Nov 16, 2010 San Francisco
Climatologist James Hansen was interviewed by Greg Dalton at Climate One and the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. Topics included climate change, government greenwash, cap and trade, fossil fuels, and a carbon tax. Afterward he signed copies of his recent book “Storms of my Grandchildren”.
“The politicians have learned to say the right words. They say we have a planet in peril, and governments will even set targets for future emissions at some time after they’re out of office. But the fact is if you look at their policies you see that they’re doing essentially nothing, that emissions if anything continue to increase. So it’s putting a good face on their policies or attempting to, but in fact they’re not taking the necessary steps.”
“I just think they haven’t given it the degree of seriousness that it deserves. There is not a clear recognition of the fact that we are really close to a point where, we are going to pass tipping points in the climate system which have major repercussions especially for people who are now young people, our children and our grandchildren. Because of the inertia of the system you don’t see that much happening yet, you know the weather is fine. ” [Dalton: "It's been pretty warm in San Francisco lately"] Hansen:” It’s a little warmer than normal but that doesn’t seem so bad”
“The problem is though that once these dynamic of the systems begin to take over..whether it’s the disintegration of an ice sheet or its the pressure we’re putting on species and cause some of them to begin to go extinct or become very small in number, then because of the interdependencies among the species, you can get more of them, you can get ecosystems to collapse, and we’re getting closer to passing those tipping points.”
“The earths’ history is very good for telling us what is the level that we can afford to have for atmospheric composition for example. Because we can see how big the changes were in the past. But the dynamics of a non-linear system – it’s very difficult to say when something collapses, so for example an ice sheet – it’s very hard to predict exactly when it will collapse but we can say by looking at the Earth’s history that if we left the climate system with 350 or 400 ppm for a few centuries, then we know that the equilibrium ice sheet consistent with that atmosphere is a much smaller ice sheet- sea level would be tens of meters higher. But we can’t say exactly when it will collapse, but when it does collapse, sea level goes up 5 meters per century is not usual in the earth’s history so one meter every twenty years, so you don’t want to get to that point.”
“The simple fact is that as long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy we will keep using them. You have to put a significant price on it. The business community has to know that that’s going to continue to go up, and if that happened they would invest in alternatives, and there would be innovations, and people would… because it would be a significant price. By the time it gets up to $100/ton of CO2, it’s about a dollar a gallon of gasoline, and it begins to be something that people can see. But by the time it gets up that high, with the current fossil fuel use in the United States that’s $600 billion dollars per year. If you distribute that to the public it’s two and a half to three thousand dollars per legal adult resident of the country – including half a share for children up to two per family so seven or eight thousand dollars per family with two or more children. So that sixty percent of the people would get more in this monthly green check than they would pay in increased energy prices.”
Climate One posted a shorter excerpt of the same talk.
Report by James George