James Hansen, Climate Scientist Turned Activist, Criticizes Paris Talks

New York Times - Justin Gillis

James E. Hansen at his farm in Pennsylvania, in 2013. Credit Michael Nagle for The New York Times

LE BOURGET, France — James E. Hansen, the retired NASA climate scientist, issued a stark warning Wednesday that the deal being negotiated here was nowhere close to what was needed to avert dangerous levels of global warming.
“This is half-assed and it’s half-baked,” Dr. Hansen said in a public forum on the sidelines of the conference. He said that the deal, praised by world leaders including President Obama, would allow emissions to continue to increase — until 2030, in the case of China — when what was needed is an immediate and rapid reduction.
The remarks were less notable for what Dr. Hansen said – he has long held a dim view of United Nations climate talks – than for where and when he said them.
Dr. Hansen, who retired in 2013 after decades in charge of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, was making his first appearance at one of the annual U.N. climate conferences. He was introduced as “the Paul Revere of the climate-change movement” before a public interview for a video program.
Dr. Hansen, 74, gained fame in 1988 for warning the United States Congress that global warming had already begun and was a grave threat to future generations. He has been a voice in the wilderness ever since, and the failure of politicians to take the issue seriously has radicalized him. He regularly turns up at climate demonstrations, and has made a point of getting arrested several times.
In his appearance Wednesday, Dr. Hansen dismissed the emerging deal and said the willingness of most countries to offer some kind of emissions reductions was insufficient. Only a handful of countries are responsible for the bulk of emissions, and Dr. Hansen instead called for an agreement among those countries to begin an urgent assault on the problem.
“I’ve met with captains of industry,” Dr. Hansen said. “These people have children and grandchildren. They would like to be part of the solution, if the government would give them the right incentives.”
He repeated his longstanding position that the place to start would be a tax on carbon emissions that would raise the price of high-carbon fuels enough to encourage conservation and a switch to alternative energy sources. The money raised by such a tax should be given back to the public, he said.
Dr. Hansen also supports expansion of nuclear power as a partial solution to the climate crisis, and is expected to join other pro-nuclear scientists in an appearance later in the week. His nuclear stance has put him at odds with some environmental groups, though most of them still regard him as a hero for his warnings about the potential consequences of unchecked warming.
Dr. Hansen sketched out a future of profound climate threats that he said was on the verge of becoming unstoppable, including a potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet, which could cause a rise in the sea levels sufficient to drown many coastal regions.
“Our parents did not know that they were causing a problem for future generations by burning fossil fuels,” Dr. Hansen said. “But we can only pretend we do not know.”

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