One of the world's leading climate change scientists
has called for a major overhaul of US climate change
Speaking exactly 20 years after he first told Congress
of the threat posed by global warming, James Hansen
warned that there are just one or two years left for
action to be taken before irreversible climate "tipping
points" are reached.
He told a US congressional briefing that the Earth's climate
had now reached "an emergency situation" and that
urgent action is required.
Hansen - the director of NASA's Goddard
Institute of Space Studies and one of the world's
most widely respected climate scientists - said that a carbon
tax would be the most efficient means of curbing carbon emissions.
"We have to level with the public that there has to be
a price on carbon emissions" - Hansen said. "That
is the only way we are going to begin to move toward a carbon
He added that a such a tax could be applied on coal, gas
and oil at the first point of sale or port of entry and that
the entire tax could then be returned to the public in the
form of a monthly dividend that they would then be incentivised
to spend on more energy and carbon efficient technologies.
Presidential candidates - John McCain and Barack Obama -
have both outlined plans for a cap-and-trade scheme as a means
of placing a price on carbon emissions, but Hansen argued
that a tax would represent a simpler and more effective means
of imposing the price signals required to drive demand for
lower carbon products.
He also called for a moratorium on coal-fired power plants
that do not include carbon capture systems - arguing that
the size of coal reserves meant that it posed a greater threat
than emissions arising from oil.
Moreover, he urged the next president to make the development
of a low loss electric grid based on emerging direct-current
high-voltage cables an imperative and called for an overhaul
of energy regulations to ensure utilities are rewarded for
promoting energy efficiency.
Hansen warned that without the urgent adoption of such measures,
the world's climate would be changed irreversibly, adding
that the atmosphere has already passed the "dangerous
level" for greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. He warned
that tipping points - whereby the increase in temperature
leads to an acceleration in future temperature rises - had
already been reached, citing the example of the warming effect
on sea temperatures resulting from the melting of the Arctic
He added that recent research had shown that the "safe
level" for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere stands not
at 400 - or 450 - parts per million (ppm) of CO2,
but rather at 350ppm - some 10 per cent lower than current
Particular ire was reserved for those energy firms that have
previously expressed doubt over climate change science. Writing
ahead of his address, Hansen said that the chief executives
of such firms should face criminal charges. "Instead
of moving heavily into renewable energies, fossil companies
choose to spread doubt about global warming - as tobacco companies
discredited the smoking-cancer link" - he said. "Methods
are sophisticated, including funding to help shape school
textbook discussions of global warming.
"CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are
doing and are aware of long-term consequences of continued
business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried
for high crimes against humanity and nature."