By James Hansen: As I peer through Beijing’s impenetrable smog I feel nauseous. I have long been troubled by the injustice of human – made climate change to our children and grandchildren, which may soon constitute a tragedy of epic proportions. Now I stare in the face of another tragedy. Air pollution from coal kills over 1,000,000 people per year in China. Life expectancy in North China is reduced at least five years, and t h os e living suffer many health effects.

One scientist told me that he was using his savings to send his child out of the country, to grow for a while in clean air. What makes me sick is the realization that climate change and air pollution were both preventable. Thus they are true human – made tragedies. And I know that we in the West bear a moral burden. We scientists have special responsibility. We had knowledge 25 years ago that should have allowed climate change and air pollution to be manageable problems, not tragedies. However, we failed to communicate the implications well enough with political leaders and we did not achieve effective action. We must try harder now , because it is still possible to minimize the climate change effects and it is possible to solve the air pollution problem.

James Hansen

James Hansen

 

If we burn all fossil fuels , the carbon dioxide added to the air will have enormous effects. Sea level will rise many meters, submerging thousands of coastal cities.

Hundreds of millions of refugees will be driven from coastal regions and island nations. A large fraction of the world’ s species will be exterminated by shifting climate zones that amplify other human – made stresses. Summer heat waves, droughts and fires will be more extreme. Rain, when and where it occurs, will be heavier and floods will be more devastating. Storms will be stronger.

Carbon – Free Energies

Scientists informed political leaders decades ago that carbon – free energies must be phased in to replace fossil fuels. Carbon – free energies include hydropower, renewable energies such as the sun and wind, and nuclear power. However, hydropower is limited. Renewable energies are intermittent and their energy source is diffuse. Nuclear energy is so concentrated that nuclear fuel the size of a ping – pong ball contains all the energy a person uses in a 100 – year lifetime with a Western life style, but nuclear energy creates nuclear waste and the danger of a possible accident.

All these energies are needed in countries such as China and India , and all the energy technologies can be improved. Today’s nuclear reactors, “slow reactors” that utilize less than 1% of the nuclear fuel, can be made passively safe, so they shut down in an emergency such as an earthquake and cool themselves without outside power. “Fast reactors“, which utilize more than 99% of the nuclear fuel and can “burn” nuclear waste , will be needed several decades in the future as easily available uranium is used up. Nuclear reactors can also be made more resistant to weapons proliferation than today’s reactors. This is important because nuclear power is here to stay, existing in more than 30 nations. Uranium sieved from the ocean can power all of the world’s nuclear plants for billions of years, once fast reactors are operational.

Thus we can stop mining uranium on land in the future, if we choose. At night, when electricity demand is low, future nuclear plants can be used to make hydrogen and other liquid fuels. These fuels can be used for future vehicles, supplementing electric vehicles. Nuclear scientists were ready in 1976 to build a demonstration fast nuclear power plant. However, the project was stopped by President Jimmy Carter in his first State – of – the – Union message. Research continued at a low level until 1993 when President Bill Clinton delivered an intended coup de grace, declaring “We are eliminating programs that are no longer needed, such as nuclear power research and development.” Clinton was caving in to a quasi – religious anti – nuke minority in the Democratic Party, whose unrealistic “belief” was that diffuse renewable energies could satisfy all energy needs.

Research and Development

R&D on advanced technologies, including thorium reactors with the potential to ameliorate remaining concerns about nuclear power, was stifled, seemingly because it was too promising. Powerful anti – nuclear forces had their way with the Democratic Party. “Green” organizations had indoctrinated themselves in anti – nuclear fervor, and their intransigence blinded them to the fact that they were nearly eliminating the one option for abundant clean electricity with inexhaustible fuel and a small planetary footprint. The enormity of anti – nuclear policy decisions would be difficult to exaggerate. It meant China and other developing nations would have no choice but to burn massive coal amounts, if they wished to raise their living standards. It meant our children and grandchildren faced near certainty of large climate change.

None of the developing nations and none of our descendants had any voice in the decision. I cannot blame President Clinton. We scientists should have made clearer that there is a limited “carbon budget” for the world, i.e., a limit on the amount of fossil fuels that could be burned without assuring disastrous future consequences. We should have made clear that diffuse renewables can not satisfy energy needs of countries such as China and India. It seems we failed to make that clear enough.

The United States, as the leader in nuclear R&D, had an opportunity not only to help find a carbon – free path for itself, but also to aid countries such as China and India. Indeed, such aid was an obligation. The United States had already used its share of the “carbon budget” and was beginning to eat into China’s.

Perhaps our leaders, and certainly the public, did not really understand the implications of decisions made more than two decades ago. But there can no longer be such excuse. If we do not now do what is still possible to minimize climate change and eliminate air pollution, will it not be a crime against future generations and nature? Will it not be a crime of one people against another? A core American value, which spurred our decision to fight for nationhood, was the belief that all people have the right to development.

Thomas Jefferson called it a right to “pursuit of happiness”. Can we take that right away from other people by burning their share of the world’s carbon budget, and then not help them find a viable alternative?

China and the USA

Before describing what we should do, I must say what we should not do. It is inappropriate and an insult to go to China and tell them to work harder on renewables and energy efficiency. China is already doing more in these regards than we are in the West. For example, where possible, codes for new buildings in China require use of geothermal heat and other renewables, and efficiency standards are ratcheted up when improved technologies appear.

We also should not expect China to use renewable energy for base – load electricity. We just completed a solar power plant, Ivanpah, near the Nevada – California border on public land provided free. Ivanpah cost $2.2B and it covers five square miles (about 13 square kilometers). With a generous estimate of 0.25 for the plant’s capacity factor (the ratio of average power to peak power when the sun is highest and the sky is clear), Ivanpah will generate 0.82 TWhours of electricity per year. The power is intermittent because Ivanpah does not have energy storage, which would make the plant far more expensive. In contrast, Westinghouse is nearing completion of two AP – 1000 nuclear plants in China. These nuclear facilities each require about 0.5 square miles (about 1.3 square kilometers).

With a capacity factor of 0.9, typical of nuclear power plants, the output of each plant will be 8.8 TW hours per year. It would require more than 10 Ivanpahs to yield as much electricity and an area of more than 50 square miles (128 square kilometers), area that China does not have to spare. The AP – 1000 cost in China is about $3.5B per plant What the United States should do is cooperate with China and assist in its nuclear development. The AP – 1000 is a fine nuclear power plant, incorporating several important safety improvements over existing plants in the United States, which already have an excellent safety record.

There has been only one serious accident among 100 reactors, at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, and it did not kill anyone. However, further advances in nuclear plants beyond AP – 1000 are possible and the large demand in China allows rapid progress and building at a scale that can drive down unit cost. China has initiated nuclear R&D programs, including cooperation with American universities and firms. Cooperation with our universities and the private sector could be expanded rapidly, and areas of relevant excellence persist in some Department of Energy Laboratories despite inadequate levels of support.

Aerial view of Syncrude Aurora tar sands mine in the Boreal Forest north of Fort McMurray Greenpeace by  Jiri Rezac

Aerial view of Syncrude Aurora tar sands mine in the Boreal Forest north of Fort McMurray Image via Greenpeace by Jiri Rezac

Training of nuclear engineers and operators in the U.S. could help assure safe operations during a challenging period of rapid expansion. Benefits of cooperation in technology development can eventually circle back to United States industry and utility sector s as cost effective power plants are perfected. Such progress is crucial. Recent events have been spiraling down so rapidly that I find it hard to sleep. Ex – President Clinton campaigns for a huge pipeline to carry Canadian tar sands, which would light a fuse to the dirtiest energy source on Earth, opening the way for unconventional fossil fuels that should be left in the ground.

Dogged insistence by environmental groups that intermittent renewable energies are the only alternative to fossil fuels assures massive expansion of hydraulic – fracturing and helps lock – in long – term dependence on gas for electricity and carbon – intensive crude oil for vehicles. Yet my greatest frustration is with our own inability as scientists to clearly communicate the energy story.

The Carbon Fee

We could rapidly phase down fossil fuel emissions via a simple rising fee on carbon collected from fossil fuel companies, with funds distributed uniformly to the public, spurring efficiency and carbon – free energies, thus discharging our responsibility to future generations, other cultures, and other life on Earth.

Instead, our governments subsidize fossil fuels and facilitate more – and – more invasive mining practices. Secretary of State John Kerry has offered to keep China informed of what we are doing about climate in the United States. If that is the best we can do, if we do not help China obtain the abundant, affordable carbon – free energy needed to raise living standards while leaving room on the planet for other species.

I believe that our own children, and the world as a whole, are likely to look back on us as having been guilty of the world’s greatest crime against humanity and nature.

10 March 2014 — The author is the former Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and now Adjunct Professor at the Columbia University Earth Institute

Above video: James Hansen explains Climate Change and the Solution (2013)

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27 Comments

  • Tom Mallard 8 months ago

    How about the dunces use biodiesel from algae that are fed sewage wastewater effluent. If you did that to Phoenix, AZ, at the treatment plant it’s 10-million-gallons/day of effluent, 21,750-tons of nutrients for the algae to eat before tomorrow and worth about 3-million-gallons/day of biodiesel.

    Do the math, it’s a biofuel so to make it removes CO2 and emits O2, not a food source and right now treatment plants are all expenses, making biodiesel is a revenue stream.

    And, you can run any gas engine on biodiesel with little tuning, they last longer from self-lubrication, with catalytic converters or plasmas the soot can be removed from the exhaust, that’s the main downside to using it, soot.

    Good luck at getting it to the pump to make a difference to our hyper-heating the planet for profit, biodiesel producers have tried for decades and it costs $1.79/gallon retail is why, so, most of it is used for home heating in the USA where about 1/3 of producers use wastewater as the feedstock.

    • prokaryotes 8 months ago

      Among the questions are how feasible is algae fuel in reality (as of today) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_returned_on_energy_invested Though for the process of cleaning the algae growth chambers and stirring you could use renewable energy power. Other than that, we should embrace all forms of energy production which help to minimize carbon footprints. Algae fuel could be a good substitute for corn based fuels or even nat gas.

      • Tom Mallard 8 months ago

        Using algae to purify wastewater effluent is not “making fuel”, it’s a purification process currently done by chemicals to precipitate the nutrients quickly to release the water and that costs money, if you close that circle by purifying the water using algae it’s a better cleaner so makes tertiary treatment cheap enough to fully recycle the water and get the biodiesel as an intended consequence of doing that.

        For what’s economically feasible, other than $1.79/gallon retail imagine what that would do for the “economy”, is that this is using existing infrastructure, the nutrients come at you in a big pipe in millions of gallons per day, by bioreactors to grow the algae they can be add-ons so only a valving change to use the new system or the old, no ponds required, the bioreactors can stack to take up less land footprint, are insulated & everything is piped in so can run in Alaska in winter to make the biodiesel from sewage while it’s still warm, solids are digested for the methane to use in-process for heating.

        If you study wastewater treatment it’s high-tech, all we need for transportation biofuels is to have all the treatment plants create biodiesel, again, 1/3 of biodiesel producers in the USA use wastewater as a feedstock today, this is known technology that scales out any time, yawn, how long will that be algae biodiesel was well researched pre-WW2 with 50% oil species and all, isn’t half a century long enough?

        Anyway, algae biodiesel is the true “transition fuel” for a non-fossil source of liquid fuel for transportation, something that can run in any IC-engine on the planet.

  • plank ton 9 months ago

    We aren’t going to give up carbon, unfortunately, and carbon fees,
    litigation and legislation reform efforts are going to be easily blocked by
    the oil and gas lobby in the US.

  • Martin Hearn 1 year ago

    johndaddy, my father is a recently retired research scientist who has phd
    on oceanography and my bro has honours in computer scientist. since you
    were saying scientists are raking in millions from faulty computer models,
    I’m thinking of starting a family research company.

    initially i was going to jump on climate sceptic circuit (lots of easy
    money there), but I think i’ll give the climate alarmist circuit a go first.

    how do I get access to those millions? who do I apply to?

  • EasingDifficulties 1 year ago

    Ask yourself: Why are homeowners raising a stink over busted sewer lines?
    Are lactating women milking social-service providers? Will new legislation
    constipate the campaigns of laxative marketers? As competition stiffens
    amongst penile-implant manufactures, will penile-implant patients get the
    shaft?

  • EasingDifficulties 1 year ago

    “Everyone should know that most cancer research is largely a fraud…” –
    Linus Pauling Ph.D. (1901-1994) Two-time Nobel Prize winner. Alan C. Nixon
    Ph.D., past president of the American Chemical Society writes, “As a
    chemist trained to interpret data, it is incomprehensible to me that
    physicians can ignore the clear evidence that chemotherapy does much, much
    more harm than good.”

  • Aanthanur DC 1 year ago

    hehe just that it wasn’t

  • Aanthanur DC 1 year ago

    ah ok 0.5W/m²… 5 would be a bit extreme

  • johndaddyo444 1 year ago

    TSI TOA. Forcing changed at least -0.5W/m2, and we didn’t drop anywhere
    near the Maunder minimum quiescence of the Sun. Ever wonder whether the
    +0.4 C step function increase in mean lower troposphere temperatures in
    1998 had anything to do with the change from using MSU instruments to using
    AMSU instruments? Take away that step function increase, and you’ve got
    ZERO global warming from 1980 to 2013 – nearly the entire satellite record.

  • johndaddyo444 1 year ago

    Not at all. Still pissed Hansen’s AGW CO2 nonsense has been discredited?

  • Aanthanur DC 1 year ago

    ooh Lindzen is cute, still pissed his iris nonsense was discredited ?

  • Aanthanur DC 1 year ago

    TSI dropped by how much? the difference to the maunder minimum is 1-1.5W/m²
    and you claim the TSI dropped in 1980-2000 by 5W/m²? forcing or TSI TOA?
    and we are not able to predict future TSI changes, that is why models don’t
    change the TSI, and Rhamstorf did for example account for the drop in TSI
    that we now know happened. but couldn0t know back when the models wer
    projecting.

  • johndaddyo444 1 year ago

    So Rahmstorf (get it right, Aanthanur DC) “proved” nothing with his model
    “corrections”. Anyone can concoct factors to make their model match
    historical climate after the fact. How good will Rahmstorf’s NEW model
    predict future global temps? It will FAIL. Just as has EVERY climate model
    concocted to date. Until climate scientists start listening to solar
    physicists, they will continue to get Earth’s climate system forcing
    factors wrong. One must account for -5W/m2 drop in TSI from 1980s to 2000s

  • johndaddyo444 1 year ago

    The first model started the whole AGW CO2 gov’t funded scam (USGCRP). Since
    it has now been clearly proven FALSE, why do people think it just needed to
    be “tweaked” to make it TRUE? Nonsense. That’s not science Aanthanur DC –
    it is politics masquerading as science. Rahmstorf is an intellectual child
    compared to Lindzen, who calls Rahmstorf’s “model” crude and inaccurate.
    Just look at observed temps in Fig 1 in Rahmstorf 2012. No temp delta 1980
    to 1997, spike up 1998, no temp delta 1998 to 2010.

  • johndaddyo444 1 year ago

    I don’t own any stock at all – I’m a poor scientist. You must be thinking
    of the RICH climate scientists — you know, the ones who are raking in
    MILLIONS from my tax dollars to create false computer models of climate. I
    could create a more sophisticated model than the simple climate models I’ve
    seen using just an Excel workbook and my laptop at work! Dr. Spencer beat
    me to the punch and proved the point that any model can reproduce past
    climate — to a point! They all break down re predictions

  • Aanthanur DC 1 year ago

    Ramstorf 2012 showed that the models used for the IPCC AR4 did a good job
    with temperatures and CO2 concentrations, a not so good job in sea level
    rise, all models understimated the sea level rise. wich is rather the
    IPCC’s fault than that of the models. because they wanted sea level rises
    do to land based ice masses to be expluded because we have only a low
    understanding how large ice masses melt.

  • Aanthanur DC 1 year ago

    aah balanced view? then you point to this model comparison, where he 1st.
    did not accound for the unpredictable factors we do not have included in
    the models, like Volcanic activity, precise PDO timing and changing TSI.
    2nd he cherry picks one region and ignores the errorbars…. very balanced
    view,…. not really. Ramstorf 2012 model comparison is scientific and
    balanced and accurate. unlike creatard spencer’s nonsense.

  • Synaquanon Vestige 1 year ago

    The native peoples throughout the world lived, (and in many cases, still
    live), sustainably.There’s just not much money to get out of them so we
    allow the wealthy to rape their land, destroy their traditions and
    assimilate them by attrition or by force, whichever is most expedient to
    the the Oligarchs controlling the world governments.

  • Synaquanon Vestige 1 year ago

    How much oil stock do you own and what delusion has you believe that the
    climate system is stable?

  • johndaddyo444 1 year ago

    You’ve “checked out” nothing, 123johnbrowne; I don’t maintain any websites.
    However, since you brought it up, perhaps you can tell me: Which “climate
    scientists” understand feedback and amplification better than Electrical
    Engineers? By the way, can you give me the list of universities that had
    degrees in “climate science” back in the 1970s, when I started my
    scientific career? I’ve served as a principal investigator and currently
    work as a plasma physicist. What’s your scientific training?

  • 123johnbrowne 1 year ago

    everyone, this guy johndaddyo444 is a fake. checkout his site and his so
    called ‘expert’ is an electrical engineer, not a climate scientist. thats
    like having a climate scientist talk about generators, cell phones, or
    semiconductors. even dr roy spencer, who is a climatologist, is a wacko
    friend of rush limbaugh. dr spencer is also an outspoken advocate for
    ‘intelligent design’ being taught in schools as science. that should tell
    you everything you need to know about his view of the world.

  • johndaddyo444 1 year ago

    I feel so bad for Dr. Hansen. To have spent his entire career and achieved
    nothing but the creation of an erroneous model of the global climate
    system. The poor man actually believes the climate system is unstable – and
    that a positive feedback ought to be assigned to the tiny bit of warming
    caused by added CO2. It is terribly sad. If you want a balanced view of
    climate change, then I would urge you to visit Dr. Roy Spencer’s website,
    and compare the UAH satellite data with GCM model data.

  • Benjigga 1 year ago

    This talk is basically the tl;dr version of his book Storms Of My
    Grandchildren. Still a great talk!

  • neumei626 1 year ago

    We’re all doomed

  • lumel666 1 year ago

    1 view really?