James Hansen, parent of climate change awareness, calls Paris talks ‘a fraud’

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The former Nasa scientist criticizes the talks, intended to reach a new global deal on cutting carbon emissions beyond 2020, as no action, merely promises

Mere mention of the Paris climate talks is enough to attain James Hansen grumpy. The former Nasa scientist, considered the parent of global awareness of climate change, is a soft-spoken, nearly diffident Iowan. But when he talks about the meet of nearly 200 nations, his demeanour changes.

Its a fraud really, a fake, he tells, rubbing his head. Its merely bullshit for them to say: Well have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years. Its merely worthless words. There is no action, merely promises. As long as fossil fuel appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.

The talks, intended to reach a new global deal on cutting carbon emissions beyond 2020, have expended much day and energy on two major issues: whether the world should aim to contain the temperature rise to 1.5 C or 2C above preindustrial levels, and how much fund should be doled out by wealthy countries to developing nations that risk being swamped by rising oceans and bashed by escalating extreme weather events.

But, according to Hansen, the international jamboree is pointless unless greenhouse gas emissions arent taxed across the board. He argues that only this will force down emissions quickly enough to avoid the worst ravages of climate change.

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Hansen, 74, has just returned from Paris where he again called for a price to be placed on each tonne of carbon from major emitters( hes suggested a fee because taxes scare people off of $15 a tonne that would rise $10 a year and bring in $600 bn in the US alone ). There arent many takers, even among big greens as Hansen labels environment groups.

Hansen has been a nagging yet respected voice on climate change since he shooting to prominence in the summer of 1988. The Nasa scientists, who had been analyzing changes in the Earths climate since the 1970 s, told a congressional committee that something called the greenhouse effect where heat-trapped gases are released into the atmosphere was causing global warming with a 99% certainty.

A New York Times report of the 1988 witnes includes the radical suggestion that there should be a sharp reduced by the burning of coal, oil and other fossil fuel that release carbon dioxide, a plea familiar to those who have watched politicians who have traipsed up to the lectern or interviewers microphone in Paris over the past two weeks.

After that, things started to get a little difficult for Hansen. He claims the White House altered subsequent witnes, given in 1989, and that Nasa appointed a media overseer who vetted what he said to the press. They held practise press conference where any suggestion that fossil fuel be reduced was considered political and unscientific, and therefore should not be uttered.

Scientists are trained to be objective, Hansen tells. I dont think we should be prevented for talking about the the implications of science. He retired from Nasa in 2013. That was a source of friction. I held on longer than I wanted, by a year or two. I was in my 70 s, it was time for someone else to take over. Now I feel a lot better.

A human rides his bicycle on yellow paint poured on the street during a protest by activists from environmental group Greenpeace on the Champs-Elysee in Paris. Photograph: Christophe Ena/ AP

From being possibly Americas most celebrated scientist, Hansen is now likely its most prominent climate activist. Hes been arrested several times in protests outside the White House over mining and the controversial Keystone pipeline extension.

He is also an adjunct professor at Columbia University. When hes in New York, he lives near the campus, surrounded by books piled on groaning shelves. Hansens not slowing down hes involved in a climate lobbying group and still undertakes the sort of scientific endeavor which helps preserve his gravitas.

One particular newspaper, released in July, painted a particularly bleak future for just about anyone living near the coast. Hansen and 16 colleagues found that Earths huge ice sheets, such as those found in Greenland, are melting faster than expected, means that even the 2C warming limit is highly dangerous.

The sea level could soon be up to five meters higher than it is today by the latter part of this century, unless greenhouse gases arent radically slashed, the paper nations. This would inundate many of the worlds cities, including London, New York, Miami and Shanghai.

More than half of the worlds cities of the world are at risk, Hansen tells. If you talk to glaciologists privately they will tell you they are very concerned we are locking in much more significant sea level rises than the ice sheet models are telling us.

The economic cost of a business as usual approach to emissions is incalculable. It will become questionable whether global governance will break down. Youre talking about hundreds of million of climate refugees from places such as Pakistan and China. We merely cant let that happen. Civilization was set up and developed with a stable, constant coastline.

The paper has yet to be fully peer reviewed and some of Hansens colleagues, including his protege at Nasa, Gavin Schmidt, have voiced their doubts whether sea level rise will be quite this bad, with the IPCC projecting up to a meter by 2100.

Brickbats are thrown in a bipartisan way. Hansen feels Obama, who has made climate change a legacy issue in his final year in office, has botched the opportunity to tackle the issue.

We all foolishly had such high hopes for Obama, to enunciate things, to be like Roosevelt and have fireside chats to explain to the public why we need to have a rising fee on carbon in order to move to clean energy, he tells. But hes not especially good at that. He didnt make it a priority and now its too late for him.

Hansen is just as scathing of resulting Republican who have embraced climate science denialism to the humiliation of some party elders.

Leading presidential candidates Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and Ben Carson have all derided evidence that the world is warming due to human activity while Ted Cruz, another challenger, has taken time out from his campaign to to sit on an inquiry into climate science that has hear witnes from a rightwing radio host who has no scientific background.

Its all embarrassing really, Hansen tells. After a while you realise as a scientist that politicians dont act rationally.

Many of the conservatives know climate change is not a hoax. But those operating for chairman are hamstrung by the fact they think they cant get the nomination if they say this is an issue. They wouldnt get fund from the fossil fuel industry.

There is a positive note to end on, however. Global emissions have somewhat stalled and Hansen believes China, the worlds largest emitter, will now step up to provide the leadership lack from the US. A submerged Fifth Avenue and deadly heatwaves arent an inevitability.

I think we will get there because China is rational, Hansen tells. Their leaders are largely trained in engineering and such things, they dont deny climate change and they have a huge incentive, which is air pollution. Its even worse in their cities they need to move to clean energies. They realise its not a hoax. But they will need co-operation.

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Read more: www.theguardian.com

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