Jim Hansen, most renowned climate scientist, says it ‘is a moral issue on a par with slavery’.

6/4/2012 Guardian Nasa scientist: climate change is a moral issue on a par with slavery.Prof Jim Hansen to use lecture at Edinburgh International Science Festival to
call for worldwide tax on all carbon emissions.  - by Severin Carrell.


Prof Jim Hansen: ‘We’re handing future generations a climate system which is
potentially out of their control’. Photograph: Melanie Patterson/AP

Averting the worst consequences of human-induced climate change is a “great
moral issue” on a par with slavery, according to the leading Nasa climate
scientist Prof Jim Hansen.

He argues that storing up expensive and destructive consequences for society in
future is an “injustice of one generation to others”.

Hansen, who will next Tuesday be awarded the prestigious Edinburgh Medal for his
contribution to science, will also in his acceptance speech call for a worldwide
tax on all carbon emissions.

In his lecture, Hansen will argue that the challenge facing future generations
from climate change is so urgent that a flat-rate global tax is needed to force
immediate cuts in fossil fuel use. Ahead of receiving the award – which has
previously been given to Sir David Attenborough, the ecologist James Lovelock,
and the economist Amartya Sen – Hansen told the Guardian that the latest climate
models had shown the planet was on the brink of an emergency. He said humanity
faces repeated natural disasters from extreme weather events which would affect
large areas of the planet.

“The situation we’re creating for young people and future generations is that
we’re handing them a climate system which is potentially out of their control,”
he said. “We’re in an emergency: you can see what’s on the horizon over the next
few decades with the effects it will have on ecosystems, sea level and species

Now 70, Hansen is regarded as one of the most influential figures in climate
science; the creator of one of the first global climate models, his pioneering
role in warning about global warming is frequently cited by climate campaigners
such as former US vice president Al Gore and in earlier science prizes,
including the $1m Dan David prize. He has been arrested more than once for his
role in protests against coal energy.

Hansen will argue in his lecture that current generations have an over-riding
moral duty to their children and grandchildren to take immediate action.
Describing this as an issue of inter-generational justice on a par with ending
slavery, Hansen said: “Our parents didn’t know that they were causing a problem
for future generations but we can only pretend we don’t know because the science
is now crystal clear.

“We understand the carbon cycle: the CO2 we put in the air will stay in surface
reservoirs and won’t go back into the solid earth for millennia. What the
Earth’s history tells us is that there’s a limit on how much we can put in the
air without guaranteeing disastrous consequences for future generations. We
cannot pretend that we did not know.”

Hansen said his proposal for a global carbon tax was based on the latest
analysis of CO2 levels in the atmosphere and their impact on global temperatures
and weather patterns. He has co-authored a scientific paper with 17 other
experts, including climate scientists, biologists and economists, which calls
for an immediate 6% annual cut in CO2 emissions, and a substantial growth in
global forest cover, to avoid catastrophic climate change by the end of the

The paper, which has passed peer review and is in the final stages of
publication by the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,
argues that a global levy on fossil fuels is the strongest tool for forcing
energy firms and consumers to switch quickly to zero carbon and green energy
sources. In larger countries, that would include nuclear power.

Under this proposal, the carbon levy would increase year on year, with the tax
income paid directly back to the public as a dividend, shared equally, rather
than put into government coffers. Because the tax would greatly increase the
cost of fossil fuel energy, consumers relying on green or low carbon sources of
power would benefit the most as this dividend would come on top of cheaper fuel
bills. It would promote a dramatic increase in the investment and development of
low-carbon energy sources and technologies.

The very rich and most profligate energy users, people with several homes, or
private jets and fuel-hungry cars, would also be forced into dramatically
changing their energy use. In the new paper, Hansen, director of Nasa’s Goddard
Institute for Space Studies, and his colleagues warn that failing to cut CO2
emissions by 6% now will mean that by 2022, the annual cuts would need to reach
a more drastic level of 15% a year.

Had similar action been taken in 2005, when the Kyoto protocol on climate change
came into force, the CO2 emission reductions would have been at a more
manageable 3% a year. The target was to return CO2 levels in the atmosphere to
350 parts per million, down from its current level of 392ppm. The paper, the
“Scientific case for avoiding dangerous climate change to protect young people
and nature”, also argues that the challenge is growing because of the
accelerating rush to find new, harder–to-reach sources of oil, gas and coal in
the deep ocean, the Arctic and from shale gas reserves.

Hansen said current attempts to limit carbon emissions, particularly the
European Union’s emissions trading mechanism introduced under the Kyoto protocol
which restricts how much CO2 an industry can emit before it has to pay a fee for
higher emissions, were “completely ineffectual”. Under the global carbon tax
proposal, the mechanisms for controlling fossil fuel use would be taken out of
the hands of individual states influenced by energy companies, and politicians
anxious about winning elections.

“It can’t be fixed by individual specific changes; it has to be an
across-the-board rising fee on carbon emissions,” said Hansen. “We can’t simply
say that there’s a climate problem, and leave it to the politicians. They’re so
clearly under the influence of the fossil fuel industry that they’re coming up
with cockamamie solutions which aren’t solutions. That is the bottom line.”
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