James Hanson On Copenhagen

Newsweek is out with a good interview of world famous NASA Climate Scientist James Hanson regarding Copenhagen and the recent release of controversial e-mails from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.

Hanson brushes off the significance of the dust-up over the e-mail release:

Do the e-mails indicate any unethical efforts to hide data that do not support the idea of anthropogenic global warming or to keep contrary ideas out of the scientific literature and IPCC reports?

They indicate poor judgment in specific cases. First, the data behind any analysis should be made publicly available.  Second, rather than trying so hard to prohibit publication of shoddy science, which is impossible, it is better that reviews, such as by IPCC and the National Academy of Sciences, summarize the full range of opinions and explain clearly the basis of the scientific assessment.

On the question of Copenhagen and current US policy , Hanson is even more clear:

How serious a setback would it be if no agreement on a climate treaty is reached in Copenhagen, where 192 countries are meeting starting Dec. 7?

It’s not a setback at all if it allows a careful reassessment of what is needed. The cap-and-trade scheme [that the Copenhagen negotiations were working toward] is just not going to be effective at controlling greenhouse emissions. Political leaders have to realize that the fundamental problem is that fossil fuels are the cheapest form of energy, so they will continue to be burned unless we put a gradually increasing price on carbon emissions [through a carbon tax]. That’s a much better approach than national goals for emissions reductions, which will probably not be met.

What do you think of the climate bills now before Congress?
They’re disasters. We can’t allow the polluters to write the bill, but that’s what happened. What’s needed is putting a price on carbon, not cap-and-trade.

Hanson is even more clear in his editorial about Copenhagen in The Guardian “Is There Any Real Chance of Averting A Climate Crisis?” in which he suggests:

Absolutely. It is possible – if we give politicians a cold, hard slap in the face. The fraudulence of the Copenhagen approach – “goals” for emission reductions, “offsets” that render ironclad goals almost meaningless, the ineffectual “cap-and-trade” mechanism – must be exposed.

He goes on to argue for a simple carbon tax offset by a total return of the tax to the public either through reductions in payroll taxes or “dividends” payed directly to citizens, an approach that has been favored by economists of all political persuasions.

I can’t agree with Hanson when he calls for increased use of nuclear energy, for all the reasons cited here.

But in general, Hanson has it exactly right on how to address climate and energy issues through public policy – put a real price on fossil fuels through the tax system and offset that tax with reductions in regressive taxes like the payroll tax which stifle our economy and discourage jobs creation.

Hanson is absolutely right in his assessment of  on our current policy efforts in Congress and on his hopes for Copenhagen.


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Filed under Climate Policy, Energy Policy

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