Friday, February 22, 2013

"Our governments are well oiled and they are coal fired" says James Hansen


An estimated 35,000 to 50,000 people attended the February 17th climate rally in Washington DC organised by 350.org, the Sierra Club and a few other groups. It was the largest climate rally to date that has occurred in the United States.

One activist, ebecker2000, caught up and briefly interviewed NASA climatologist James Hansen at the rally. Hansen bluntly stated "if we burn all of the fossil fuels, more than half the planet will be uninhabitable by humans."

But Hansen was heartened to see the numbers at the rally, "This is great. This is by far the biggest crowd we have ever had and finally I think the public is waking up to the fact that our governments are working for the fossil fuel industry...."



Here is my transcript of the interview:

Hansen: Well, I think the most important thing my colleagues and I have come up with in recent years is the fact that if we burn all of the fossil fuels, more than half the planet will be uninhabitable by humans. So it makes absolutely no sense to be going after every fossil fuel we can find.


We are going to have to leave the dirtiest ones like the tar sands, tar shale, fracking for gas. We are going to have to leave those in the ground. Otherwise we are going to create a situation in which we will have an unliveable planet for our grandchildren and future generations.


Ebecker2000: So how far along are we in burning half the fossil fuels that are in the ground?

Hansen: We've burned only a fraction; only about a tenth of the fossil fuels. But we're trying to get all of them out of the ground. It makes no sense. We have got to move to clean energies.

We are already beginning to see the impacts with increased storms, increased droughts. But the long range consequences will be even worse. It makes no sense to continue down that path. We have got to move to clean energies. We have got to put a price on fossil fuels by collecting a fee from the fossil fuel companies and distributing the money to the public so the public can make the changes that are necessary to move to more energy efficiency and clean energy.

Ebecker2000: What do you think about today?


Hansen: This is great. This is by far the biggest crowd we have ever had and finally I think the public is waking up to the fact that our governments are working for the fossil fuel industry. Our governments are well oiled and they are coal fired. The public has got to begin to put the pressure on the governments to serve the people, not the special interests.

What Hansen is referring to at the start of his interview is a 6 page scientific paper published in April 2009 in Nature: Greenhouse-Gas Emission Targets for Limiting Global Warming to 2C, The paper calculates and outlines emissions targets in a carbon budget if we want to limit global warming to 2 °C and from there how much carbon is available in the world's known fossil fuel reserves.


Bill Mckibben of 350.org has articulated the climate maths in the clearest fashion in his Rolling Stone article from July 2012: Global Warming's Terrifying New Math


It comes down to three basic numbers:

  • 1. 2 °C - the temperature limit widely agreed upon at UNFCCC conferences to avoid catastrophic climate impacts
  • 2. 565 gigatons. The global carbon budget till 2050 to have a 50-50 chance of limiting global warming to 2 °C
  • 3. 2,795 Gigatons - the amount of known fossil fuel reserves in oil and coal, as well as unconventional fuels in deep sea oil, Arctic oil, tar sands, coal seam and shale gas, shale oil.
With tens of thousands of people marching for action on climate change in Washington DC, and many thousands more in small gatherings around the United States, at last it seems the climate movement has resurfaced. Now the pressure needs to be kept up on the Fossil fuel companies, on President Obama and members of Congress, State legislatures and even municipal government.

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