Hansen (at AGU) to Obama: “We could solve this problem if we would just tell the truth”

Jeff Goodell, our roving reporter at the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting, filed his second dispatch after the talk by the nation’s leading climate scientist.

Maybe Justin Timberlake or Barry Manilow draws a more adoring crowd, but I doubt it. Hansen is not just a rock start here at AGU, but the one true prophet, the Man Who Saw It All Before Anyone Else. And Hansen, in his own quiet way, did not disappoint.

The themes of his talk were not new to anyone who has heard him speak recently (or to readers of Climate Progress) — the dangers of runaway warming, the need to keep CO2 level in the atmosphere at 350 ppm or lower, the urgency of phasing out coal by 2030. Today, Hansen laid it all out with dry, devestating precision.

Near the end of his talk, he predicted that, because of the earth’s current energy balance and the coming solar cycles:

In his first term, President-elect Obama is likely to face even higher global temperatures.

Of course, given that Hansen has called for public demonstrations against coal plants, it was hard not to read this as a warming about the rising political heat Obama will face too. Or, to put it another way, if Hansen is feeling optimistic about the coming change in administration, he gave no indication of it. “I think we could solve this problem if we would just tell the truth,” Hansen said during the Q & A session after the talk. “But politicians aren’t willing. How do we make them understand how serious this is?

How indeed.

Jeff’s first dispatch: Report from AGU meeting: One meter sea level rise by 2100 “very likely” even if warming stops?

Hansen Primer:


12 Responses to Hansen (at AGU) to Obama: “We could solve this problem if we would just tell the truth”

  1. Rick C says:

    Joe, I’m pleasanlty surprised that you’re taking advantagge of Jeff Goodell’s considerable knowledge of the coal industry and global warming. His book, ‘Big Coal’ is must reading if you want to understand the econmics, the politics and the environmental costs of this industry that mis-portrays itself to the public as America’s energy hope of the future using un-Clean Coal.

  2. John Mashey says:

    1) James Hansen was giving a talk at our local town center last night and a few of us were lucky to have dinner with him beforehand.

    2) The talk was a slightly newer version of this talk, for which page 31 is especially relevant to this discussions. I.e., we’re around Peak Oil, not quite there yet on Peak Gas, but the big problem is coal [and unconventionals (UFF) like tar sands, shale oil, methane hydrates]. We’ll use all the oil and a lot of the gas.

    3) In dinner & later in reply to conversations he was quite succinct:

    a) Efficiency
    b) Renewables
    c) R&D for Gen4 nuclear and coal with carbon sequestration, although even with the latter, he had reservations about whether or not coal could ever be “clean” (mercury).
    Key reason: India & China have less good resources for wind (and perhaps) solar than places like the US. Hence, they *will* burn unsequestered coal unless there’s a better alternative.

    He says he got a lot of angry email from people for whom even the word “nuclear”was too much.

    4) Someone asked what he thought of Steven Chu’s nomination to Secretary of Energy in US.

    A: “I can’t imagine a better person.” [followed by details]

    That at least was encouraging…

    See Archer+Jacobson for worldwide maps of available windpower. Ideally, you want class 3 and up: North America has a lot, India has very little, China has relatively modest amounts.

    Here’s a solar insolation (worst day) map. India is better off than China.

  3. David Lewis says:

    I wonder at Hansen’s assessment of how politics works.

    He has been saying he doesn’t think Obama “gets it”. Me, I assume Obama just might have a very good idea of what climate change is. I sent an email to Hansen saying he should seek to meet Obama and find out. Fat chance he read it. But if he thinks Obama doesn’t “get it” he should formally go to him to try to explain: maybe he’d find out more than he’d teach.

    The political problem in front of Obama is that a large enough percentage of the American people don’t see or don’t want to see the necessity to act with the kind of intensity Hansen wants to see. Think about FDR pre Pearl Harbor. I’m not saying Obama is gung ho on climate the way it is said FDR had made up his mind the US was going to go to war.

    I’m not sure I understand what Hansen was saying in the Q&A you’ve quoted him from above.

    I’ve seen an Environment Minister, the most powerful French Canadian politician of his time, in the brief period late 1980s early 1990s when environment and climate were “top of mind” when Canadians were considering who to vote for, “tell the truth” to a crowd he might have expected to be sympathetic to the message, and he was rejected out of hand, laughed at to his face. I was a far more marginal type of politician, i.e. leading the BC Green Party at that time for a brief while and no one paid attention as I called out for support for our position that the atmosphere should be returned to the preindustrial composition.

  4. Dan B says:

    It’s very late.

    Still I’m compelled to type a response.

    My friends are 20-70 years old. It’s wonderful.

    They’re religious, conservative, liberal, socialist, corporatist, straight, gay, queer, messed-up and seemingly perfect – or perhaps deceiving themselves. They’re all lovable.

    Almost everything I’ve read from the AGU conference would terrify them.

    How do we bring them onto the only viable path – renewable energy?

  5. jorleh says:

    Hansen and Obama: is Obama following Hansen´s science? I think yes. Must be. We can count Obama to be a scientist after all. Not being a scientist, even an intellect, Bush could not understand even the basics of science, seems to be sure. What a pity for the 6,5 billion humans.

  6. In a world in which too many politicians are posers; too many economists are deluded; too many business powerbrokers with great wealth are con artist, gamblers and cheats; and too many of their absurdly enriched minions/’talking heads’ in the mainstream media parrot whatsoever serves political convenience and economic expedience, truth is buried amid cascading disinformation developed from a ‘tool box’ of pernicious rhetorical devices.

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on the Human Population,
    established 2001

    [JR: Steven — message delivered. Perhaps a tad less of this kind of commenting might be warranted.]

  7. @David… I’ve so often wished that Lucien Bouchard was still talking to Canadians about climate change. That he was laughed and jeered out of the room is telling… he was one of the most charismatic conservative politicians that we’ve ever had, and man who could give a rousing speech in both official languages.

  8. Bob Wallace says:

    David –

    A political leader can’t get too far out ahead of the voters. It’s a sure way to lose.

    Personally I don’t get too worried about Obama’s past stance on corn ethanol (he was hired to represent the interests of the farmers in his state) and I don’t get too worried when he says things like “we need to look for ways to burn coal cleanly”. A politician sometimes has to speak in weasel-words in order to not drive people away from their base.

    I can well imagine that Obama understands that clean coal is a non-starter and food-based fuel is a bad idea, but knows that he has to lead (in the true sense of a leader) people to understand what will and will not work.

    Obama is not a scientist. He’s a lawyer. But he’s a very smart guy and very outcome oriented. Based on his past behavior he will surround himself with intelligent (and reality-based) people and he will listen to them. He will also listen to those with different ideas to some extent.

    I’m betting he “gets it”. And to the extent he doesn’t get it right now, reality will soon be recognized.

    Hansen is a “one trick pony”. A very valuable pony whom we should listen to, but he isn’t operating in a greater political world. He’s very focused on what he (and others of us) feel to be one of the greatest challenges ever faced by mankind. He’s impatient, with good cause, but he’s way out in front of the rest of the population and isn’t “leading”.

    I expect Obama is listening to what he has to say, taking it all in, and trying to figure out how to get us moving faster in the right directions.

    (Remember, Obama isn’t our president yet. We’ve got another month of running backwards before we get to start walking forward once more.)

  9. Francois says:

    “(Remember, Obama isn’t our president yet. We’ve got another month of running backwards before we get to start walking forward once more.)”

    Let’s not forget that powerful interests will do anything to prevent the rest of us to walk forward as long as it is profitable for them.

  10. Bob Wallace says:

    Let’s also remember that powerful interests can sniff changing realities in the wind.

    That’s why lots and lots of big money (can you say GE, Pickens, Florida Power and Light?) are pumping very serious money into wind farms.

    That’s why we just heard about a consortium of 14 large US corporations announce that they were joining together to do serious work on vehicle batteries.

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