NASA’s James Hansen has posted a “summary of recent attempts to provide information and interact with governors re actions needed to stem climate change” here. As he explains in the accompanying e-mail:
This Sunday evening (June 1) I will give a talk at Cary Hall in Lexington, Massachusetts a few hundred yards from where the first shots of the American Revolution were fired. Perhaps there is an analogy between the gap that developed between the best interests of the American people and policies of despotic King George and the gap that has developed between the best interests of the public (and nature) and the policies (mainly those related to energy) that we now live under.
A different sort of revolution, within the democratic framework, is needed, but it won’t be easy. What makes it a hair-raising drama, with an outcome far from assured, is the combination of climate system inertia and resulting planetary energy imbalance, energy system inertia, and climate system tipping points.
The event referred to above (7:30 PM, June 1) is hosted by the Lexington Global Warming Action Coalition (info at www.lexgwac.org). It starts with a short talk by Mark Bowen, author of Censoring Science, followed by my talk on the science, and then open discussion. There is a $5 admission. I have no financial interest in the book or event (but I probably get in free).
Needless to say, if you live in the Boston area, this is a must see.
There is one policy area where I pretty strongly disagree with Hansen. He calls for:
(3) Public Support: Tax and Dividend
Last week the Energy Secretary for the United States, before the House of Representatives,
answering questions about global warming and energy policy, provided a response that was so
ignorant and foolish as to suggest that he has been living on another planet or is stone deaf to
scientific information. He said that the appropriate policy response is for the government to open
up more public land for mining, to open off-shore areas for drilling, to open the Arctic National
Wildlife Reserve, and to encourage extraction of oil from tar shale.
The danger is that such egregiously bad policy, bad for all but the short-term benefit of special
interests, might be packaged to sound logical to the public. This danger will increase when a rising
carbon price — essential for solving the climate problem — is instituted. For a carbon price to be
effective it must, perforce, be large enough to cause a big impact on the public — otherwise it will
not help bring about consumer changes that are needed to reduce emissions fast enough. But it
must be implemented with care and foresight.
For this reason I strongly favor a “tax and dividend” approach. The entire carbon tax should be
given back to the public, an equal amount to each person. No bureaucracy is needed to figure this
out. If an early carbon tax averages say $1200 per person (it can be collected in various ways — at
the well-head, carbon emission permit auctions, etc.) a monthly $100 deposit can be made
automatically in everyone’s bank account.
Although energy prices will rise, you can bet your bottom dollar that lower and middle income
people will figure out how to reduce energy use enough that, overall, they come out ahead. And in
doing so, moving to more energy-efficient products, they will spur economic activity and create
jobs. The tax-and-dividend approach not only minimizes public backlash against climate and
energy policies, it also has the characteristics needed to make those policies work.
Footnote: I suggest limiting the number of dividends to four per family. Climate scientists have no
special expertise related to the family planning issue, but common sense dictates against a policy
that stimulates population growth.
Certainly a significant fraction of the money should go back to the public, although I wouldn’t give any of it back to families who make more than, say, $100,000 a year.
But we are going to need major federal support for clean energy deployment (plus some R&D) if we are to have any chance whatsoever to meet his target and especially to replace coal as quickly as Hansen would like (see “Peter Barnes’ Cap & Dividend plan is fatally incomplete“).