Hansen: Obama must defend climate scientists and “facing the difficult truth of climate science”

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“The predominant moral issue of the 21st century, almost surely, will be climate change,” writes James Hansen of NASA on Huffington Post April 5. “So far Congress has been steamrolled by special interests….The president must get involved. He must explain the situation to the public and use his bully pulpit to persuade Congress to do what is right for the nation and future generations. He must explain that a rising carbon price is needed to phase out our fossil fuel addiction.”

And instead of “almost legitimizing denialists,” by failing to confront them aggressively and by the way he has ducked serious discussion of the threat of unchecked climate change, Hansen says: “The president should unequivocally support the climate science community, which is under politically orchestrated assault on the legitimacy of its scientific assessments.…Why face the difficult truth presented by the climate science? Why not use the president’s tack: just talk about the need for clean energy and energy independence? Because that approach leads to wrong policies…”

Amen to Hansen’s calling on President Obama to personally and actively take up the cause of climate science and to begin to speak in earnest about the threat posed by global climatic disruption. Those who have steered Obama in the tactical direction of talking about the need for a clean energy transformation as if this challenge could be addressed without recognizing that it is intertwined with climate science and the consequences of unchecked climate change have put things on the wrong track. It is time for Obama to chart a new course, one with greater intellectual integrity and the hope of a deeper, more lasting change in society.
Hansen writes (excerpt):

Obama’s Second Chance on the Predominant Moral Issue of This Century

Dr. James Hansen
April 5, 2010

President Obama, finally, took a get-involved get-tough approach to negotiations on health care legislation and the arms control treaty with Russia—with success. Could this be the turn-around for what might still be a great presidency?

The predominant moral issue of the 21st century, almost surely, will be climate change, comparable to Nazism faced by Churchill in the 20th century and slavery faced by Lincoln in the 19th century. Our fossil fuel addiction, if unabated, threatens our children and grandchildren, and most species on the planet.

Yet the president, addressing climate in the State of the Union, was at his good-guy worst, leading with “I know that there are those who disagree…” with the scientific evidence. This weak entrée, almost legitimizing denialists, was predictably greeted by cheers and hoots from well-oiled coal-fired Congressmen. The president was embarrassed and his supporters cringed.

This is not the 17th century, when “beliefs” trumped science, forcing Galileo to recant his understanding of the solar system. The president should unequivocally support the climate science community, which is under politically orchestrated assault on the legitimacy of its scientific assessments. If he needs reassurance or cover, the president can ask for a prompt report from the National Academy of Sciences, established by Abraham Lincoln for advice on technical issues. …

Hansen then lays out the case for why he believes a carbon fee-and-dividend policy is preferable to an emission cap-and-trade approach, both for U.S. domestic policy and for achieving an effective international accord. Climate Science Watch doesn’t have a hard-over position on that controversy at this point.

He concludes with this:

China is willing to negotiate a carbon price. How can I say that with confidence?

China is making enormous investments in nuclear power, wind power, and solar power. They want to avoid the fossil fuel addiction of the United States. They want to clean up their atmosphere and water. They want to protect the several hundred million Chinese living near sea level. They know that their clean fuels will win out only if fossil fuels are made to pay for damages that they cause.

Once the United States and China agree on a carbon price, most other nations will accept the same. Products made by nations that do not have a carbon price can be charged an equivalent duty under existing rules of the World Trade Organization. That will convince most nations to join, so they can collect the tax themselves.

Perhaps posterity may remember that Obama reduced the number of nuclear-tipped missiles, or that he added ten percent of Americans to the health care rolls. But if he dreams of being a great president, he needs to take on the great moral challenge of our century.

Earlier CSW posts:
Obama State of the Union evasive and inadequate on climate change and climate science

New Hansen analysis and global temperature data counter disinformers who say the planet is cooling

A New Year’s resolution for Obama: Figure out how to talk to the public about climate change

Obama, Copenhagen, and the need for straight talk on climate

Obama 2008: “Time for delay is over. This is a matter of urgency.” U.S. 2009: No climate policy

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