“Current Climate Policies Failing” – Jim Hansen Makes a Personal Appeal to Obama

  • Published on January 7th, 2009

James Hansen delivers personal plea to Barck and Michelle Obama on the urgent need for effective action on climate changeLeading climate scientist Dr. Jim Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and his wife Anniek have written a personal appeal to both Michelle and Barack Obama on the urgent need to come to grips with climate change.

The Hansens open the letter with appealing to the Obama’s as parents and concerned citizens:

“We write to you as fellow parents concerned about the Earth that will be inherited by our children, grandchildren, and those yet to be born … Jim has advised governments previously through regular channels. But urgency now dictates a personal appeal.”

A profound disconnect


The Hansens speak of the “profound disconnect” between current public policy on climate change “…and what the science demands for preservation of the planet.”

Hansen is particularly critical of the Kyoto Protocol strategy of global climate action, calling it “ineffectual and not commensurate with the climate threat”. The continuing United Nations process of national emission reduction targets “could waste another decade”.

Of paramount importance, according to Hansen, is the need to quickly phase out coal power emissions:

“The critical need to cut off the coal source soon must be recognized. I was surprised that in 90 minutes I could not get the German Environmental Minister to understand that their proposed “carbon cap” would not allow them to build 20 more coal-fired power plants. I kept saying “if you burn more coal you must convince Russia to leave its oil in the ground” and he would say “we will tighten the carbon cap”. Japan thinks that it did fine in meeting its Kyoto obligations, even though its coal use and CO2 emissions increased. [Japan used Kyoto-allowed escape hatches. The Earth has no escape hatch.]”

Hansen rejects carbon cap-and-trade schemes saying that a carbon cap “that makes one more stinking millionaire on the backs of the public is going to infuriate the public. Me too. There is no need to support lobbyists, traders, and special interests.”

Instead, Hansen favors a carbon tax “across all fossil fuels at their source”:

“A rising tax (with all the other needed measures such as building codes, vehicle efficiencies,
renewable energies…) will help constrain demand for the fuel.

When gasoline hits $4-5/gallon again, most of that should be tax staying in the country and returned as dividend, providing the consumer the means to purchase more efficient products and incentive for entrepreneurs to develop them. A rising tax will help keep the price paid for the oil itself (or other fossil fuel) lower, thus making it unprofitable to go to the most extreme places on the planet to extract the last drop of oil. Instead we can move on sooner to the energies of the post-fossil-fuel-era.

…The tax should be proportional to the carbon amount and the dividend calculation will only require long division, which even a civil servant can do. 100% of the tax should go into the dividends. However, if some countries do not apply an equivalent tax, a duty should be collected on fossil-fuel dependent products imported from that country. Such import duties might be used, in part, to finance reforestation, climate adaptation, or other climate or energy related needs.”

The final point Hansen makes in his three-pronged approach outlined in the letter is, perhaps surprisingly to some, his support for “fourth generation” nuclear power:

“It would be great if energy efficiency, renewable energies, and an improved (“smart”) electric grid could satisfy all energy needs. However, the future of our children should not rest on that gamble. The danger is that the minority of vehement antinuclear “environmentalists” could cause development of advanced safe nuclear power to be slowed such that utilities are forced to continue coal-burning in order to keep the lights on. That is a prescription for disaster.

There is no need for a decision to deploy nuclear power on a large scale. What is needed is rapid development of the potential, including prototypes, so that options are available. We have to avoid a “FutureGen” sort of drag-out. It seems to me that it is time to get fed-up with those people who think they can impose their will on everybody, and all the consequences that might imply for the planet, by putting this R&D on a slow boat to nowhere instead of on the fast-track that it deserves.”

While in England with her husband, who was attending meeting, Anniek Hansen suffured a heart attack. The couple wrote the letter while awaiting permission from Anniek’s physician to make the trip home. John Holdren, Barack Obama’s pick for Whithe House Science Adviser, was given the letter with a request to personally deliver it to the Obamas.

Read full text of the letter, the cover to Holdren, and comments from Hansen (pdf)

Image Credit: World Development Movement, Flickr

About the Author

is an online publisher, editor, and freelance writer. He is the founder of GlobalWarmingisReal.com and the History Blog Project, as well as publisher and site director for the HippieMagazine.com. Tom also contributes to numerous environmental blogs, including TriplePundit, Ecopolitology, Sustainablog, and Planetsave.   Tom's work has led him to Europe, Africa, Latin America, Canada, the South Pacific, and across the United States. His home base is San Francisco, California.


  • […] The letter was announced in a press release today from the Sustainable Energy Network, an informal network founded in 2006 comprised of more than 600 organizations, businesses, and individuals advocating aggressive development of sustainable energy technologies to curb energy imports, slash greenhouse gas emissions, and phase out nuclear power. The recommendation comes on the heals of warnings from climatologist Dr. Jim Hansen, including a personal appeal to the Obamas written by Hansen and his wife in December. […]

  • How convenient that we have 4-years to act on this supposed issue. Exactly the length of time of one presidential term.

    It boggles the mind that this "scientist" would know with such specificity how much time we have left to act when our meteorologists can't tell you exactly what the weather is going to be next week — quite often they are wrong about today's weather.

    The manufacturing of a global threat is the first step towards the creation of a global government based on the ideology of humanism. Beware.

  • Hansen is insane. He's suggesting collecting and redistributing wealth will take no new bureaucracy.

    That right there should be enough for anyone to discount what he has to say. It's becoming more and more obvious that the AGW is a scam and Hansen has been the man behind the science end. Al gore must be working for some very rich and smart men who know how to use the media and government connections to shape the world to their benefit.

    Thank goodness the science they push is so bad or they would have a perfect scam.

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