Pioneer of climate alarm retires to fight fossil fuels

April 12, 2013
A pioneer of climate alarm has turned to full-time warfare against fossil energy.

A pioneer of climate alarm has turned to full-time warfare against fossil energy.

James Hansen has retired as director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies to press his signature agenda.

“What we have to do is leave a stable climate,” he said in a video interview with the Sustainability Media Lab at Columbia University.

Hansen has been at this since the summer of 1988, when he advised then-Sen. Al Gore in a notoriously climate-controlled Senate hearing that helped make global warming a ritual issue of environmentalism.

He blames the energy industry for blocking action he sees as needed to avert climate doom.

“They are making a lot of money off of fossil fuels,” Hansen said. “What’s become clear is that we can’t burn all of the fossil fuels without guaranteeing that young people and future generations are going to suffer the consequences.”

That not all scientists agree with Hansen’s gloomy view is a matter of underreported record. What’s most revealing about the interview is Hansen’s one-dimensional view of economics.

On the advantages to consumers of fossil energy, including but not limited to affordability, Hansen said nothing. Indeed, he insisted the “needed” actions are “not that difficult if we could just get people to understand them and put pressure on the political system.”

Hansen underrates relative cost as a behavioral influence.

“Right now we subsidize fossil fuels,” he argued, by not making producers of them pay for health damage, air and water pollution, and climate effects. “If you get asthma from air pollution, you pay for the health cost, the fossil fuel company doesn’t.” Hansen’s remedy: a “gradually rising fee” on fossil fuel.

Yet that “fossil fuel company” wouldn’t pay the fee. The fuel consumer would pay it while still preferring the most affordable fuel, which would still come from fossil energy.

Gradually rising or not, a fee high enough to effect widespread displacement of fossil energy would, in fact, be more than difficult; it would be politically impossible to impose.

(Online Apr. 12, 2013; author’s e-mail: [email protected])