. . SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT . .
Mere mention of the Paris climate talks is enough to make James Hansen grumpy. . . “It’s a fraud really, a fake,” he says, rubbing his head. “It’s just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.” . . .
James Hanson. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod for the Guardian
Hansen, 74, has just returned from Paris where he again called for a price to be placed on each tonne of carbon from major emitters (he’s suggested a “fee” – because “taxes scare people off” – of $15 a tonne that would rise $10 a year and bring in $600bn in the US alone). There aren’t many takers, even among “big green” as Hansen labels environment groups.
Hansen has been a nagging yet respected voice on climate change since he shot to prominence in the summer of 1988. The Nasa scientists, who had been analyzing changes in the Earth’s climate since the 1970s, told a congressional committee that something called the “greenhouse effect” where heat-trapped gases are released into the atmosphere was causing global warming with a 99% certainty. . .
From being possibly America’s most celebrated scientist, Hansen is now probably its most prominent climate activist. He’s been arrested several times in protests outside the White House over mining and the controversial Keystone pipeline extension.
He is also an adjunct professor at Columbia University. When he’s in New York, he lives near the campus, surrounded by books piled on groaning shelves. Hansen’s not slowing down – he’s involved in a climate lobbying group and still undertakes the sort of scientific endeavor which helps maintain his gravitas.
One particular paper, released in July, painted a particularly bleak future for just about anyone living near the coast. Hansen and 16 colleagues found that Earth’s huge ice sheets, such as those found in Greenland, are melting faster than expected, meaning that even the 2C warming limit is “highly dangerous”.
The sea level could soon be up to five meters higher than it is today by the latter part of this century, unless greenhouse gases aren’t radically slashed, the paper states. This would inundate many of the world’s cities, including London, New York, Miami and Shanghai.
There is a positive note to end on, however. Global emissions have somewhat stalled and Hansen believes China, the world’s largest emitter, will now step up to provide the leadership lacking from the US. A submerged Fifth Avenue and deadly heatwaves aren’t an inevitability.
“I think we will get there because China is rational,” Hansen says. “Their leaders are mostly trained in engineering and such things, they don’t deny climate change and they have a huge incentive, which is air pollution. It’s so bad in their cities they need to move to clean energies. They realise it’s not a hoax. But they will need co-operation.”