Views and debates on climate change policy
Home | Panelists | Staff Blog | RSS

Post Carbon

Top climatologist wishes Copenhagen negotiators all the worst

A famous climate scientist is so worried about climate change that he hopes the talks at Copenhagen fail

James Hansen, who is the director of NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies, is routinely called the grandfather of the science of climate change. But he isn't going to the Copenhagen climate conference. Moreover, he's hoping that the negotiations there fail.

He's given a bunch of interviews in the past two weeks along these lines. (These interviews not only coincide with the Copenhagen climate conference, but also with the publication next month of Hansen's book, "Storms of My Grandchildren.")

In the Times of London, Hansen said time put into negotiating a global cap-and-trade system is "time wasted." He reiterates his oft-stated view that a gasoline tax should start at $1 a gallon and rise from there. He would favor returning carbon taxes to people in the form of dividends. Hansen, who was arrested earlier this year for protesting against mountaintop coal removal at a Massey Energy site, said that government inaction on climate change called for "civil resistance."

In the Guardian of London, Hansen said, "The approach that is being talked about is so fundamentally wrong that it would be better to reassess." He compared the cap-and-trade approach that is being heavily promoted by European nations and congressional Democrats to the medieval Catholic practice of selling indulgences for people's sins.

He told the Huffington Post that the cap-and-trade approach to limiting greenhouse gas emissions isn't tough enough. Hansen said that it's taken a decade to just to put the Kyoto Protocols partially in place and that during that time emissions kept rising. He argues that cap and trade didn't work for sulfur dioxide emissions, often cited as a success story. Instead, he points to British Columbia's approach of putting a stiff tax on carbon that would be 100 percent refunded through cuts in payroll taxes.

Yesterday he again sounded the same theme. In an oped in the New York Times, he said that cap and trade "merely allows polluters and Wall Street traders to fleece the public out of billions of dollars."

Hansen has long portrayed the climate battle in stark, urgent terms. He raised a fuss in 2007 by equating coal freight trains to Nazi trains carrying people to "crematoria." He apologized and no longer uses the Nazi analogy, but he told Nature last month that his new book still refers to the trains as "death trains."


Steven Mufson

 |  December 7, 2009; 10:34 AM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Contrarians at the climate-gate | Next: EPA to formally declare danger of carbon emissions


Please report offensive comments below.

We should have one set of taxes for liberals - and one set of taxes for conservatives.


I think we all can agree on that - what do you say Nancy, Barbara and Harry?


Posted by: 37thand0street | December 7, 2009 9:59 PM
Report Offensive Comment

Hansen is frustrated after >20 years of advising Congress and others, and being muzzled by Bush/Cheney. I read his "death trains" testimony in Iowa. It's public. Search under Hansen and Marshalltown and you'll find the full text to make up your own mind. The real offensive people here are Inhofe and his ilk, who have been paid for decades to lie about things, thanks to the campaign contributions they receive from oil/ gas industry. Why isn't the Post "following the money"... The Post has been giving a platform to Inhofe for over a decade. I asked Juliet Elperin about this one time, when I saw her at a conference in DC. She said they had to, regardless of his cuckoo views, since Inhofe was a sitting US Senator.

I agree that the headline is misleading..but that's typical. Remember, newspapers' motto is "if it bleeds, it leads" so they have to create controversy, even where it may not exist.

Posted by: targhee42 | December 7, 2009 9:59 PM
Report Offensive Comment

Does anyone see any signs of insanity here ????


Posted by: 37thand0street | December 7, 2009 9:43 PM
Report Offensive Comment

James Hansen's views are extreme and frankly offensive. His equating coal trains with Nazi death trains was over the top. Apology not accepted.

Sorry, Dr. Hansen, you have abused your postion as a government scientist and are simply not to be trusted.

Posted by: AnotherContrarian | December 7, 2009 8:30 PM
Report Offensive Comment

He's correct that it should be at least $1 a gallon, and a literal carbon tax.

But an easier method would be to just impose a blanket carbon tariff on all imported goods - which tend to be shipped on ships using dirty bunker fuel we don't even measure the pollution from - one where non-signatory nations pay a 200 percent tariff on all goods and services, those that don't decrease emissions pay a 100 percent tariff on all goods and services, those reducing emissions by 0-9 percent pay a 20 percent tariff, those reducing emissions by 10-19 percent pay a 10 percent tariff, and those reducing emissions by 20 percent or more pay no tariff.

Then each nation can decide HOW they get there, and the costs are only on export.

That would be way simpler and if it had zero exemptions, would allow the invisible hand of the market to crush the Saudi and other terrorist-supporting nations beneath the invisible hand of capitalism.

Posted by: WillSeattle | December 7, 2009 8:00 PM
Report Offensive Comment

"in the end the additional pollution whether it be from the purchasing nation, or the selling nation, that's under the cap, will still add pollution to the earth's environment; thereby still increasing the pollution of the earth's one and only life-supporting system."

But Calp, it wouldn't be additional pollution - it would be capped at less than current amounts.

The point is to lower it, regardless of who is doing the polluting, or in what amounts. If your local power plant can't cut its pollution, and in fact, needs to pollute more, it can buy those credits from other polluters who can and will agree to pollute less - enough less to lower the overall pollution.

Give it numbers to make it easier: Say the power plant puts out 8 units. Two other factories put out 4 each, for a total of 16 units. Say the cap is at 12, and the power plants needs to increase to 9. It pays the other two to reduce to 1 1/2 units each, and gets to increase to nine. Total is now 12, meeting the cap.

Posted by: Pamsm | December 7, 2009 5:04 PM
Report Offensive Comment

Posted by: rbe1 | December 7, 2009 4:50 PM
Report Offensive Comment

Thanks for publishing both of my comments: at 3:58, and at 4:23. I now know that the 3:58 post was not considered offensive for publication. My apologies for thinking it might have been considered offensive when I did not see it when I checked just prior to the one at 4:23.

Posted by: CalP | December 7, 2009 4:27 PM
Report Offensive Comment

I would like some guidance for future comments. What is offensive about my comment that it would still be pollution whether it comes from a nation that is under or over the cap?

Posted by: CalP | December 7, 2009 4:23 PM
Report Offensive Comment

The earth has but one integrated environment. The fact that some small nation is not polluting would be used to allow some other nation to trade its extra pollution for the non-pollution by the smaller nation. However, in the end the additional pollution whether it be from the purchasing nation, or the selling nation, that's under the cap, will still add pollution to the earth's environment; thereby still increasing the pollution of the earth's one and only life-supporting system.

Posted by: CalP | December 7, 2009 3:58 PM
Report Offensive Comment

We are a decade behind in starting to deal with this problem. Hansen is understandably frustrated beyond words, as he knows how irresponsible humankind, and this country in particular, has been.

But the oil industry is now out of the White House, and it is time to start. Cap and trade may not be the whole answer, but it will start to rein things in. I agree that we need a dollar gas tax hike (with tax rebates for working class people to partially offset such a regressive structure). We have been children for too long, America. Time to grow up.

Posted by: B2O2 | December 7, 2009 3:43 PM
Report Offensive Comment

Hanson has clearly crossed the line, many times. Scientists are allowed to have value systems, but when their value judgments infect their science, the science has no value. "Death trains..." This guy is off the reservation and should be treated appropriately.

Posted by: daskinner | December 7, 2009 3:30 PM
Report Offensive Comment

I absolutely agree with Jim Hanson. It isn't that cap and trade is too weak. The problem is that it will not accomplish anything except the transfer of large sums of money from the poor to the rich.

Right now, we are accumulating environmental costs that will be mostly born by our children and grandchildren. We should tax those activities to bring their cost today in line with the actual cost.

Of course we have a real problem in that the entire earth's population pays the future cost, because some countries could get advantage simply by letting everyone else give them a free ride (no taxes). The solution to that is treaties, but will everyone agree? Probably not.

Posted by: reussere | December 7, 2009 3:02 PM
Report Offensive Comment

Its hard to believe that the all-caps crowd and poorly educated climate change deniers haven't found this post. I have no doubt that someone will post this headline (without reading the article) as more evidence that climate change is all a hoax.

Posted by: reussere | December 7, 2009 2:52 PM
Report Offensive Comment

In my opinion, anyone hyperbolic enough to refer to freight trains of coal as "death trains" is as far out in "looney field" as any of the stereotypical all-caps commenters. He is apparently the "left's" answer to Glenn Beck, Mark Levin, and others of that ilk; I question whether the Post should even be giving him a platform from which to postulate.

Posted by: LNER4472 | December 7, 2009 1:53 PM
Report Offensive Comment

Although I admit I thought the caps would come from the other side. I was blantantly wrong.

Posted by: fallschurch1 | December 7, 2009 1:12 PM
Report Offensive Comment


Posted by: fallschurch1 | December 7, 2009 1:11 PM
Report Offensive Comment

That really is a very Misleading Headline.

Par for the course?

Just like most of the Polls,
you have to dig into them
to see, the Headline is blantantly,

Civil Disobedience,
Henry David, we might have
something here,
a way to end Bush's Third Term,

Runaway Spending!
Escalating Unjust War!
Lip Service to Global Warming!!
Legislation to line the pockets
of Insurance Companies and Trial Lawyers!!

Posted by: simonsays1 | December 7, 2009 12:54 PM
Report Offensive Comment

Top climatologist wishes Copenhagen negotiators all the worst!

Deliberately misleading or just poor journalism?

A more accurate and HONEST headline would state:
"Top Climatologist Condemns Copenhagen Negotiations as Too Weak"

That, at least wouldn't be so obviously misleading!

Posted by: lufrank1 | December 7, 2009 12:46 PM
Report Offensive Comment

No comments yet?

Ahh, savor the silence before the all-caps crowd finds this spot . . .

Posted by: fallschurch1 | December 7, 2009 12:25 PM
Report Offensive Comment

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company