The following is excerpted from James Hansen’s “Storms of My Grandchildren,” the climate scientist’s new book about what is needed to stop global warming.
We have finally arrived at the main story: what we need to do to solve the climate problem, and how we can save a future for our grandchildren.
The problem demands a solution with a clear framework and a strong backbone. Yes, I know that halting and reversing the growth of carbon dioxide in the air requires an “all hands on deck” approach– there is no “silver bullet” solution for world energy requirements.
People need to make basic changes in the way the live. Countries need to cooperate. Matters as seemingly intractable as population must be addressed. And the required changes must be economically efficient. Such a pathway exists and is achievable.
Let’s define what a workable backbone and framework should look like. The essential backbone is a rising price on carbon applied at the source (the mine, wellhead, or port of entry), such that it would affect all activities that use fossil fuels, directly or indirectly.
Our goal is a global phaseout of fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions. We have shown, quantitatively, that the only practical way to achieve an acceptable carbon dioxide level is to disallow the use of coal and unconventional fossil fuels (such as tar sands and oil shale) unless the resulting carbon is captured and stored. We realize that remaining, readily available pools of oil and gas will be used during the transition to a post-fossil-fuel world. But a rising carbon price surely will make it economically senseless to go after every last drop of oil and gas–even though use of those fuels with carbon capture and storage may be technically feasible and permissible.
Global phaseout of fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions is a stringent requirement. Proposed government policies, consisting of an improved Kyoto Protocol approach with more ambitious targets, do not have a prayer of achieving that result. Our governments are deceiving us, and perhaps conveniently deceiving themselves, when they say that it is possible to reduce emissions 80 percent by 2050 with such an approach.
A successful new policy cannot include any offsets. We specified the carbon limit based on the geophysics. The physics does not compromise–it is what it is. And planting additional trees cannot be factored into the fossil fuel limitations. The plan for getting back to 350 ppm assumes major reforestation, but that is in addition to the fossil fuel limit, not instead of. Forest preservation and reforestation should be handled separately from fossil fuels in a sound approach to solve the climate problem.
The public must be firm and unwavering in demanding “no offsets,” because this sort of monkey business is exactly the type of thing that politicians love and will try to keep. Offsets are like the indulgences that were sold by the church in the Middle Ages. People of means loved indulgences, because they could practice any hanky-panky or worse, then simply purchase an indulgence to avoid punishment for their sins. Bishops loved them too, because they brought in lots of moola. Anybody who argues for offsets today is either a sinner who wants to pretend he or she has done adequate penance or a bishop collecting moola.