Citizen Action Monitor

Jim Hansen’s 4 proposed solutions to the fossil fuels CO2 emissions problem. Are they attainable?

Absent a rapid transition to safe, affordable clean energy, we can’t solve the world’s problems.

No 1966 Posted by fw, May 28, 2017

Dr. James Hansen

“We should put a rising price on carbon…. We need to put pressure on the government…. Nuclear power now exists in 25 countries. It needs to be made as safe as possible…. We need a third party which would say we won’t take any money from special interests.”Jim Hansen

On March 8, 2017, Dr, James Hansen, in a kind of climate change 101 address, a sweeping spectrum of climate change, talked for 50 minutes about what young people will have to do to take charge of the mess they will inherit from the boomers. His talk, titled, Global Climate Change: How Can Young People Take Charge of Their Future? was the keynote address of Williams College’s “Confronting Climate Change” year of inquiry.

Hansen, Adjunct Professor at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, where he directs the Program on Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions, is best known for his testimony on climate change to congressional committees in the 1980s that helped raise broad awareness of the global warming issue.

In Part 1 of this series, Hansen first outlined the global climate crisis, explaining why the crisis, although urgent, has largely been ignored, why there’s a need for a rapid reduction of CO2 emissions, and why a technically feasible solution is not even being proposed by Washington. Secondly, he briefly explained why the failure to act is a potential injustice to young people, to people living in southern regions of the globe, and to other species.

In Part 2, Hansen briefly highlighted more of “the frigging mess” boomers are leaving young people, this time in terms of the severe global impacts of a climate out of control. This 7:19-minute segment, begins at about the 5:41-minute mark of the full 72-minute embedded video, ends at the 13:00-minute mark. My transcript includes subheadings, text highlighting, and some but not all of Hansen’s slides.

In Part 3, Hansen acknowledges that the Western world’s high standard of living owes much to the cheap energy provided by fossil fuels. Moreover, affordable energy is essential if the developing world hopes to raise its living standards. If only fossil fuels did not emit CO2 emissions that cause life-threatening climate change. Our very survival depends on a transition from this dirty energy source. At present, it appears that clean renewables will not scale up fast enough to replace dirty fossil fuels: as Hansen points out, renewables are “still only a few percent” of total US energy supply.

In this, Part 4, climate scientist James Hansen proposes 4 potential solutions to the global fossil fuel sourced, CO2-driven climate change crisis that threatens life on earth. But one wonders how practicable, just how attainable these fixes are given the destructive influence of money power in US politics? To illustrate the negative impact of money in politics, Hansen tells of his meeting with then Secretary of State John Kerry to advocate for a carbon fee on fossil fuels. Hansen’s anecdote appears below in Solution 4 – “We need a third party”.

This segment begins at about the 35:50-minute mark, ends at the 46:46-minute mark — except for Solution 4, which is taken from the Q&A session at the end. My transcript includes added hyperlinks, subheadings, text highlighting, and some, but not all, of Hansen’s slides. The transcript text has been edited to render Hansen’s stop and start speaking manner more readable. Also cut from the transcript is the section in which Hansen talks about US democracy, starting at about the 28:43 mark. The full 72-minute video is embedded in this post.

To access the full video, but no transcript, click on the following You Tube linked title.


Climate Expert Jim Hansen explains the Climate Crisis, James Hansen address at Williams College, You Tube, May 20, 2017 (72 minutes)


[Hansen’s Four Proposed Solutions to the Fossil Fuels CO2 Emissions Problem]

SOLUTION 1 — Make fossil fuel industry pay for their pollution costs to society — Put a rising price on carbon

This problem could be solved very easily. The problem is the fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest energy to the public because they’re subsidized and they don’t pay their costs to society – the effects of air pollution, water pollution and climate change are not included in their price.

So, we should put a rising price on carbon. The simplest way to do it is just collect a fee from the fossil fuel companies at the domestic mine or the port of entry. That way you’re covering everything. There’s no leakage.

Distribute dividends collected, in equal amounts, to every legal US resident

And if you would give that money, an equal amount to every legal resident, then the effect is progressive because rich people have a bigger carbon footprint, they have bigger houses, they fly around the world. This would provide a big incentive for people.

70% of residents would get more in their dividend that they pay in increased prices for goods with high fossil fuel content

If you just took today’s distribution of energy use, about 70% of the people would come out ahead; they would get more in their dividend than they pay in increased prices. If they want to stay on the positive side, they have to pay attention to their carbon footprint. And that’s very easy to do. You just pay attention to the price of things on the shelves. Those things that have a high fossil fuel content will tend to get more expensive.

Benefits of fee and dividend solution – market-based, incentive to develop no-carbon products, stimulates economy

This is a transparent, market-based solution, which stimulates innovation. It would be a big incentive for entrepreneurs to develop no-carbon products. And it stimulates the economy. It’s been shown in economic studies that it would produce a few million new jobs, and increase the GNP [Gross National Product]. So there’s no reason not to do it. It’s the only way for a viable international approach because if we had a rising carbon fee in the United States, we would also put a border duty on products that did not have an equivalent carbon fee or carbon tax. That would encourage them to have their own fee so they could collect it themselves rather than have us collect the money at the border.

CO2 emissions still rising – they must come down rapidly to avoid high sea-level rise

It’s agreed by economists that that would work. But, in reality, what’s happening is fossil fuel CO2 emissions are still going up. What we realize is that this has to come down quite rapidly if you are going to avoid being committed to sea-level rise of many meters on a time scale which is somewhat uncertain.

SOLUTION 2 – The Children’s Trust lawsuit to put pressure on government

We need to put pressure on the government. With my oldest grandchild Sophie and 20 other young people, we filed a lawsuit against the federal government for violating the constitutional rights of young people, for life, liberty and property that are guaranteed by the Due Process of law clause, according to the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution. There’s also the equal protection principles, and the public trust doctrine. I’m quite sure we’re going to win this case in the Oregon District Court. And then it will likely get appealed to the Supreme Court

This is a way in which courts can try to affect the other branches of government that are not doing their job. But the courts seldom get far out in front of public opinion. So, it’s important that the public really understand this.

SOLUTION 3 – The case for nuclear power — More people have been killed in one day from carbon burning energy sources than in the history of nuclear power

I have to say something about nuclear power. There’s a quasi religion that has developed about nuclear power. There are 10,000 people per day dying from outdoor air pollution, which is mainly related to fossil fuel burning. And there are 10,000 people per day – 3.7 million per year – dying from indoor air pollution, mainly in India and China. That’s partly coal burning, and wood burning, and stick burning, and cow dung burning. Either one of those is more people killed in one day than have been killed in the 50- or 60-year history of nuclear power.

When passenger planes crash, you don’t stop building and flying planes

The Three Mile Island accident, which, if you believe the linear no-threshold theory, as many as two people in Pennsylvania might die early from cancer from that accident. The thing is, if airplanes crash you don’t decide to stop building airplanes. You try to figure out how to make airplanes safer. You don’t have to wear a parachute when you go on an airplane. It’s the safest way to travel – much safer than driving a car.

Presidents Carter and Clinton curtailed nuclear power R&D

The same thing with nuclear power. We know how to solve the problem with nuclear power. But Jimmy Carter cut off the R&D on advanced generation nuclear power. There was a little bit of work going on with Idaho National Laboratory but then Bill Clinton terminated that, because they completely buy the argument of Avory Lovins that you don’t need this — Renewables can do everything. We should let the market decide.

Nuclear power exists in 25 countries; technology improvements make it safer than ever

China and India are not going to get off coal use with solar panels. We should be leading the world. President Eisenhower started the Atoms for Peace program, and said we will need international agreements. And the United States was leading that. Nuclear power now exists in 25 countries. It needs to be made as safe as possible. It’s possible to do much better with the light water technologies that we have, which burn only six-tenths of 1% of the nuclear fuel. We know how to do this much better.

Young people must figure out how to overcome public fear and resistance to affordable, safe, carbon-free nuclear energy – our future may depend on it

It’s interesting that just this last week an article came out – does advocacy hurt the credibility of scientists?  It turns out that when you ask the scientists, being an advocate does not hurt your credibility – except in one case. If you advocate for nuclear power then your credibility plummets. When I gave a talk last week there was a big segment of the audience that started booing when the word “nuclear power” was mentioned. Of course, they knew I was giving a talk and that brought the whole quasi religious group to the talk.

Young people had better figure this out. If you get forced down a path where you don’t have any options – the world needs affordable clean energy or we can’t solve the world’s problems. 

SOLUTION 4 – We need a third party, one that won’t accept money from special interests [excerpted from the Q&A at the 55:31-minute mark]

In the case of Obama — when Obama was elected… all he did then was to tell Senator Kerry to push something through Congress. I went and talked to Senator Kerry and said you can’t do this cap and trade with offsets. It’s very ineffectual. You need to have an across the board carbon fee and you have to give the money to the public. And he finally said well that makes more sense but I can’t get one vote for that because [of] all the special interests…. It won’t work that way. That’s why I say we need a third party which would say we won’t take any money from special interests.  


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