How Can Justice be Achieved for Young People and Nature?
February 25, 2016 | James Hansen, legendary for perceiving the threat of catastrophic climate change during his long career as NASA’s chief climatologist, delivered a Wrigley Lecture at Arizona State University in February 2016 detailing the latest climate-change developments.Related Events: Climate Change and Energy: How Can Justice be Achieved for Young People and Nature?
This presentation is brought to you by Arizona State University's Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, and a generous investment by Julie Ann Wrigley. Wrigley Lecture series. World-renowned thinkers and problem solvers engage the community in dialogues to address sustainability challenges.
Libby Wentz: I would like to get the evening-- or, I guess it's the evening. I think 5:00 can start as evening. Late afternoon, evening. With the Wrigley lecture. First of all, I'd like to mention who I am. Some of you know who I am. My name is Libby Wentz, and I'm the Dean of Social Sciences here at Arizona State University, in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. I'm also a professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. And I'm also one of the senior sustainability scientists here at ASU.
And it's really my pleasure to introduce to you, get this lecture series started. First of all, we've got a really impressive speaker. But we've also got a really impressive audience. We've got some really important people here. So I'm looking around. It's a pretty impressive group. The Who's Who, I think, is what somebody mentioned to me.
I want to say few words about the Wrigley Lecture Series. First of all, it's funded through the generous support of Julie Ann Wrigley. And the goal of it is really to bring world-renowned thinkers and problem solvers around issues of sustainability. And really engage the community, engage the people who are in this room, with important conversations about how we're thinking about strategies, and thinking going forward.
On how we select the Wrigley speakers, they're chosen by a committee of sustainability scientists, graduate and undergraduate students, as well as GIOS staff members and faculty. Of course, the goal is to stimulate our efforts in research and education, to ensure that our programs really meet the goals of our changing world. The Wrigley visitors offer much more than just the concluding remarks here. They've spent a considerable amount of time engaging with faculty, with students, and talking with people around the community, to really try to stimulate ideas, stimulate thinking and problem solving.
Our speaker this evening, Dr. James Hansen, will be introduced this evening by Mark Wilhelm, who is the Corporate Director for Sustainability and Climate Change Initiatives at Ameresco.
Ameresco. I'm proud to say that he's also a master's graduate of ASU's College of Architecture and Environmental Design, so he is one of our alumn. Mark is primarily responsible for bringing Dr. Hansen to the valley for this event, and several of the other important events this week. So I pass it to Mark for introducing our speaker. Thank you.
Mark Wilhelm: Thank you. It's an absolute honor to be up here, especially in front of this esteemed group, with this esteemed speaker. We've got a lot of agents of change I see out there, a lot of faces I recognize, and a lot of, I think, brain power and focus on sustainability, and, you know, what the heck, changing the world. So before I introduce Dr. Hansen, I would like to just say a few things to set the stage a bit.
I was fortunate enough to be a student of Buckminster Fuller. He was a professor and mentor of mine. And he felt that, through his work, he could change the world and help humanity. And that was really what drove him. That's how he was wired. And one of my favorite quotes that really puts this into perspective. He said, "You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." Let's let that sink in. It requires change. It requires moving off of incrementalism to transformation. It's brilliant.
And one thing is certain-- we do need change. We need a new model. Our current model is just not consistent with the reality of nature. We've created political, economic, and social systems, human constructs, that drive our reality. And we make more important decisions every day, based upon these systems. But not upon the natural systems that, for this moment, at least, support life on planet Earth. We know that our existing model is obsolete. We know that we are living in dangerous times. We know that we need a new model that allows life to flourish on earth for seven generations and beyond. We all must engage to make this happen. We must work to change the world, and benefit humanity, just like Bucky Fuller, and just like James Hansen.
Dr. James Hansen-- I'll tell you honestly, after being with him for several days-- is a skeptic and the truth-seeker, which, of course, means that he is a scientist. Jim is adjunct professor at Columbia University Earth Institute. He is a member of the National Academy of Science, and was formerly director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Jim is also an activist, and a truth-speaker. He's rightly regarded as the father of international awareness of climate change. In fact, it was his landmark congressional testimony in the late '80s that raised awareness of global warming, and helped to create generations of climate activists.
Now he's-- I'll share with you-- he's been arrested for his climate change activism on several occasions. But in 2006, Dr. Hansen was recognized by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people on earth. Jim speaks truth to power. He outlines actions that we must take to build a new model, and to protect the future for people, for young people, and for all species on this planet. So please join me in a low-carbon, but high-energy welcome for Dr. James Hansen.
James Hansen: Thanks. Yeah, after that introduction, I have to point out that, sitting over here, is Wally Broecker, who is really the grandfather of global warming. And not just that, but just of understanding of the earth system, and earth's climate system. But what I am trying to do is help young people understand not only what is at stake, but at the fact that it's not enough for you to tell political leaders that you want them, that this is an important problem, and please solve it. Because we had a chance when Obama was elected, because he owed his election to young people.
Unfortunately, nothing, frankly, nothing really significant has happened. We're still burning fossil fuels faster now than eight years ago. A lot faster. And OK. But let me try to make the story a little clearer. And my wife complained-- the last time I gave a talk, she was in the audience-- that you couldn't hear me, because I speak softly. If you can't hear me in the back, say so, and I can use a different device. OK.
So there are-- and, you know, I want to end up optimistically, because in fact, this is a solvable problem with measures that make economic sense, but they're not being pursued. But the stakes are. We have three potential, enormous injustices. One of them is the intergenerational injustices. Our parents didn't know that they were causing a problem with fossil-fuel burning, but we know.
And the problem is that the climate system has great inertia. The ocean is four kilometers deep. The ice sheets are a few kilometers thick. They don't respond quickly as we apply forces. They've only-- the warming that we will get from the gasses already in the atmosphere is only about half of what will eventually occur if we let the ocean and ice sheets come to a new equilibrium. So the danger is that young people are going to inherit a situation where change is out of their control because of the amplifying feedbacks in the system.
The north to south injustice-- I have a paper that will be published next Wednesday in Environmental Research Letters, in which we show that the change-- it's called "Regional Climate Change and National Responsibilities," and we show that the regional change is actually-- There's a squirrel in the roof.
Anyway, the point is that the nations at low latitudes did very little to cause the climate change, but they're the ones who are going to get the biggest impact. And then there's-- one species is potentially-- is that a squirrel?It's a skateboarder.
Oh, a skateboard. OK.
[INAUDIBLE] squirrel, they're bigger.
OK. You know, the IPCC estimates that if we stay on business as usual, by the end of this century, because of the combination of all the other stresses that humans are putting on species by taking over the planet, and the combination of that with shifting climate zones, could cause as much as a quarter to a half of the species to be committed to extinction. So that's a injustice.
Now, so, the bottom line is, we have to reduce fossil fuel emissions rapidly. And that's actually possible. It actually makes economic sense. I'll try to make that case. But, in fact, we're not taking the actions that would yield that result. So let me say a little bit about the two irreversible consequences of species extermination Our poor kids, poor young people, and this is a different situation than what us older people grew up. We could always look forward to a better situation than our parents had. Now we're kind of handing young people a situation where maybe they can maintain things, but there's a danger that things will really go downhill.
Now there's also the possibility-- the title of my talk started out with the word energy. Energy is really important. That's what raised standard of living, because we discovered fossil fuels, which were very valuable for replacing slavery and providing each person with the power of multiple slaves. And we raised standard of living of a significant fraction of the world. And now the other fraction also wants to raise their standard of living.
But these poor kids, my grandkids-- it's not a good idea to frighten them about things like global warming. Sorry. I don't mean to frighten you. We have some really young people in the audience today. You know, usually when I give a talk, I'm disappointed. The audience is old geezers.
Like me. But I'm glad to see there's some young people in the audience, even some very young ones. But anyway, I don't tell my grandchildren that there's a problem because they didn't cause the problem. And it's hard enough growing up without worrying about problems. Anyway, so what I do is I try to introduce my grandchildren to nature, because they spend too much time doing these computer things, rather than understanding what's outdoors and learning to love that. So we would plant milkweeds for the monarch butterfly, because that's one of the millions of species which are being threatened by climate change and other stresses.
And I don't spend too much time on this. But this one, the number of monarchs on the eastern part of the country has really decreased by more than an order of magnitude over my lifetime. I used to see 10 or 12 of them at the same time. Now, at most, you see one. But this one broken-wing female hung around our yard for a few weeks. And she produced about 25 caterpillars. And here is one of the males that came out of the chrysalis. And then these butterflies, they're remarkable. They summer in Canada, and they migrate all the way to this small, mountainous area in central Mexico where they winter. It takes four generations of them to make that round trip. And they find their way back to this a little, small region of fir trees. So how they do that is one of the remarkable things of nature.
But they have to eat along the way, and they had to go through these drought regions. Well, that winter, a lot of butterflies did make it to Mexico, as shown by this photo sent to me by a Mexican scientist. This is his grandson looking up at the butterflies. And he sees not only some butterflies, but that the trees are not doing so well. And this is one of the examples of where that part of Mexico's now been subject to increasing droughts. And these fir trees are not doing very well.
Anyway, so what has happened with the-- by the way, the stress on monarchs is caused by Roundup, a herbicide, which kills weeds, including milkweeds. That's why we were planting milkweeds. And so the number of monarchs has decreased by an order of magnitude. But the last year, the number did increase. I thought they might go extinct, because they don't travel in pairs. And they have to have a chance encounter between a male and female. But the number did increase. And now this winter it's going to be even more because there are special efforts to plant milkweeds. And they're even listed, I think, as a threatened species.
But we can't do that for all the millions of species. We have to have a planet that stays fairly similar to the one that's existed the last millennia.
Coral reefs are the rain forest of the ocean. There's more than a million species associated with coral reefs. And they are threatened by, again, multiple stresses. But they include warming of the ocean, and also acidification of the ocean, and some other things. So this is sort of typical that we have this combination. The rate at which we're pushing the system, with the way we're pouring greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, is more than a factor of 10 faster than any case we know about in the history of the earth. So is it's very unusual. And for the sake of those other species, as well as ourselves, we're going to need to actually reduce the rate of emissions, and actually the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.
But now let's say a little bit about the other thing that's irreversible on any time scale that humans would care about. And that's ice sheet disintegration. It takes thousands of years for ice sheets to build up from snowfall. So the basic problem is the ocean is getting warmer, and that melts the ice shelves. And the ice shelves are the tongues of ice that come out from the ice sheets into the ocean. And as those melt, those buttress the ice sheets on land. So if those melt, then the ice sheets can discharge ice to the ocean more rapidly.
So, for example, on Greenland, the area that has summer melt fluctuates from year to year with the weather, but in general, that area is increasing. The melt water will bore a hole in the ice sheet, and go to the base of the ice sheet, and lubricate and speed up the discharge of icebergs to the ocean. And we can now measure. With the gravity satellite, we can measure the mass of the Greenland ice sheet and the Antarctic ice sheet. And what we see is that they're losing mass now, and at increasing rates.
And I think this is a very nonlinear problem. So I'm afraid that this mass loss is going to be better characterized by a doubling rate, rather than by a linear rate of change. We know, from the earth's history, that when ice sheets collapse, you can get meter or multimeter sea-level rise in a century, with forcings that were much weaker than what humans are applying to the system.
And in a paper, which will be published in a few weeks, we show that a mechanism which Wally Broecker suggested a few decades ago, namely the effect of fresh water injected onto the surface of not only the North Atlantic, where Wally focused on that, but also the southern ocean. When you put this lens of fresh water on the ocean, it makes the ocean column more stable. So the usual overturning circulation, the North Atlantic Deep Water formation, in the winter, when it's coldest, and the salty ocean water normally can get cold and dense enough that it will sink in the North Atlantic, down to a depth of a couple of kilometers, and in the southern ocean, all the way to the ocean bottom. And that sort of is a part of this ocean circulation system.
But if you put this fresh water there, it begins to stop that sinking. And we're already-- So in our model-- Here's our model in a few decades, it's when it's really reached a point where the North Atlantic has gotten cold, and the North Atlantic Deep Water's in the process of beginning to shut down. And likewise in the southern ocean. This is a different situation than ever occurred in the earth's history. Here, usually, in the earth's history, one of the hemispheres is getting warmer and the other is getting cooler. And so you're getting the effect in one hemisphere. Here we're doing it both at once.
And, in fact, I make a argument, which I think is very persuasive, that the models, including the one used for this calculation, are too insensitive, because they have excessive small-scale mixing in the parameterization of the affects the eddies in the ocean. And what's happening now is both of these circulation systems are in the process of beginning to shut down.
And, in fact, that's-- we can even see effects of that. That's the reason not only for cooling southeast of Greenland, but for warming along the East Coast of the United States, where the temperature has been about three degrees Celsius above normal. That's the reason, when the Hurricane Sandy came up the East Coast, it stayed hurricane all the way to New York City, because it could get its energy from that very warm ocean, which provides the fuel for tropical storms. And even, this even has an influence on things like the big snowstorms, where we get two or three feet of snow. Because the Atlantic is so warm, it's providing the moisture for those snowstorms. And then we get the cold air from the Arctic.
But anyway, so sea level is beginning to go up faster. And it's doubled a couple of times in the last century. But now that the ice sheets are beginning to contribute to this, I think it's likely to begin to grow even faster. And we know from the earth's history that the last time it was warmer than today, it was about-- the peak of the last interglacial was about two degrees, at most two degrees warmer than the pre-industrial, which means one degree warmer than today. And sea level reached a peak of probably six to eight meters higher than today.
And so, you know, you have to remember that more than half of the largest cities in the world are located on coastlines. The economic implications of multimeter sea-level rise would be incalculable. The cities of the coastlines would become dysfunctional, most of them, even though parts of them would be sticking out of the water. China has 350 million people living near sea level. There are also a practical effects of increasing climate extremes.
This bell curve shows-- the seasonal average climate fluctuates from year to year, and forms a bell curve. So if we take 1951 to 1980 as the period of climatology, then at that time, the bell curve was nice and symmetric about the average. But that bell curve is shifting to the right as the planet gets warmer. And now, this is for Northern Hemisphere land in the summer. And now, the extremes, three standard-deviation extremes that almost never occurred 50 years ago now occur more than 10% of the time.
Winter, the shift is not as much, and it depends on where you are. In our paper next week, we will show that in the United States, it's about a one standard deviation shift. So if you're old as I am, you should notice that the summers tend to be warmer than they were 50 years ago. It's hard to see the change in winter. It's only half a standard deviation shift. But it depends on where you are. China, it's 1.4 standard deviations and about one standard deviation in the winter.
And in the Mediterranean and Middle East, in the summer, it is 2 and 1/2 standard deviations, so that every summer is warmer than it used to be. And it's beginning to get uncomfortable in the summer in those regions. And likewise, in the tropics in Africa or Southeast Asia, every season, all year round, the shift is about two standard deviations. And this has an effect on the ability to work outdoors. There's a noticeable impact. So the agricultural jobs and construction jobs, more than half of the employment, is outdoor jobs. So these parts of the world are getting a significant impact already.
There's lot of papers published in just the last few years, looking at the impacts of these higher temperatures on conflicts and violence, showing that, as you might guess, it gets really hot. People are apparently not in a good mood, and the interpersonal, there's evidence-- this is just empirical data. There's no physical law for this. But 4% per standard deviation increase. And between groups and nations, a 14% increase. So we really don't-- and what we felt, so far, this is for a period in which the global average temperature increased 6/10 of a degree. So two degrees Celsius warming would means three times larger. And those standard deviations, instead of being two, will be six standard deviations. So even for this kind of thing, you really don't want to have a lot more global warming.
But this increasing extreme summer heat does have consequences, including impacts on fires. We can see-- there are other factors involved in this, but it's one of the contributing factors. And because a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor, when you do get rain, the times and places where you get it, it tends to be more extreme events. So the 100-year flood now occurs more often than once a century. And storms. I mentioned Sandy, which caused a lot of damage on the East Coast. Anyway, I want to get to other parts of my talk, so I go over that quickly.
But the bottom line is, I've been showing this bar graph for six or eight years, and saying, you know, we've only burned a small fraction of the fossil fuels. We burned the purple part of oil, gas, and coal. And then there's this unconventional stuff, which means fracking to get oil, and fracking to get gas, and tar sands, things like that. Which it doesn't make any sense to even be pursuing them, because we can't afford-- we can only afford to put a small fraction of the remaining fossil fuels into the air. The sciences is clear on that.
But it wasn't until Bill McKibben wrote an article in Rolling Stone, when he said, most of this oil companies' oil in the ground is actually not burnable. And then he said it in a way the people finally understood it. But still, there's no actions being taken to achieve what's needed.
The problem is that energy is very useful. And people want to raise their standard of living, including places like India and China. And they have every right to do that. We in the United States burned more than a quarter. We're responsible for more than a quarter of the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere. And Europe is responsible for more than a quarter. China for 10%, even though China is now the biggest emitter. India for 3%. So if you look at it on a per capita basis, then those countries are more than an order of magnitude less responsible than the West. So we have a moral obligation to help them figure out how they're going to get this energy and raise their standard of living without using fossil fuels and dumping the results in the atmosphere.
So the problem is that the fossil fuels do not include the cost to society. The effect, the air pollution and water pollution, even if you just included that, the health effects of that, it would raise the price of the fossil fuels significantly. And the climate effects are going to add the biggest cost. But those are free. These fossil-fuel companies are able to use the atmosphere as a free dump for their waste.
So I argue that the way to do this, to solve the problem, is to collect a fee from the fossil-fuel companies. Collect it at the source, at the domestic mine or the port of entry. That's very easy. There are only a small number of sources. And that money should be given to the public. Give an equal amount to each legal resident of the country. That way, the person who does better than average in limiting their fossil-fuel use, will make money.
And it's a big incentive for them to pay attention to their carbon footprint. And it's a big incentive for entrepreneurs to develop clean energies, and energy efficiency. And as that fee rises over time, you can phase down fossil-fuel use. If it's $10 a ton, and goes up $10 each year, at the end of 10 years, it's $100 a ton, and that's $1 a gallon on gasoline. So the public isn't going to let that happen if you're giving the money to the government, to make the government bigger. You've got to give the money to the public.
And I've talked with conservatives and liberals, and they both like this idea. Barbara Boxer likes it, and Bernie Sanders, so they said, oh, they introduced a bill. We'll do this fee and dividend. But we're only going to give 60% of the money to the public. They want the other 40% for their social programs. But if you do that, then most people are losing money. Are going to be paying more in increased prices than they get in their dividend.
And I've talked with Grover Norquist. And the smart conservatives know that if they continue to pretend that climate change is a hoax, that it will come back to bite them big time. And the Democrats will then get to impose regulations, and add taxes, and everything tat conservatives fear. So what do they-- conservatives, they say, yeah, we should have a carbon tax, and we will reduce some of these other nasty taxes. Certain taxes they don't like. But that isn't going to work, because then, the public, they'll see the price of gasoline going up, and they won't allow that to continue to go up. So neither one of them. That's why I'm beginning to say we have to have a third party. But there's another possible solution I'll get to.
But anyway, for example, I say $1 a gallon, but by that time, right now, our energy, our fossil-fuel use at $100 a ton is $600 billion per year. That's a hell of a lot of money. But what the economic studies show, that if you had that fee, by the end of 10 years, emissions would be 30% less. And so the dividends, if it was $600 billion, that's $2,000 for every legal resident. But, actually, it will be $1,500, because emissions, the use will go down 30%. And, in the process, the economic studies show this spurs the economy. It actually increases GNP, and it creates several million new jobs. So there's no cost to it, if you do it gradually. If you suddenly did this, it would cause some economic disruption. But if you do it gradually, there's no problem.
But you have to get something in between what the conservatives and liberals want. This is the only viable, international approach. What do they talk about at Paris? This is a total fraud, what happened at Paris, because all they did was say, well we agree, there's a climate problem. We're going to try to do better. Meanwhile, the cost of fossil fuels is cheaper than ever. And you know damn well that they're just going to keep burning them. You have to make the price increase to reflect its cost to society. And if you don't do that--
And how can you do that with the approach that they're proposing? They're still talking the way they did in 1997. Let's have a cap on each country. And now they're not even requiring that they meet a cap. They're just saying, please tell us what your cap is going to be, and if you don't meet it, OK. And you know, frankly, it's just as well that they didn't talk about a real solution at Paris, because you're not going to reach a solution with 190 nations sitting around a table.
What you need is two nations, and the nations are China and the United States. And if they agree that they will both have a carbon fee, then it's easy to make it near-global. Because they would say, we're going to put a border duty on products from countries that don't have an equivalent carbon fee. And furthermore, we're going to give a rebate to our manufacturers who are shipping products to countries that do not have a carbon fee. And then that's such a huge incentive for all the other countries to have their own fee, so they can collect the money themselves, rather than have us collect it at the borders.
So that's the only way you're going to get rapid reductions in emissions, I think. Now fortunately, there's a organization, Citizens Climate Lobby, that has begun advocating exactly this policy. A carbon fee and dividend at this rate that I mentioned. And they've been growing rapidly, almost doubling in size for the last few years. And they, mostly old geezers, but that's OK. That's what's missing. The young people are what is missing. It's not good enough to protest against a pipeline or something. We actually have to get policies that will solve the global problem.
And so what CCL does is write letters to the editor, and they visit congresspeople. They visited every congressperson and every senator, or at least their office. If the senator won't talk to them, they talk to the staffers. And they come back each year. And they're making progress. They're beginning to be recognized in Washington. And, in fact, just a few weeks ago, one of these 265 chapters managed to get to Florida representatives, a Democrat and Republican, to form what they call the Climate Solutions Caucus. And as the Republican representative said, there are people, other members of his party, coming to him, and saying that they don't want to be on the hoax side.
They know that climate change is real, and they want to be part of a solution. So I think there's some movement in that direction. But it has to get a lot bigger. Oh, this is where he says, "More Republicans are coming around to our side." But, you know, it has to happen pretty quickly.
So what happened in Paris? The United Nations Climate Chief said, well, many people say we need a carbon price, and then investment would be so much easier with a carbon price. But life is much more complex than that. Well, is nothing simpler than a simple carbon fee. And, you know, you're not getting anywhere if all you do is talk about cap and trade. Cap and trade, which is what, unfortunately, not only Kyoto Protocol, but still, the European Union is stuck on this. Even though they tried it, it failed, it did very little. But once you've got a lot of players who are getting money this way or that way, they're involved in the system, it's hard to change it and do something simple and honest.
And, you know, I got to Jerry Brown too late. They had already decided they're going to do a cap and trade system. Well, OK. We really need somebody to do an example of a carbon fee, rather than this. Cap and trade brings big banks into the problem. You're talking trillions of dollars with the energy system. There's no way to have a trading system without big banks involved. And they make a lot of money off of fluctuating markets. Fluctuating markets are of no value for what we want. We want people to know that the price is going to be going up. We want entrepreneurs to know that. We want businesses to know that this is going to happen. Then they'll make their investments right.
So you don't want a cap and trade system. There's no way to make it global. What's the cap on India? India flat out says, we're not accepting any cap. We've got 1.4 billion people or something, most of them in poverty. They're not going to accept any cap. We didn't accept any when we were growing up. And there's no enforcement mechanism for cap and trade. And so what's happening is, you say, oh, now the problem is solved. Everybody at Paris said, oh, we're going to solve this. Well look. Emissions are just going up rapidly. And fuel. Look at China, and India, the rate at which their coal use and CO2 emissions are accelerating. I already mentioned that-- although China is now the big emitter, their contribution to the climate change, which is based on the cumulative emissions, is actually much smaller than the US. And on a per capita basis, these developing countries really disappear, compared to the West.
But I am not being critical of Ernie Moniz, who's probably the best Energy Secretary we've had in an awfully long time, and he's doing a lot of good things, and he did yeoman's work in this negotiations with Iran. But, you know, when he's sitting with Podesta, who was at that time Obama's Climate Czar, what do they talk about? Well, we've agreed with China there we're going to share knowledge on carbon capture and storage. That's bullshit. Carbon capture and storage. There is zero chance that China and India will agree, because it doubles the cost of your energy. And what are you going to do with the CO2? Bury it under yourself? It's not going to happen.
So I want to say just a little bit about-- You see, I think there's no way for India and China to phase down rapidly their emissions, their coal emissions, which we have to get them off, without the help of nuclear power. And we know how to do nuclear power in ways which are much improved over the technologies, the 50-year-old technology that's used in United States reactors. And the one country that quickly, completely decarbonized its electricity was Sweden. They did it by building nine nuclear power plants, and combining that with their hydro power. And then, that's what you have to do. If you decarbonize electricity, the problem is actually solvable. Because you can make liquid fuels from energy from electricity.
But what did we do? Again, you know, one reason I'm a political independent is I criticize equally both parties. And in the case of the Democrats, because the anti-nukes who grew up in the 1970s, when Three Mile Island, where the release of radiation, if you believe linear no threshold theory, then one or two people might die from the radiation that was released from the meltdown at Three Mile Island. But every day, 10,000 people per day die from fossil-fuel burning, from the air pollution from fossil-fuel burning. And it's the particles that come off, the organic carbon, black carbon, that comes off of burning.
So anyway, we should not have shut down our efforts in trying to develop improved forms of nuclear power, in my opinion. Renewable energies need to be part of the solution. But so far, they're teeny. And even if you look at the rate at which, say, Germany has added energy from renewables, and spending a lot of money, and having the best engineers in the world, and not being bothered by the increase in electricity prices, their rate of is small, compared to that that was achieved by Sweden, by France, when they introduced in a decade, they moved to 75% electricity from nuclear.
So we need a combination. But in any case, we really don't need to focus on, or even mention, nuclear power. All we need is let the price on carbon increase, and then let everything compete. Energy efficiency, renewables, nuclear power some places. If you don't like it, fine. But some places, like southeast United States, probably does want it, because it's a cloudy part of the country, and they have nuclear power plants.
So anyway. You know, as I mentioned, except for my oldest grandchild, who's now 17, I don't talk about this stuff. But unfortunately, three summers ago, three years ago, I was giving a talk in the backyard of a friend's house, where they had assembled an audience on the beach. I thought my grandchildren had gone to bed. But Connor, who was then eight years old, was in the back of the audience. And at the end of my talk, my wife noticed that there were tears running down his face. That's an example. Young people can be very sensitive. So my wife ran to him and said, Oh, Connor, don't worry about this. Adults working on the problem, and they will solve it. So we thought, OK, then she had fixed the problem.
But here, three years later, now Connor is 11 years old. And he gave his mother his thoughts about this. He had probably heard me talking with my son or something. But he says-- but the interesting thing is, he figured out the two critical things. One of them, as he says, "Unless we can figure out how to make a time machine that actually works, there will be no way" for young people to go back and fix the problem. That why we have to do it now. And he got that point right. And the other thing is, he says, well, grown-ups are scared of nuclear power, but we know that using fossil fuels is not safe. It is very dangerous.
And that's the other point which we sometimes are apparently not realizing. And I've mentioned, there are and there are ways to do nuclear which would be much safer and much better in a number of different ways that I won't try to go into now. But, you know, an encouraging thing, you may not have noticed this, but a couple of weeks ago, by a vote of 87 to four in the Senate, they approved a major effort to begin to look at advanced generation nuclear power. So we did get, believe it or not, Democrats and Republicans agreeing on something, which I think is really important.
I organized a workshop in China a couple of months ago, with climate scientists and nuclear scientists, and it just is clear to me, still, that the top most innovative people are still in the US. We have the best universities, and we have free thought, and it seems to be extremely important. China's doing a good job, but we should work with them. Because they're, and India, are both determined to replace their coal burning with nuclear power. But they want to make sure it's safe, and we should stop withholding our best technology from them. They're not our enemy. China is not going to bomb their customers. You know? So anyway.
So there's one other thing that I think will be helpful. And that is we filed a lawsuit against the Federal government for not protecting the rights of young people in future generations. I wrote an article-- am I running out of time? How am I doing?
You're doing well. You have 10 minutes.
OK. So about 2006, I wrote an article, "The Threat to the Planet," in the New York Review of Books. And the legal scholar at the University of Oregon, Mary Wood, called me after reading it, and suggested that we work together to try to use the legal rights of young people to force the government to come up with a plan that would actually reduce emissions rapidly.
Well, her scholarship was based mainly on the trust concept, the belief that some things are held in trust by the current generation for future generations. And that goes all the way back to our founding fathers. Thomas Jefferson talked about the need to maintain the fertility of soils. We should not deplete the soil for the next generation. But my argument was that it's more a case of equal rights, equal protection of the laws, due process. The fact that--
Anyway, we got to the next level below Supreme Court, in the DC District Court, and then we lost. But the judge actually said a lot of good things. And then he said, at the end, but we didn't show the Constitutional basis. Anyway. So now we've gone back, and we've started over. And we filed a really good case using a couple of my papers that are in press now as part of the basis for it, but now emphasizing the Constitutional aspects of it.
And interestingly, the American Petroleum Institute and the National Association of Manufacturers, and the American Fuels and Petrochemical Manufacturers, the three big criminals who are behind these advertisements, "I am an energy voter," now they become very sophisticated. These are very professional advertisements. They make the public believe that there are really doing good stuff for the public. They're providing cheap gasoline, and they're providing energy independence for the United States. Unfortunately, they're screwing young people in future generations.
But anyway, those three have joined with the Federal Government as-- I forget what the technical--
Interveners. So we've got all four of them now in the same fox-hole. Because I think we're going to win this case. But there's a hearing on March 9th, where the Federal Government has asked the court to dismiss the case. I don't think they have a prayer of getting it dismissed. I think that, within a year, we will win at the district court level. And then, no doubt, the Federal Government will appeal, and it will go to the Supreme Court, and by that time, maybe we have another member to the Supreme Court.
And all we're asking is, as in the case of civil rights, this is very analogous to civil rights, where the courts cannot impose a solution, but they can require the other branches of the government to take the actions that are needed. So they can required, then, the government to report back on what they're doing. And what we're asking is that the emissions be reduced several percent a year, which is possible, but only if you make fossil fuels more dear by raising their price.
So, when it's not enough for young people to tell the next President that they want the problem solved. They actually have to look at, are they really proposing something that would work? And we have to put pressure on both parties. And if they don't, we have to form a third party, which I would call the American Party, and make it based on the principles that our government was founded on. What else did I want to say? Well, I think I already mentioned that it's based on the equal protection. OK. So I will finish. I think this is my last one. Yeah. So I think I'll stop, and we can have some discussion. Maybe that's as well. OK.
Mark Wilhelm: Because of good planning on the part of GIOS, we have a number of questions that were submitted. So we're going to select some of these, and then maybe get to some of the questions from the audience afterward. So I'm going to go ahead put my bald head to the back here, because you don't want to see me, and I'm going to read a few of the questions, and we'll have Dr. Hansen answer them.
You've taken a strong position on using civil disobedience to further your cause. Does this action no longer place you as an unbiased scientist in search of the truth, no matter where it leads you?
James Hansen: I'm writing a book, which is titled In Search Of Truth. The point that I'm trying to make is that scientists are trained to be skeptical of their own-- to be skeptical of any suggestions, but especially their own.
Richard Feynman said, you should be especially skeptical of your own conclusions, because you're the easiest one to fool. And I think the problem has been, on the contrary, that-- I don't think that getting arrested has anything to do with it. But I think the problem is our political leaders don't want scientists to draw conclusions all the way to the end of the story.
And was surprising to me when a Goddard director, who was one who I respected a lot, he was actually a very good scientist. But, you know, he and every other one, or NASA bigwig, when I would go to Washington, they would say, be sure to just talk about the science. Don't talk about the implications for policy. That's up to the policymakers. Well, I think that's baloney. I think that scientists are trained to think about complex problems. And there's no reason why we shouldn't say what the implications are.
It became so extreme, during the Bush administration, that they had, political appointees would have trial press conferences when you had some new scientific result, and then they would try questions, and then one of them was so absurd. Wally will know. David Rind, who's one of the scientists working for me. He was at one on sea ice. And the question was asked, well, is there anything you can do to stop this melting of sea ice in the Arctic? And he said, well, you could reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. And the political guy said, no, you cannot talk about that. That's policy.
So I think that scientists are trained to try to understand the truth, and I don't see that-- Getting arrested was simply-- I got dragged into that, by the way, by young people. The first time. Once I got arrested once, then some others followed. But the first time was that mountaintop removal at Coal River Mountain in West Virginia. I'd given a talk at Virginia Tech. And the students said I really needed to meet this little guy, Larry Gibson, who owned a cabin on Kayford Mountain. He wouldn't sell the property to the coal company. And so he was really-- They were trying everything. They even had bullet holes in the side of his cabin. They're trying to frighten him into selling. But anyway, then I ended up getting arrested at a protest on this mountaintop removal, and I don't see that it has any effect on my scientific opinion.
Mark Wilhelm Worldwide indigenous populations are disproportionately impacted by climate change. Many of the indigenous groups attended Paris Summit, yet their voices were not heard loud and clear, especially populations from Amazon, where deforestation is a huge concern. How can we address issues impacting indigenous people?
James Hansen You know, at Paris-- What was the response of the politicians at Paris? It was, oh, yeah, well, we not only agree there's a problem, but we're going to tighten it even further. We're going to not only try to keep warming below two degrees Celsius, we're going to have a goal of keeping the below 1 and 1/2 degrees Celsius. But this was like, somebody said, well, I know I'm overweight, and so I'm going to have a goal of losing 40 pounds. And then he goes for a while, and he doesn't lose any weight. He actually gets heavier. And he says, OK, now it's really a problem. I've agreed I'm going to have a goal now of losing 50 pounds. And to celebrate that, I'm going to have a pizza and a gallon of ice cream.
Because we're just emitting faster and faster, so these goals don't mean anything if you don't have any policy to bring things down. But that applies to everybody, not just indigenous people. Yeah. They have a way to help with this problem, by pulling on people's heartstrings, because we are doing things like causing some of these islands in the Pacific are going to disappear. And these people. And you know, Australia and New Zealand say, we don't want these guys. Even though Australia has got the same emissions per capita as United States. But they don't even want to take the refugees.
By the way, one important point I didn't mention is that the refugee problem, this little example we have this last year, that's just small potatoes compared to what's going to happen if those latitudes continue to get hotter. It's going to get very uncomfortable there. And then, when you start thinking about sea level rise, what are you going to do with 100 million Bangladeshis? So the potential for the planet becoming ungovernable is there. But I think that it's still possible. If we would start to phase down emissions, we could keep the change small. We're not going to prevent any climate change because it's already started. But anyway, I don't have a very good answer for indigenous people, other than they're just part of the problem. They're like the other species. We've got to pay attention to everything.
Mark Wilhelm: In an effort to poke the wound a little bit, in light of the unsatisfactory results of COP21, we didn't really get much. We got complacency, in a sense, and agreement, in your opinion, but not a lot of action. Not pricing. What channels and what actions do you think people should take to help us be more effective in implementing climate change?
James Hansen: Yeah. What was wrong about Paris was them standing up and pretending they had done something. Because that gives the impression to the public that, oh, now the problem's being solved. When it isn't. So, what we have to do is what I've already talked about. It sounds like I keep repeating the same thing, but it is as clear as the Law of Gravity. If the price of fossil fuels appears to be the cheapest energy, then they will continue to be burned. Even if some people take steps to reduce their use, one effect of that is to make the fuel less dear, and its price even lower, so somebody else can burn it.
So you have to have a global approach. It's not enough. And so you need a-- and frankly, you know, it requires-- it looks like, the United States and China, to say, we're going to have a rising carbon price. And then impose that.
Practically impose that. The major powers are the ones who are going to have to do it, because it's not something that's going to happen very slowly over many decades. If it does, then it's not to be solved. So we have to influence the politicians to realize they've got to do that. And if we just get somebody.
I've been trying to get some state, or some country, to try a rising carbon fee. And there's some progress. It may happen. But at least there's some politicians in Norway, and some politicians in Sweden, who now understand this. And they're not yet in a majority, but we may get some countries to demonstrate this. But we have to show that it would work.
The best we've had, so far, is British Columbia, which, at least, it added a carbon tax. And they did give some money to the public. But it's only a fraction of it. Mostly what they did was reduce payroll tax. The problem with that is that half the people are not a payroll. They're retired, or they're unemployed. So there's not a push for it to continue.
Because what happens is, if you add a carbon tax, and then reduce some other tax, people soon forget about this other one being reduced, and they don't like the carbon tax. So they don't like to see it continue to get larger. So that's why I think you have to tie it directly to a rebate to the public.
Mark Wilhelm Another political effort-- President Obama negotiated a climate deal with China that allows them to build coal plants unabated until 2030 while he continues to wage war on the US coal industry. The President's actions helped to lower the global price of coal, which allows China a competitive advantage. What's your take on this?
James Hansen Obama's approach was going to do very little, even if it hadn't been stopped. I wrote a letter to Obama, 2008, right after he was elected, before he took office. But I couldn't get John Holdren to deliver it.
He was picked to be the Science Adviser. But I tried to explain this same stuff that I'm saying, that if you don't have a simple, honest way, the cap and trade with offsets is not going to do much of anything. And you can't solve it with regulations. You'll reduce that particular place where it's being used, but it won't stop that product from being used by somebody else. As the question indicates, if anything, it lowers the price, and somebody else will burn it.
So. So what was the question?
Mark Wilhelm: Well, it was, what's your take on it, and that's a frustration, I think.
James Hansen: Well, yeah. The frustration is that the actual solution would not be painful. But then, you know, Obama-- I don't know. When he had 70% approval, and control of the House and the Senate, I think he could have-- if he had given this priority, and given that it is so important for many reasons, for energy independence, and for national security, and we wouldn't have to be protecting a supply line from the Middle East if we begin to phase out fossil fuels. So he should have given it priority. But on the other hand, some people in the other party were just so nasty, they were determined not to cooperate with him on anything, no matter what. And that's why, if we have that problem, then we need a third party or something.
But I think there are enough people who have their head screwed on straight that we could get a compromise. But they need to sit down and talk to other.
Mark Wilhelm: Another political question, and I'll jump into a couple of technical ones. Do you think that the influential climate deniers, both politicians, individuals, corporations, who have wilfully created doubt and uncertainty about climate change, and seriously delayed means of dealing with it, be complicit to crimes against humanity and be tried in the International Court of Justice in The Hague?
James Hansen: I, actually, when I testified to Congress once, I accused them of being guilty of crimes against humanity. You know, what's happening now is they are getting more sophisticated. So ExxonMobil now says, oh, we should have an $85 a ton tax on carbon. And that's what the economists say we need. Well, but they know very well, if they simply tax, it's not going to happen. So they've covered their behind. But what are they doing? Meanwhile, they're one of the funders of American Petroleum Institute, which is fighting, which is giving all these sophisticated advertisements to keep us on fossil fuels. And they're also intervening in our legal case against the Federal government.
So they're now doing things in a way which you can't take them to court and try them for crimes against humanity. They're getting too sophisticated. But yeah, I think they're guilty. 15 years ago, I was writing a letter to draw attention to the fact that ExxonMobil was funding an organization to change textbooks, to call into question the reality of human-made climate change. So that's an example of where they-- and there's evidence where them doing that. So there are some cases now, they're beginning to work on, to try ExxonMobil.
Mark Wilhelm: A couple of technical questions. Yeah. We've 10 past? We have 15 minutes?
No, it's [INAUDIBLE].
Till 6:15. OK. We have it just about one more question. Let's see which one.
Audience How about from the audience?
Mark Wilhelm: How about from the audience? OK. [INAUDIBLE].
Audience: Thank you. So with your fee and dividend idea, and with the products coming in from overseas countries that may not comply with reducing their carbon emissions, you were suggesting that there would be a fee on those products.
James Hansen: A border duty. Yeah.
Audience: Right. Right. Would the country that is being slapped with that fee then have a recourse to come after the United States government because of the trade policy, the trade pacts, that are being implemented?
James Hansen: Well, let's first ignore the trade pacts that are being talked about now. The World Trade Organization has had comparable situations. And as long as the duty is equivalent to what is imposed on the manufacturers within your own country, then it will be approved. It should be OK. And frankly, the rules will be determined by the major economic players, rather than some international organization. But we do have to beware of these trade agreements, which are complex, but are-- The fossil fuel industry has got their oar in this, is trying to influence those agreements in ways which allow them to continue their practices. So it's something that we have to pay attention to, and not allow the politicians to cave in to the fossil fuel industries.
Audience: Hi. My name is Wayne Porter. I'm the co-leader of the Phoenix area chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby. We have five people here, including my co-leader, Suzann. And I've been putting an announcement in the GIOS Sustainability Digest for over a year. We've had very little response. But I wonder if you can give me any advice as to a hook I could put in that announcement that would get more response, particularly from young people?
James Hansen: Well, see, I think that if we could get young people involved in a major way, then I think things might move a lot faster. Because they're so successful in some of these cases. Even in Bernie Sanders' case. I'm from Iowa, and I saw what happened in 2008, when the pundits said Hillary had the thing locked up. Well, there were young people knocking on doors in all 99 counties. And they turned the tide for Barack Obama. So young people have enormous potential clout. And if we could just get that harnessed, somehow. But that's why I say, as I started my talk, that young people need to understand what is needed, and not just assume that when a leader says, OK, I get it. I understand you want us to work on it. You actually have to look what he's doing, not just that he said that.
But I don't really know how to make that marriage work. How to get more young people involved. I'm afraid that young people think, oh, this is such a huge darned problem, I've got other things. And I don't blame them. When I was a student, I wouldn't have got involved in these things. It's hard enough trying to study physics and get my degree. I didn't have time to go fight political battles. But in this case, this should be like in the period when the young people were the ones who forced Lyndon Johnson to resign as President. I mean, people, young people, were in the streets. So they have, potentially, a great deal of power.
Mark Wilhelm: Thank you, James.
This presentation is brought you by Arizona State University's Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, for educational and noncommercial use only.