June 18, 2013

The Future is Worth the Fight—Embrace the Fierce Urgency of Now.

Dr. James Hansen / Conservation Colorado Gala: Photo courtesy Travis Heacock

Courageous James Hansen talks about Fairytales, Renewables and Baloney at the Conservation Colorado annual Rebel With a Cause Gala.

It was Thursday night, June 13th and the grand ballroom at the Marriott City Center was filled to capacity for an evening of overwhelming importance for the future of conservation advocacy for the State of Colorado.

The keynote speaker also carried a message of global significance for humanity. Less than a year ago, the Colorado Conservation Voters and the Colorado Environmental Coalition announced their new name during their 12th annual luncheon with author Paul Hawken as the featured speaker.

Judging by the mood and size of Thursday’s crowd (over 600 people), the decision to combine these two highly effective organizations was a very good one.

Micah Parkin, the Colorado Coordinator of 350 (dot) 0rg gave a rousing introduction, featuring the innumerable awards Dr. Hansen has garnered during his 40 plus year career as a scientist. When one reviews Dr. Hansen’s credentials it’s rather difficult to accept his “simple minded” self assessment.

He began his research at the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University followed by a 32 year career as the Head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies as NASA’s top climatologist. This simple minded truth teller was elected by his peers to the National Academy of Sciences in 1996 and was awarded the Carl-Gustav Rossby Research Medal— the highest award from the American Meteorological Society. He is respected as the first credentialed human “Canary in the Mine Shaft” on the subject of Climate Change.

Dr. Hansen has been publicly ringing the alarm bell for the rest of us since the 1980’s. Yes, there have been others, however, his position as chief climatologist for NASA drew special attention to his warnings. He made a name for himself when the Dick Cheney and George Bush White House censored his research and testimony.

When I arrived at the Conservation Colorado reception, Dr. Hansen was cordially speaking with a graduate student who suggested that humans must begin to prepare to adapt to these serious changes and challenges from droughts, to floods, to species extinction, to ice sheet disintegration (Greenland lost 500 cubic kilometers of ice in 2012), and the subsequent sea level rise.

James quickly said no to the suggestion it’s too late to do anything about human caused climate disruption, he insisted we must persevere and do everything we can to hold the line and stop the damage being done by continuing to burn fossil fuels.

He insisted that we avoid sinking into the “well informed futility syndrome”. He continued this theme during his talk.

He believes the public can no longer perceive that fossil fuels are the least expensive option for energy—the truth is they only appear to be cheap due to subsidies and by avoiding the real costs to society both in climate impact costs and health costs which are transferred to tax payers. Health care costs related to air and water pollution including asthma in children and forest fires and other impacts are not paid for by the fossil fuel industry, that burden falls upon citizens and communities. Allowing corporations to avoid paying the true cost of their activities is what Randy Hayes, founder of Rainforest Action Network and Foundation Earth calls “Cheater Economics.” Working together, we can “Ecologize the Economy, as Randy likes to say.

It’s time to enter an era of level playing fields and eliminate “externalities” on every corporate balance sheet. True cost accounting, often referred to as whole cost accounting must become the way forward.

It’s rare to hear from bold scientists willing to risk their careers and reputations by communicating their observations and research. Most scientists are reluctant to share with the public what they know with any degree of clarity and certitude. James Hansen, this years’ Rebel With a Cause is a self proclaimed simple minded truth teller—one who blurts out what he thinks and he admitted his tendency to be blunt gets him into a lot of trouble.

Dr. Hansen was rather blunt in dismissing Amory Lovins’ (of RMI fame) assertion that a 100% shift to renewable energy combined with efficiency as outlined in the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Reinventing Fire initiative is achievable in the near future.

He called Amory’s claims “a renewables  fairytale full of baloney.”  The fairytale reference stings a little, since it points to the human gullibility—our tendency to hear what we want to hear and dismiss information that is uncomfortable and not aligned with our idealism. It’s the dance between an inconvenient truth or a reassuring lie. Unfortunately, most folks are more comfortable with reassuring lies. The truth can be hard to take, especially if it affects your wallet or your cushy life style.  

Now, before we get James in any deeper trouble with RMI fans or coal lovers, he certainly acknowledged that Amory is a precious treasure to Colorado and planet Earth for that matter. The work of RMI and Amory’s dedication to making our communities better, our policies smarter and our behavior well informed is respected by scientists and honored by ordinary folks all around the world, as it well should be.

Most scientists, including Dr. Hansen are deeply dismayed by the political polarization of Climate Change. By 2005 as James states in Storms of My Grandchildren, The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity: “I was well aware that the NASA office of Public Affairs had become an office of propaganda.”

Here’s a clip that reveals his inspiration for writing his first book. At the moment, he is working on a prescription paper to mitigate climate disruption on behalf of nature and children—keep an eye out for it. 

In 2012 and 2013, all time temperature records continue to be shattered. While year to year variability in seasonal temperatures is common, the bell curve for extreme summer anomalies, as climatologists call them has shifted dramatically.

Due to human caused climate disruption, the frequency has shifted from less than 1% in the 20th century of the land mass affected to 10% in recent summers. Extreme weather events continue to multiply. An EF5 tornado is the highest “Enhanced Fujita Scale” rating there is. The impact of an EF5 is described as “incredible damage” with winds between 261 and 318 miles per hour.

A force this strong is capable of flying “missiles” the size of automobiles more than the length of a football field.  This spring, a 2 mile wide swath of tornado devastation was the widest ever recorded. Leaving to our children a world where these kinds of extreme weather events become the new normal is blatantly immoral in Dr. Hansen’s opinion.

James Hansen laying out his plan to help abate severe climate disruption – Photo Courtesy Travis Heacock

Here is the remedy that Dr. Hansen proposes:

  • Eliminate all subsidies for the fossil fuel industry
  • Place a gradually escalating price on Carbon emissions beginning at $10.00 per ton  
  • Collect these fees at the domestic mine or point of extraction or the port of entry
  • 100% of revenue collected should be distributed as dividends, in equal amounts, to every legal citizen
  • This is not a tax to grow the government
  • There would be no trading of pollution or carbon “credits”—Wall Street traders would be excluded from any involvement
  • Such a fee stimulates efficiency, innovation and creates business and environmental incentives for everyone to limit their carbon footprint
  • The market favors the best technologies and allows individuals to choose their preferred energy sources
  • Nobel Laureate Economist Gary Becker and Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State, George Shultz recently wrote an article advocating this approach
  • China does not question the reality of climate change and they are ready for a carbon fee – with 300 million people living at sea level
  • If conservatives promote this intervention, it is likely to be adopted by those forces that would resist a progressive proposal

At the conclusion of the evening, I managed to catch Pete Maysmith the Executive Director of Conservation Colorado before he headed off to the staff after party at the Appal he shared these inspiring words:

Pete Maysmith-1 (Click on this link to hear Pete’s comments)

In case it needs repeating, we need to act.



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Ed: Bryonie Wise

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