James Hansen: The Wheels of Justice

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The wheels of justice turn slowly, but they turn.  The judicial branch of government can be agonizingly slow, yet lawsuits form a crucial front in the fight to assure a healthy climate and a bright future for young people and future generations.

Lawsuits against governments receive attention, deservedly so.  Our government is violating Constitutional rights of young people such as equal protection of the law and due process.

Dan Galpern, my legal adviser, and I argued at the recent COP25 meeting in Madrid that it is important to put increased emphasis on lawsuits against the fossil fuel industry.

My reason for such a focus is not to punish the industry, even though they may deserve it.  I am more interested in climate solutions, and the fossil fuel industry has the resources to become a big part of the solutions, if they redirect resources toward clean energy.

We cannot count on the government to do the investment and R&D fast enough.  Better innovation potential exists in the private sector, which the government should encourage.  An example is space launch capability.  NASA, predictably, became a government bureaucracy.  However, there were people in NASA smart enough to foster the private sector.  Result: we have innovative capabilities such as Space X, with launch costs reduced a factor of 10 – we no longer need to rely on Russia to launch our heavy payloads!

In my remarks at COP25, I pointed out that the President of Exxon Research and Engineering in 1982 correctly described the climate threat: the climate system is characterized by a delayed response and amplifying feedbacks.  Together these imply an urgency for anticipatory actions.

The obvious, crucial required action was development of carbon-free energy.  Instead, Exxon chose to invest in ‘fracking’ and continued reliance on fuels of ever greater climate footprint.  They complemented this with a disinformation campaign, including a pretense that they were working hard on clean coal and renewables, as I noted in Fire on Planet Earth, while knowing full well that global fossil fuel emissions would continue to rise.

How can we get industry to become a big part of the solution?  A combination of carrot and stick is needed.  A rising carbon fee will provide the carrot – momentum for that is growing – we even have Presidential candidates in the U.S. who actually understand carbon fee & dividend.

The stick can be lawsuits against the fossil fuel industry, for example as Dan Galpern discussed at COP25.  Dan and I have been working together for several years, via my non-profit CSAS.inc, which is separate from the CSAS (Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions) program that I direct within the Columbia University Earth Institute.  CSAS.inc permits us to pursue legal cases, such as the recent ones listed on the eyechart, and CSAS.inc also allows us to avoid overhead costs.    I will mention some of these cases in upcoming Communications.

Most of these past and ongoing cases tend to be defensive, e.g., efforts to block expansion of coal mining, tar sands development or deforestation.  We need to put more effort into offense.

Given the tremendous public support that we received recently (It’s A Wonderful Life) for CSAS, I am reluctant to seek support again in 2019 – but those who have not given, or who wish to contribute specifically to our litigation efforts, may wish to contribute to CSAS.inc. directly at https://donorbox.org/support-climate-science-awareness-and-solutions. Instructions for gift checks and wire transfers are available here.  Eunbi (ej2347@columbia.edu) can provide additional information if you have any questions on how to contribute.


James Hansen: Carbon Reality!

Our children must live in the real world. We cannot pretend we have fossil fuel replacements and “all that is needed is political will.” Eventually we will have energy cheaper than coal, but not today. Fossil fuels are a convenient energy source and can raise standards of living. If we are to phase down fossil fuel emissions rapidly, we must make fossil fuels pay their costs to society.

A viable strategy to rapidly phase down fossil emissions is an across-the-board (oil, gas, coal) rising carbon fee. These funds, collected from the fossil fuel companies, must be distributed, 100 per cent, to the public. Otherwise, the public will rebel, as ‘yellow vests’ demonstrated in France.

Merits of the carbon fee & dividend: it is progressive, as most low-income people get more in the dividend than they pay in increased prices. And, economists agree, it is, by far, the fastest way to phase down emissions. It stimulates the economy, creates jobs, and modernizes infrastructure.

The United States, China and the European Union are the big players on the global stage today. If, preferably, at least two of these three adopt a rising carbon fee, it can be made near-global via border duties on products from countries without such fee, and rebates to manufacturers on products shipped to countries without a fee. This would encourage most countries to have their own carbon fee, so they could collect the money themselves.

Will one of these three major players lead the way by initiating fee & dividend?

European Union: Citizens Climate Lobby, the Danish chapter, is spurring an initiative to collect one million signatures, which would force the European Parliament to vote on fee & dividend. They have a good start, 21,790 signatures, but they must get 1,000,000 by 6 May 2020.

Please visit https://citizensclimateinitiative.eu/ (add /dk for Danish version, /es for Spanish, /bg for Bulgarian, etc.) where it is possible to sign electronically – you must be European to sign.

It is hard to inform people about this one-by-one, but if enough organizations understand the carbon reality, they can get their memberships behind the ballot initiative.

Fig. 2. Cumulative per capita emissions in tons of carbon and cost of extraction in thousands of dollars per person from the air, assuming extraction cost of $123 per ton of CO2.

United States: Dan Miller and I submitted a response to a ‘Request for Information’ from the United States House of Representatives Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.

Citizens Climate Lobby in the United States now has more than 500 Chapters with more than 170,000 members. I believe that they can eventually get Congress to adopt a rising Carbon Fee & Dividend. Please consider joining CCL and adding your support to their efforts.

China: The merits of a carbon fee in China will include a huge reduction of air pollution, as well as reduction of carbon emissions. If the dividend is distributed uniformly, as in other countries, it will increase social justice. Wealthy people will lose some money, but they can afford it. The population as a whole will be glad to see the government taking action to deal with pollution and rewarding financially those citizens who make an effort to limit their carbon footprint.

The West must understand that China does not owe us any special effort. China now has the largest annual emissions, but climate change is proportional to cumulative emissions. China’s cumulative per capita emissions are far less than those of the U.S., U.K. and Germany (Fig. 2).

China’s greatest emissions are from coal burning, as they have massive energy needs for power plants and industrial heat. Their best hope to phase down those emissions is modern, safe nuclear power plants that shut down in an accident, such as an earthquake or tsunami, and require no external power to cool the nuclear fuel. Data show that nuclear power has been our safest power source, with smallest carbon footprint, but major improvements are possible. For mutual benefit, the United States and China should cooperate to develop modular reactors that would drive the price of nuclear power below that of coal (see Cao et al., Science 353, 547, 2016).


Wealthy Countries’ Approach to Climate Change Condemns Hundreds of Millions of People to Suffer
 ‘Blowing through our carbon budget’: Avoiding catastrophic impacts from warming gets harder as carbon emissions hit another record

Climate change: Should we sue politicians for crimes against humanity?

Amid mass die-ins, no-fly movements and Greta Thunberg sailing the climate emergency message across the Atlantic, there’s one route for tackling climate change we haven’t pursued, writes Jane Fae: through the courts

An iceberg floats by in Greenland, where the rate of glacier retreat has accelerated over the past several decades
An iceberg floats by in Greenland, where the rate of glacier retreat has accelerated over the past several decades ( Getty )

When we think about climate change, the headlines are all about the damage hurtling down the track towards us: the consequences and, sometimes, the difficulties of putting a solution in place. Technical difficulties. Financial difficulties. Political difficulties.

We treat these last as though they are as much a fact of nature as the damage wrought by a warming climate. Increasingly, though, serious jurists and campaigners are beginning to ask whether those who stand in the way of reform, of repairing our climate, should be considered culpable for their actions – and criminally culpable at that.

In short, is the time coming for coordinated international action against those who, for all sorts of reasons, do not just stand in the way of measures to mitigate damage, but actively promote damaging policies? How should we treat those who benefit the climate apathy of their leaders while simultaneously decrying the systems that keep returning them to power?

“Not OUR fault!” proclaim some of the nicest of nice people – ourselves included. But, as Extinction Rebellion and David Attenborough tell us, this is an emergency, so aren’t legal repercussions inevitable?

Is it so eccentric or extreme? From where we stand today, perhaps. From banning smoking in public to exiting the EU without a deal, how quickly yesterday’s outlandish becomes the commonplace of today.

Extinction Rebellion’s ‘die-ins’ have brought the climate emergency to the top of the news agenda (Getty)

In fact, the idea of taking action against climate change deniers is not new. One of the first to do so was climate scientist James Hansen, who argued powerfully in 2008 for fossil fuel CEOs to be tried for “high crimes against humanity”.

Meanwhile, the Association of Small Island States pluckily stood firm against global incompetence. They highlighted that those who refused to adhere to calls for action benefited the most from climate degradation, while many small island states face near-certain destruction.

Still, this can feel a bit detached from everyday reality: a theoretical future most of us won’t be around for, discussed in technocratic terms by academics and experts. A mere decade ago, concerns fell on deaf ears. (Now, Extinction Rebellion could not be more loud and clear.)

Climate activists staging a ‘die-in’ under the Natural History Museum’s blue whale in April, as part of a mass protest that brought parts of London to a standstill (AFP/Getty)

Back then the issues were too big, too frightening. The detail just too much for ordinary people – and many politicians – to grasp. Sure, the forecasts were clear enough. If we continue to pump greenhouse gases (GHG) into the atmosphere, humanity faces a series of disasters of ever-more-biblical proportions, from fire, floods and droughts to the ultimate rendering uninhabitable of large portions of the planet. We needed mitigation to address the causes of climate change (reduce emissions and remove them from the atmosphere) as well as adaptation to address the impacts of change.

...One significant intervention in this area comes from Netherlands-based Stop Ecocide, a law-based group working to make ecocide a crime under international law.

In the end, though, the letter of the law may count for less than the mood of the people. If Britain – or any other nation or organisation – were to invade another country and evict the local population, that would be an act of war, whether it was treated as one by international courts or not.

Last week a huge fire blazed through central Evia in Greece (AFP/Getty)
We are in the process of doing just that to millions of people across the world and, once those people join up the dots, from Trump walking out of the Paris agreement to Bolsonaro pushing ahead with the destruction of the Amazon rainforest to oil companies continuing business as usual, the resulting anger will be a wonder to behold.

How culpable are they? Does it matter whether this is ignorance or greed? Perhaps we do need to start being beastly to those being beastly to the planet. Americans, Brazilians… and maybe, before we get too smug, some Brits as well. MORE

James Hansen: Saving Earth

The case for a third party in the United States

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I must finish Sophie’s Planet this year, so I am writing few Communications. However, I make the draft of Chapters 31-34 available here, because my perspective of and conclusion about events in the 1980s differs from that of Nathaniel Rich in Losing Earth. I kept careful notes during that era and
subsequent years, so I am confident that what I write is accurate, but I would welcome corrections.

Earth was not “lost” ln the 1980s. Earth is not lost today, but time for action is short. Climate concerns in the late 1980s led quickly to the 1992 Framework Convention: all nations agreed to limit greenhouse gases to avoid ‘dangerous anthropogenic interference’ with climate. The problem was that neither the 1997 Kyoto Protocol nor the 2015 Paris Agreement directly addressed global energy policies. For the sake of young people, we must understand that failure and take appropriate actions.

It is wonderful that more people are waking up to the fact that we have a climate emergency. The emergency was clear more than a decade ago when it was realized that the long-term safe level of atmospheric CO2 was less than 350 ppm.

Already, we were well into the dangerous zone. Good policy-making requires an understanding of the time scales of change. The public tends tofocus on extreme weather and climate events, because of their great practical importance. However, the ‘existential threat’ of climate change derives from long-term underlying climate change that affects sealevel and the habitability of parts of the world, as well as the magnitude of extreme events.

In Sophie’s Planet I argue that the climate system’s inertia, i.e., its slow response to human-made changes of atmospheric composition, provides us the possibility to avert the existential threat of climate change. But to achieve that end we need to understand not only the climate system, but the time scales for change of the energy and political systems.

Why do I include political systems? My training in physics is relevant to climate and energy systems,but politics? I have witnessed a lot, and I took careful notes. The period includes the Clinton and Obama Administrations, which supposedly tried to address climate change. We need to understand the mistakes.

Political polarization makes solution of the climate problem more difficult. I doubt that political extremes represent most people. I make a case in Sophie’s Planet for a third party in the United States,aimed at making America America again. American leadership is needed to address climate change.

It will be a lot of work. Polarization did not come about instantly, and it cannot be fixed quickly. Groundwork includes changing to a ranked voting system, so third party candidates are never ‘spoilers.’ That requires changing some state Constitutions. The party should decide whether/when it is ready to field a presidential candidate. A third party with even a few representatives in Congress can begin to have a big impact. Initially it may be only a force for changing the major parties, but that is a lot. MORE