‘Father of global warming’ defends carbon tax and nuclear power

Renowned climate change scholar and environmental activist James Hansen spoke Thursday night at Indiana University at South Bend (IUSB) for the annual Bender Lecture, urging young people to take action to fight climate change.

Henry Scott, chair of the IUSB Department of Physics and Astronomy, introduced Hansen, the 2022 Bender Fellow-in-Residence. Scott recounted Hansen’s education and career, in particular his decades of work as the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

“I suspect everyone here knows that Dr. Hansen is often referred to as the ‘father of global warming’. I hope it is also known that this is deserved to raise awareness and no one here expects an apology,” Scott joked.

Scott discussed Hansen’s pivot to study Venus and help send a satellite to photograph the veiled planet.

“As you may know, Venus is amazing and frankly, terribly hot. As Dr. Hansen worked to improve our understanding of why this is so, he turned his attention to Earth and how its atmosphere can change over time due to human influences,” Scott said. “More than 40 years ago, he was the lead author of a paper that concluded that increasing carbon dioxide levels in Earth’s atmosphere would lead to more warming than previously predicted. And this was just one of nearly 170 papers published in journals during his career.”

Hansen began his talk by talking about his larger goals.

“I’m going to skip what I wrote for the notes here because, you know, we need to get young people to understand that they can actually influence the future, and they need to. And it is possible,” Hansen said.

In a wide-ranging lecture on the legacies of various presidents as well as his education and career, Hansen widely warned of the challenges of fossil fuel addiction.

He also discussed his process and philosophy as a scientist.

“To be successful, you have to use all the data. Be very skeptical of your interpretation and honestly reassess from scratch when new data becomes available. And your preference, your ideology, your politics should not influence your assessment. This last point is difficult. For most people, even scientists,” Hansen said.

Reviewing the risks of warming oceans, rising sea levels, the threat of species extermination and the planet’s belts becoming unlivable, Hansen said he was aware of the value of fossil fuels.

“Now, to be positive, abundant energy has enormous benefits. Fossil fuels are actually wonderful and they have been a boon to mankind. The Industrial Revolution raised the standard of living in much of the world. The energy source was initially coal and in the 20th century oil and gas added to the party, and their condensed energy is comparable to that of coal and it is more convenient.A gallon of gasoline contains l ‘equivalent to 400 hours of work by a healthy adult. So fossil fuels are raising the standard of living in half the world and the other half wants to go that way, and they have the right to raise their standard of living. life,” Hansen said. “So fossil fuels are wonderful, but they also cause a problem. So what should we do?”

Hansen pointed to the lack of progress in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, saying the quantitative reduction by countries like the United States was simply a function of moving production overseas to countries like the United States. India and China. These shows are now appearing on other countries’ tallies, he says.

“CO2 emissions are not counted in the US total; they are counted as part of China and other countries. In the future, emerging economies will be the source of most emissions. So we have to work with China, India, Indonesia, Vietnam and the other fast-growing economies. In fact, in the West, we have an obligation to do this because we are using more than our fair share of the carbon budget,” he said.

In the end, Hansen’s plan boils down to two major political reforms. First, he says it’s imperative to include the cost to society in the price of fossil fuels, a plan he calls the carbon royalty and dividend, previously billed as the carbon tax and dividend. .

“The practical way to do this is to collect a royalty from the fossil fuel companies at the sources, which are a small number: national mines and ports of entry. And for that to work, that money would have to be distributed to the public so that they have the means to meet rising fossil fuel prices,” he said.

“So if the United States and China agreed on a carbon tax increase, the climate problem would be well on the way to being solved,” Hansen added.

Second, Hansen emphasized the need for nuclear energy, arguing for its promotion and development, and related technologies.

“History shows that once a good nuclear power plant design is approved, nuclear power offers the fastest way to decarbonize due to the massive amount of energy provided by a single plant. De facto cooperation between China and the United States has brought down the cost of solar panels, wind and wind power. We can do the same for nuclear energy,” he said.

Hansen spoke at length about fears about nuclear power, referring to the statistics of minimal damage from nuclear power, especially compared to current methods of power generation.

“Ten thousand people die every day due to indoor air pollution. Many deaths are similar to those due to smoking, very unpleasant for the victim and his family. Ten thousand people in one day are more than killed by the nuclear energy in 50 years,” he said.

Hansen also spoke of his frustrations with the current political system, particularly with campaign contributions – which he dubbed “legalized corruption”. He promoted the idea of ​​the emergence of a third party and preferential voting. He also spoke about the political power of students and other young people.

“They have tremendous political power, even high school kids,” Hansen said.

Hansen closed his remarks with a call to action from young people, before taking questions from audience members.

“It will depend on the young people to understand the situation. You can’t just say, “Climate change is important to us, please fix it,” because then they come up with the solution that vested interests are ready to implement. And it’s not okay,” he said.

Contact Isa Sheikh at [email protected]


Teresa H. Sadler