NASA's James Hansen Slams Obama for Failure to Lead on Climate

dr james hansen
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Dr. James Hansen.
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President Obama can't catch a break: Just when he gets right with the gays, the greens come after him. In today's New York Times NASA's leading climate scientist James Hansen takes the president to task for not doing jack on climate change. "President Obama speaks of a 'planet in peril,'" Hansen fumes, "but he does not provide the leadership needed to change the world’s course."

Hansen says he was "troubled" by a comment the president made during a recent interview with Rolling Stone. Obama, when asked whether he agreed with Hansen that if the U.S. approves the Keystone Pipeline and burns dirty Canadian tar sands, it's "game over" for the climate, said – no, adding that Canada would exploit its reserves "regardless of what we do." He went on:

The reason that Keystone got so much attention is not because that particular pipeline is a make-or-break issue for climate change, but because those who have looked at the science of climate change are scared and concerned about a general lack of sufficient movement to deal with the problem.

Actually, no, says Hansen; this is a make-or-break issue for climate change.

Canada’s tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history. If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control. Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities. Global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50 percent of the planet’s species would be driven to extinction. Civilization would be at risk.

So what would Hansen have Obama do? Not approve Keystone, obviously, but also "encourage economic incentives to leave tar sands and other dirty fuels in the ground." How? Stop subsidizing fossil fuels, and put a tax on carbon. He's right, of course, but Obama can't do that unilaterally; he needs support from congress, the same obstructionist congress that killed the far less radical cap-and-trade bill. So what's the alternative? Says Hansen, there isn't one: "The cost of acting goes far higher the longer we wait — we can’t wait any longer to avoid the worst and be judged immoral by coming generations."

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