect a gradually rising fee from fossil fuel companies at the source, the domestic mine or port of entry, distributing the funds to the public on a per capita basis. This approach will provide the business community and entrepreneurs the incentives to develop clean energy and energy-efficient products, and the public will have the resources to make changes.

This approach is transparent, built on conservative principles. Not one dime to the government.

The alternative is to slake fossil fuel addiction, forcing the public to continue to subsidize fossil fuels. And hammer the public with more pollution. The public must pay the medical costs for all pollution effects. The public will pay costs caused by climate change. Fossil fuel moguls get richer, we get poorer. Our children are screwed. Our well-oiled coal-fired government pretends to not understand.

Joe Nocera was polite, but he does not understand basic economics. If a rising price is placed on carbon, the tar sands will be left in the ground where they belong. And the remarkable life and landscape of the original North American people will be preserved.

Joe Nocera quoted a private comment from a note explaining that I could not promise I would be back in New York to meet him. But he did not mention the contents of the e-mail that I sent him with information about the subject we were to discuss. The entire e-mail is copied below.

Jim Hansen

Joe, Here are some relevant words from the draft of a paper that I am working on:

Transition to a post-fossil fuel world of clean energies will not occur as long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy. Fossil fuels are cheap only because they are subsidized and do not pay their costs to society. Air and water pollution from fossil fuel extraction and use have high costs in human health, food production, and natural ecosystems, with costs borne by the public. Costs of climate change and ocean acidification also are borne by the public, especially young people and future generations.

Thus the essential underlying policy, albeit not sufficient, is for emissions of CO2 to come with a price that allows these costs to be internalized within the economics of energy use. Because so much energy is used through expensive capital stock, the price should rise in a predictable way to enable people and businesses to efficiently adjust lifestyles and investments to minimize costs.

An economic analysis indicates that a tax beginning at $15/tCO2 and rising $10/tCO2 each year would reduce emissions in the U.S. by 30% within 10 years. Such a reduction is more than 10 times as great as the carbon content of tar sands oil carried by the proposed Keystone XL pipeline (830,000 barrels/day). Reduced oil demand would be nearly six times the pipeline capacity, thus rendering it superfluous

A rising carbon price is the sine qua non for fossil fuel phase out, but it is not sufficient. Investment is needed in energy RD&D (research, development and demonstration) in new technologies such as low-loss smart electric grids, electrical vehicles interacting effectively with the power grid, and energy storage for intermittent renewable energy. Nuclear power has made major contributions to climate change mitigation and mortality prevention, and advanced nuclear reactor designs can address safety, nuclear waste, and weapons proliferation issues that have limited prior use of nuclear power, but governments need to provide a regulatory environment that supports timely construction of approved designs to limit costs. etc.

Jim Hansen

(I personally disagree with Dr Hansen on the pursuit of nuclear power on the grounds that it’s just one more nail in humanity’s coffin. But my opinion isn’t worth diddly squat anyway… so I’ll shut up.)

With thanks to Dwight Towers and Grist for helping to try to rein in the insanity.

About pendantry

Phlyarologist (part-time) and pendant. Campaigner for action against anthropogenic global warming (AGW) and injustice in all its forms. Humanist, atheist, notoftenpist. Wannabe poet, writer and astronaut.
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17 Responses to A fork in the road – James Hansen

  1. ccgwebmaster says:

    Unless I’m missing something there isn’t an arbitrarily unlimited quantity of nuclear fuel even if we could magically build all the infrastructure and meet the worlds growing energy needs without all sorts of headaches that nuclear tends to bring.

    The evidence seems increasingly clear that we aren’t at a fork in the road – we committed to the wrong path quite some time ago now so the fork is behind us, and any other choices we have now are increasingly difficult and improbable to the point where it seems sensible to assume they simply won’t ever get made (as far simpler and easier choices were neglected over the last few decades and some).


    • pendantry says:

      Hmm… I did wonder whether my aside about the nuclear power question might take this down a side route — my apologies for having introduced that. But I don’t think that Jim Hansen is suggesting that nuclear power is the answer; he’s merely pointing out that fossoil is most definitely not. And while I agree that it’s too late for any easy solutions to our problems, there are still hard choices that must be made. Business as usual can only end badly.


  2. Wendy Tinley says:

    Promise to read this later. 🙂


  3. Pingback: #Climate scientist James Hansen: “We’re forked” (not #Manchester -specific) | manchester climate monthly

  4. As day follows day and the evidence of where mankind is heading mounts week by week, there is left this feeling of utter incredulity that our so-called leaders from all around the world don’t just ‘get it’! Time is most certainly not on our side! Utter madness! (OK, I’ll crawl back in my hole!)


    • pendantry says:

      I think the only chance we have of helping our leaders to ‘get it’ is to crawl out of our holes, myself.

      Though I strongly suspect that many in The EstablishmentTM do get it, but are more concerned about the short term social impact (read ‘rioting in the streets’) of a population waking up to the fact that we’re heading for a cliff.


      • ccgwebmaster says:

        I’m certain they get it – note the infiltration of environmental protest groups by police spies, the gradual creep towards increasingly oppressive laws driving a surveillance led police state and the quiet manoeuvrings over critical resources such as Arctic oil and African farmland…

        The public are easily led, it’s a little like Neville Chamberlain returning to the UK declaring “peace in our time” to cheering crowds. One short year later, Britain entered the second world war. Things can change much faster than people think, and I am sure our lords and masters – the monkeys at the top of the socioeconomic pyramid – have no care for our survival, only their own.


  5. John Crapper says:

    You don’t have to apologize for introducing the nuclear issue. It is another fork in the road that we’ve made the mistake of going down in the past and must be corrected now. Those that still advocate going down this road are leading us down a dark false primrose path. There is a very excellent article I read yesterday (kind of long but well worth the time) that describes the personal day-to-day hardships and challenges faced by the people surrounding Fukushima. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/feb/24/divorce-after-fukushima-nuclear-disaster
    Those that still advocate going nuclear are in their own form of denial regarding our energy future.


    • pendantry says:

      Thanks for that link, John. I agree, that is an excellent article.

      Aiko understands the desire to regenerate the area and dispel negativity – but not at the cost of downplaying the disaster or the dangers it still poses. She is angry with the government and the power company, Tepco. She is also angry with herself and everyone else in Fukushima who colluded with nuclear power. “We are all responsible,” she says. “We voted for the plant to be built, we wanted the material benefits it would bring.”


  6. leavergirl says:

    It’s not too late! Watch this vid, it will rock your world! 22 min


    • pendantry says:

      “Not too late”? I’m not so sure. That’s a very interesting talk, but, as I was watching it, it occurred to me that the there’s a snag. For the idea to work, the concept of land ownership has to be chucked out of the window. I’m all in favour of that, myself, but once again we’re up against huge vested interests who will fight tooth and nail so that ‘their’ land isn’t taken from them.


      • leavergirl says:

        The idea is *already* working! Which is clear from the vid, no? Actually, when it comes to making this work, fences are essential. Either fences to bunch the critters up, or you need predators.

        Not that I am not with you on land ownership. It’s gotta go. But in the meanwhile…


        • pendantry says:

          I didn’t miss the point that it works. I have my doubts that it can be implemented on the scale required, fast enough. As Professor August Dvorak so astutely observed: people simply don’t want to change.


          • leavergirl says:

            Heh. I was all set to buy Dvorak, when I was getting my first Mac. They woulda had to special order it, and I did not want to wait. Just as well…

            Well, it can be implemented fast enough if people start wanting to. Nobody has to wait for the next guy to start. It does not require much. And it has zero drawbacks…

            If it gets toasty enough, people will, if they know about it… On the other hand, there’s always superbugs, waiting in the wings. C’mon plague! 😉


          • pendantry says:

            Point is… the dvorak layout has been around for 80 years and hasn’t taken off yet, so it’s not likely to. As you say, you would have had to wait, so you didn’t; and whenever I’ve been into a computer shop and have asked to look at their dvorak keyboards they look at me as though I have a screw loose. This ‘choice’ the free market fundamentalists keep whittering on about doesn’t exist if what you want isn’t on offer.

            Plague, yes: I think Douglas Adams was right. For all our fears we’ll get killed off by a superbug contracted from a dirty keyboard — hmm… *looks down* probably mine…


  7. Pingback: Goldilocks zone, planet, idea | Wibble

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