Transcript: Thom Hartmann talks to Dr. James Hansen about his book "Storms of My Grandchildren", 05 Jan '10.
Thom Hartmann: So the state of the economy is perilous, the state of the environment is far more so. Dr. James Hansen is here with us, member of the National Academy of Sciences, adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University and Columbia’s Earth Institute, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, he’s frequently called to testify before Congress on climate issues. His background in space and earth sciences is extraordinary. He’s the guy who, one of the people I would say, in my opinion, the person, who first advised us of the dangers coming.
He has a new book out, “Storms of My Children”, “Storms of My Grandchildren,” excuse me. StormsOfMyGrandchildren.com is the website for the book. The subtitle: “The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity.” And also I should add James Hansen has been a great source of inspiration to many of us who have been writing about this for many years. Myself and people like my friend Bill McKibben who mentions you at every opportunity he gets, Dr. Hansen, welcome to our program.
Dr. James Hansen: Thanks for having me.
Thom Hartmann: Thank you for being here with us. More importantly thank you for being over all these years in the face of all the crap that has been thrown at you by these large transnational carbon-based corporations, the guy who just keeps standing there and telling the truth over and over and over again. I so honor you and the work that you’re doing. Tell us, Dr. James Hansen, your book “Storms of my Grandchildren.” Early on in the book you have a beautiful photograph of your granddaughter. Your motives and the motives of many people in the climate change concern arena, I don’t know what you would call it, have been often questioned by the corporate shills as, "oh, they’re just trying to get more money for their research projects or tenure at the university" or blahdeblahdeblah. Tell us your thoughts on why you and so many of your colleagues are so committed to this effort.
Dr. James Hansen: Well, of course, that charge is of course complete nonsense. In fact, when I first came on the scene in a significant way it was 1981 when I published a paper in Science Journal which was reported on the front page of the New York Times by Walter Sullivan, the science writer. I promptly had my funding that was to be coming from the Department of Energy cancelled because of that. They did not like the publicity given to the global warming issue.
Thom Hartmann: Yeah, this of course during the Reagan administration.
Dr. James Hansen: Yeah, yeah, but in general that has often been a problem and that has caused scientists, I think, to be reticent, many scientists to be reticent about speaking out because you may temporarily get some favor from some politicians but in the long run you’re going to suffer. So that was of course nonsense.
Now what I did in the 1980s was testify to Congress several times and after it got a lot of attention in 1988 because of the drought and in 1989 because I revealed that the administration had changed my testimony, I then decided to get out of that business of public speaking because it’s not my forte and I, I get my pleasure from science the way that Richard Feinman did, he called it the pleasure of finding things out. So for 15 years I maintained this vow not to accept television interviews and such things and leave that people who were really good at it and who enjoy it like Steve Schneider and Michael Oppenheimer.
But finally I got to the point when I had grandchildren, where I realized that public policy was just not addressing this at all and the public didn’t understand the matter and I decided I was going to give one talk in which I really tried very hard to back it up with scientific papers and get publicity in Washington DC and anyway it turned out that one talk didn’t do it and I kind of got dragged into it more and more over the last 5 or 6 years.
Thom Hartmann: Mm. Now you originally had suggested that we, first of all to set some numbers. Before the industrial revolution, the level of carbon dioxide in the air in parts per million was what?
Dr. James Hansen: About 280 parts per million.
Thom Hartmann: Okay. And right now it is where?
Dr. James Hansen: There's 387 last year, 2009. And it’s going up 2 ppm per year.
Thom Hartmann: Right. And originally you had suggested that 450 was a number that we really needed to stop at or all hell was gonna break loose. You have recently revised that back down to 350, thus inspiring Bill McKibben to start his 350.org. Do I have that right?
Dr. James Hansen: Yeah, in fact he was going to start an organization called 450.org until he asked me to just reaffirm that was the right number. And I said unfortunately we screwed up. I had, when I had the opportunity to speak to the Bush administration, to Vice President Cheney and six cabinet members I had made the argument that 450 would probably keep additional global warming at about 1 degree Celsius which would be about 2 degrees Celsius above the pre industrial level. Actually 1.7 above the pre industrial level. And some prior interglacial periods had been warmer than the present one and I thought that, that they suggested that somewhat warmer would be, that much warmer might be okay.
But what has become clear in the last three or four years is that the earth’s history shows us that the system is more sensitive than we thought. And also ongoing observations of the Arctic Sea ice and especially things like the ice sheets, the Greenland ice sheets.
Thom Hartmann: Right, the glaciers around the world.
Dr. James Hansen: They’re already beginning to lose mass at a faster and faster rate. So it’s clear we’ve moved into, and we’ve already seen the climate zones shifting, that’s why southwest United States is beginning to have more dry periods, more forest fires.
Thom Hartmann: Yeah, absolutely and the storms are more severe. We’re talking with Dr. James Hansen, his new book, “Storms of my Grandchildren, The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity.” Sir, I’m very sorry we have about a minute and a half maybe two minutes left here. What are the most important things that our listeners can do? What are the steps that have to be taken and how can citizen activists facilitate those?
Dr. James Hansen: Yeah it, let me mention the most important thing. The problem is that fossil fuels are the cheapest form of energy. And as long as that’s true they’re going to be used more and more. The reason is that they’re not made to pay for the damages that they do to human health and the environment and the future for our children and grandchildren. We have to put a gradually rising price on carbon emissions…
Thom Hartmann: A carbon tax.
Dr. James Hansen: Well no I would call it a non tax because you have to give back 100% of the fee that you collect. The fee should be collected at the mine or port of entry from the fossil fuel company at the first sale and the money then should be distributed to the public so that they have the wherewithal to make the changes in their lifestyle. The next time they purchase a vehicle they get a more efficient one, they insulate their homes, they do the things that are necessary to reduce their carbon footprint and keep their prices, because they are going to have to pay more…
Thom Hartmann: A lot of this is what Denmark is doing, isn’t it?
Dr. James Hansen: Yeah, to some extent this is being done in Europe but it’s not across the board. It has to be at the mine or port of entry so that it covers carbon completely. And the only way that it’s going to work and the public accept it is if they get the money rather than Congress deciding to hand it out to the special interests the way they do now. So the cap and trade scheme will not work. I this a difficult point. You know, I was on the David Letterman show and he asked me about it and I started to say well people are gonna have to understand the difference between cap in trade and fee and dividends.
Thom Hartmann: Yeah, I get it. Dr. Hansen, I’m very sorry we’re out of time.
Hansen, J., D. Johnson, A. Lacis, S. Lebedeff, P. Lee, D. Rind, and G. Russell (1981). "Climate Impact of Increasing Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide." Science 213: 957-66.
Study finds warming trend that could raise sea levels, Walter Sullivan, August 22, 1981.
Transcribed by Suzanne Roberts, Portland Psychology Clinic.