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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

James Hansen: Remarks in the National Assembly of France, May 2010

Remarks in the National Assembly of France, May 2010

by James Hansen

The European Climate Foundation kindly helped arrange a discussion about global climate change at the French National Assembly while I was in Paris last week. The handout that I provided to the members is attached here. The principal points that I made were:

Climategate. Matters used in the past year to discredit climate science and reduce concern about global warming in the eyes of the public, upon closer examination, actually strengthen the case that rapid climate change is underway and warrants action by policymakers.

Matters addressed: (1) recent cold winter, (2) mountain glacier retreat (inordinate publicity re minor IPCC errors), (3) global temperature change (East Anglia e-mails).

Target CO2. Reality of ongoing global change, specifically: trends of Arctic sea ice, Antarctic and Greenland ice sheet mass balance, shifting climate zones, ocean acidification and coral reef deterioration, and Earth's energy imbalance all lead to the conclusion that the target atmospheric CO2 that humanity must aim for is less than 350 ppm. The ultimate target may need to be significantly less than 350 ppm, depending upon other climate forcings, but "<350 ppm" tells us what we need to know: fossil fuel emissions must be phased out as rapidly as possible.

Fossil fuel reservoirs. Implications of climate re exploitation of geophysical reservoirs of carbon: (1) coal emissions must be phased out rapidly, (2) unconventional fossil fuels, such as tar sands, cannot be exploited, (3) we should not go after every drop of oil/gas on the planet.

Reality. Governments worldwide are ignoring these conclusions from the science. In their policy discussions they seemingly do not appreciate a fossil fuel/economics "law" that is as sure as the law of gravity: as long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy, the world will keep burning them.

I did not write my talk, except the final few paragraphs, which were:

It is not my job to suggest policy, and I certainly will not interfere in French politics. However, I would like to note that we, the world, desperately need some nation to stand up and tell the other nations the truth: we cannot solve the climate/energy problem without a rising price on carbon, a tax. Cap-and-trade with offsets will not work. And China and India will never accept a cap – why should they, as long as their per capita emissions are much smaller than the West?* There needs to be a steadily rising price on carbon, with the money collected distributed to the public.

I think that it is my job as a scientist to connect the dots all the way with scientific objectivity using all empirical evidence. And it is my job, as a father and grandfather concerned about young people, future generations, and the other species that share our planet, to point out that the path the world is on, if we stay on it, guarantees that we will push the climate system beyond tipping points.

This is a moral issue, a matter of intergenerational injustice. Because of the inertia and slow response of the climate system, our generation burns most of the fossil fuels and reaps the benefits while future generations bear the costs. We, the older generations and our governments, cannot pretend that we do not understand this situation – we must accept responsibility.

Note: charts provided here (as PDF and Powerpoint) without discussion, because several people requested them. I will provide discussion of them in upcoming talks/papers, including how a fair, transparent and popular "carbon fee and dividend (green check)" would work.

*China, the United States and Europe need to agree to a carbon fee on their internal consumption of fossil fuels. Why would China agree: to avoid fossil fuel addiction, clean up its polluted air and water, avoid climate catastrophe, and economics (a leg up on clean technology).

Link to Dr. Hansen's other papers and slides from recent presentations:

Link to article and PowerPoint presentation:

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