Memo to Hansen 2: Why is the country’s top anti-science blog reprinting your stuff?

I got a lot of responses to my first Memo to James Hansen on his ill-conceived and unhelpful opposition to Waxman-Markey.  Needless to say, it gives me no joy to criticize the nation’s top climate scientist, a man who inspired me to write my book and this blog, a man whose work is reprinted more than anyone else’s on this blog (see partial list of links at the end).

I discuss below what we can learn from the experience with the global effort to save the ozone layer, which also began with a far-too-weak effort that was strengthened over time, much as I expect a U.S. climate bill like Waxman-Markey will be.

But first:  I wasn’t going to post again on Hansen, but then I saw that WattsUpWithThat, perhaps the country’s top anti-science blog, had reposted Hansen’s entire new attack on cap-and-trade (see Jim Hansen calls Cap and Trade the “Temple of Doom”).

Now Anthony Watts is one of the hard-core deniers.  Not content to simply dispute the science with disinformation, he publishes and republishes attacks on climate scientists like Hansen himself.  Indeed Watts said ealier this year that Hansen is “no longer a scientist” and called on NASA to fire Hansen.  But then Watts routinely smears all climate scientists, approvingly reprinting denier manifestos that claim global warming “is the biggest whopper ever sold to the public in the history of humankind” — see Diagnosing a victim of anti-science syndrome (ASS).

To all those who think my post or my word choice was inapproprite, I ask, what exactly should I do when someone like Hansen publishes a post titled “Worshipping the Temple of Doom“?   He uses language that is more appropriate for attacks on deniers than on the many serious people struggling to craft a politically possible piece of energy and climate legislation:

Cap-and-trade is the temple of doom. It would lock in disasters for our children and grandchildren. Why do people continue to worship a disastrous approach? Its fecklessness was proven by the Kyoto Protocol. It took a decade to implement the treaty, as countries extracted concessions that weakened even mild goals. Most countries that claim to have met their obligations actually increased their emissions. Others found that even modest reductions of emissions were inconvenient, and thus they simply ignored their goals.

Why is this cap-and-trade temple of doom worshipped? The 648 page cap-and-trade monstrosity that is being foisted on the U.S. Congress provides the answer. Not a single Congressperson has read it. They don’t need to – they just need to add more paragraphs to support their own special interests. By the way, the Congress people do not write most of those paragraphs – they are “suggested” by people in alligator shoes.

Seriously.  Waxman-Markey was mostly written by people in alligator shoes?  Not.

Again, I repeat, Nobelist Al Gore, who also embraces a 350 ppm target like Hansen, combines political realism with his climate science realism, which is why he takes the exact opposite view that Hansen does “” see Gore on Waxman-Markey: “One of the most important pieces of legislation ever introduced in the Congress “¦ has the moral significance” of 1960s civil rights legislation and Marshall Plan.

Again, I simply don’t believe that Hansen is in a position to criticize anybody because he refuses to put forward a policy solution that would achieve 350 ppm (see “An open letter to James Hansen on the real truth about stabilizing at 350 ppm“).

Note Hansen’s core criticism:

The only defense of this monstrous absurdity that I have heard is “well, you are right, it’s no good, but the train has left the station”. If the train has left, it had better be derailed soon or the planet, and all of us, will be in deep do-do. People with the gumption to parse the 648-pages come out with estimates of a price impact on petrol between 12 and 20 cents per gallon. It has to be kept small and ineffectual, because they want to claim that it does not affect energy prices!

I must say that is just very, very naive or disingenuous, as I argued in Part 1.

Jim:  The reason the carbon price resulting from Waxman-Markey in, say, 2020 is going to be low has NOTHING to do with the fact that the bill is 648 pages long or that it utilizes the cap-and-trade approach. It has everything to do with the fact that the country lacks the political will for stronger action (thanks to the massive disinformation campaign, a feckless media, and poor messaging by scientists [not you], progressives, and environmentalists).

If Congress passed a carbon tax, it would have the same low carbon price and would ratchet up as slowly as under Waxman-Markey.

[As an aside, it is all but inconceivable that a carbon price will drive up the price of gasoline to get the kind of reductions needed in oil use (see EDF’s bizarre $10,000 contest: “What is a carbon cap and how will it cure our oil addiction?”).  Your own published work on the subject assumes, correctly, that peak oil will “deal” with conventional oil.]

Hey, does anybody know a great communicator, who might level with the public, explain
what is needed to break our addiction to fossil fuels, to gain energy independence, to assure a
future for young people? Who would explain what is really needed, rather than hide behind
future “goals” and a gimmick “cap”? Naw. Roosevelt and Churchill are dead. So is Kennedy.


You can read Hansen’s entire critique of cap-and-trade in his letter to Dr. Martin Parkinson, Secretary of the Australian Department of Climate Change.  I am sympathetic to many of his concerns, but most of them if not all of them would apply equally well to a politically plausible “simple carbon tax” bill as I argued in Part 1.

Again, Waxman-Markey is not going to get us to 350 ppm or 45o ppm.  But let me reprint what I wrote in Salon about the Montreal Protocol:


In 1974, climate scientists warned us that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were destroying the earth’s ozone layer, threatening to bring about a sharp increase in skin cancer. Within five years, the United States voluntarily banned their use in spray cans, and CFC production began to decline. But other uses for CFCs, as refrigerants and solvents, began driving up the demand again by the early 1980s.

In 1985, scientists discovered a hole in the ozone shield over Antarctica. As the National Academy of Sciences wrote, this was “the first unmistakable sign of human-induced change in the global environment period … Many scientists greeted the news with disbelief. Existing theory simply had not predicted it.”

Chlorine concentrations had been increasing over Antarctica for decades, up from the natural level of 0.6 parts per billion. Yet as Richard Benedick, President Ronald Reagan’s chief ozone negotiator, explained in a 2005 Senate hearing, “No effect on the ozone layer was evident until the concentration exceeded two parts per billion, which apparently triggered the totally unexpected collapse.” His ominous lesson for today: “Chlorine concentrations had tripled with no impact whatsoever on ozone until they crossed an unanticipated threshold.” The earth’s climate system is approaching many such thresholds faster than expected, which is why climate scientists are desperate that humanity act now.”

The stunning revelation of an ozone hole drove the world to negotiate the Montreal Protocol. The 1987 agreement called for a 50 percent cut in CFC production by 1999. Significantly, the protocol’s targets and timetables slowed the rate of growth of concentrations only slightly and would have still led to millions of extra skin cancer cases by midcentury. Further, the protocol allowed developing countries to delay implementing the control measures for about 10 years. It also required rich countries to give developing ones access to alternative chemicals and technologies, together with financial aid.

Nevertheless, President Reagan endorsed the protocol, and the Senate ratified it. By the end of 1988, 29 countries and the European Economic Community — but not China or India — had ratified it. The treaty came into effect the next year. But it took many more years of negotiations, continuous strengthening of the scientific consensus, and significant concessions to developing countries before amendments to the treaty were strong enough and had enough support from both rich and poor countries to ensure that CFC concentrations in the air would be reduced.

The analogy of the ozone layer and the Montreal Protocol to global warming and the UNFCCC process from Kyoto to Copenhagen is far from perfect — greenhouse gases are more integral to modern life than CFCs ever were. American politics has changed in two decades, and conservatives would no doubt unanimously oppose the Montreal Protocol today, especially without ratification by China and India. Yet this small first step by the rich nations jump-started a multiyear process that saved the ozone layer and prevented millions of cases of skin cancer.

So yes, I support the Waxman-Markey approach, warts and all, as a crucial first step for this country.  I’d like to see the bill strengthened now, but I’m certain it will be strengthened over the next decade and then strengthened again.  And again.  Supporters of it are not worshiping at the Temple of Doom.  They, like Gore, match scientific realism with political realism.

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31 Responses to Memo to Hansen 2: Why is the country’s top anti-science blog reprinting your stuff?

  1. SecularAnimist says:

    The unfortunate reality is that both a cap-and-trade system, and a carbon tax, can be rendered ineffective depending on how they are implemented.

    And the fossil fuel corporations and their bought-and-paid-for shills in Congress will do everything in their power to prevent either one from being implemented, or to render ineffective any emissions reduction plan that is passed whether it is cap-and-trade or a straightforward tax.

    Their ONLY concern is protecting the trillions of dollars in profits that the fossil fuel corporations expect to reap from decades more business-as-usual consumption of their products.

  2. ken levenson says:

    my speculation is that Hansen, personally, has moved over to more dire predictions, along the lines of James Lovelock but can’t muster Lovelock’s sense of “gaia peace”….and so Hansen is freaking out….never good to freak out.

  3. I think this is the Hansen column you should have written in the first place; much more even and measured. But I know that you have a difficult job as our point man against the deniers, so even though I disagreed with the last column, I’m sympathetic.

    Anyone for an Anthony Watts is Sauron campaign? Or something like that… I’ve been toying with ideas of creating bumper stickers and t-shirts that call these people out, with the money raised being sent to a charitable group that is giving solar powered lights to the working poor in India and Africa which they can use instead of kerosene. (One of the things I like best about the movement to slow climate change is that it dovetails nicely with some elements of social justice).

  4. charlie says:

    Real leaders would be pushing for a gasoline or oil tax increase — a large enough one to change consumer behavior. Higher gas tax = indirect lower oil imports = lowered demand for US debt = better deal for us. The environmental benefits are just the cherry on top.

  5. max says:

    More than skin cancer, I would be worried about crop yields with increased UV exposure. And other extremely deleterious impacts on ecosystems.

    Is there an equivalent to the ozone hole for the climate crisis due to CO2? The unanticipated tipping points could be more severe-perhaps an ice free Arctic or decrease in crop yields due to drought.

  6. It’s important to think about climate change in pragmatic terms–as was done with CFCs.

    Both Hansen and Watts are looking at the problem in an essentialist, fundamentalist way. They are going to wind up strange bedfellows as surely as radical feminists and righteous christians do on the issue of pornography.

  7. fred says:

    I’m sympathetic to Hansen, actually. It’s as repulsive to watch sausage getting made in Congress as it was to read about it in The Jungle, and he is absolutely right that the bill will end up stuffed with special-interest filler while the good meat is stripped out of it. Of course, Romm and Gore may also be right that this is the only way that’s “politically possible,” and of course *maybe* the bill can be strengthened later. But it doesn’t make this easy to watch.

    Didn’t Ross Perot win 15% of the presidential vote on a plan to make taxes simpler? Of course the particulars were regressive and evil but the point is, people like simple taxes. I don’t at all think it’s “politically impossible” that the country could vote itself a 5% blanket energy tax if that’s what leaders were pushing. Already, with all the terrible messaging the polling is that a majority want action on AGW even if it raises energy costs. Throw in some income tax reductions to sweeten the pot and people could support even higher energy taxes.

    I really think that all that having a very complicated bill does is ensure that the public stays disengaged since nobody can understand what the hell’s going on. I mean I can’t even understand it, and I read this blog every day. People don’t like taxes, but a majority does accept them as necessary, and keeping things simple is a powerful idea.

  8. fred says:

    Also, when you’ve represented the far end of a political spectrum for decades and then see a chance to make many of your goals into policy, it’s important to recognize the value of having people replace you at the farther end of the spectrum. They are valuable for the pressure they put on and for showing your previously untenable position as the new moderation.

  9. paulm says:

    Lets face it. Cap ‘n Trade and Carbon Fees (Tax) won’t cut the mustard. They are just positioning to get us to the point where we can shutdown coal use (and the other real dirty sources).

    Ultimately the coal industry needs to be nationalized to achieve the required change over.

  10. Perhaps it is time to consider other political options to lower CO2 emissions.

  11. paulm says:

    Joe to pick on Hansen’s last sentence, which was mainly include to be funny, is missing the point….

    Seriously. Waxman-Markey was mostly written by people in alligator shoes? Not.

    All that follows before is the beef and is totally accurate.
    Hansen’s perspective is that of the scientist!

  12. Jim Beacon says:

    Yeah, this is a sad twisting and misuse of what Hansen was saying — but that’s what the deniers and their paid media whores do, Joe… they’ve done it with your words as well. Like you, Hansen can’t worry about what the coaloil ostriches will do with his words — he has no choice but to speak truth to the science. And the science shows that on a global basis Cap and Trade will not do what needs to be done, not quickly enough to do us any real good.

    Look, they are obviously going to pass some form of Cap and Trade and Hansen is obviously smart enough to realize this — but as a scientist his obligation is to look to the future and what he is trying to do is get everyone to realize that once Cap and Trade has been enacted that we must to continue to push for the supposedly “impossible” real solutions that are necessary to avert disaster. For too many people and politicians, the natural human tendency is going to be to sit back after Cap and Trade is passed and say, “well, that takes care of that. Now all we have to do is throw up a few more wind turbines and solar panels and we’ll be good to go.”

  13. Len Ornstein says:


    The cap and trade bill will not even be able to deal with the CO2 footprint of biofuels, as discussed in the new EPA regulations:

    A carbon tax could!

    Encouraging very poor performers to very SLIGHTLY reduce emissions – and ostensibly lower our dependence on ‘foreign’ energy sources, is a mistake.

    Rather, tax burdens that will force markets to invest in solutions that can ultimately produce LARGE reductions in atmospheric CO2, as advocated by Jim Hansen, makes the most sense. E.g., see:

    Although your revisions in this post are kinder to Jim, you’re still missing the point ;-)

  14. Steve H says:

    I’d have to agree with Ken about going over the edge, kind of. Perhaps breaking point would be a better term, where one realizes cap and trade will likely be all sizzle and no steak. In theory, it might work. But my feeling is there won’t be enough time for it to work. I really, really, really don’t want to have to agree with Lomborg, but if something doesn’t start happening soon we’ll just have to worry about adapting.

  15. I totally agree with James Hansen

  16. Rick says:

    Has the last word really been written about the ozone holes and recovery? Did the sun do that too and is the recovery related to reduced solar activity? I bet it factors in at the very least.

  17. Craig says:

    A Republican, in my opinion, has done the best job in explaining the need for the Waxman-Markey legislation. During the recent House Energy and Commerce panel hearings, former Sen. John Warner repeatedly stressed the need to establish a “beachhead.” The bill is imperfect, he said. No one is claiming otherwise. But it does what no other piece of legislation on the horizon is proposing: price carbon. And as new scientific data emerges, the cap can be adjusted.

    I think the Dems (and the few remaining sensible Republicans at the federal level) would be wise to adopt such language. Preserving a livable climate is a war. The conflict at this stage pits those with vested interests in maintaining the status quo against those who understand where business as usual takes us. The side that sways public opinion will be the ultimate victors. And like Sen. Warner said, establishing a carbon pricing “beachhead” gives the livable climate coalition tremendous strategic advantage.

    From what I’ve read on this blog and other sources, cap and trade seems like a perfectly sensible approach. So when scientists like Jim Hansen and pundits like Thomas Friedman propose scrapping all the years of work that went into developing cap and trade and push hard for a carbon tax, their ideas undercut the forward momentum of the movement and provide ammunition to the other side.

  18. A lot of people are going to agree with James Hansen. But any legislation within a representative government is going to be complicated and comprised of lots of small building blocks. There are a lot of people who make money from coal and oil and such, and the system is imperfect, obviously, but they do have a right to organize and lobby government. Democracy is not about essential rights and wrongs as much as it’s about competition between stakeholders.

    Holding out for the perfect legislation is not a smart strategy in this system. Allowing all stakeholders to get their feet wet is going to be a much better strategy for success.

  19. MarkB says:

    It’s the height of hypocrisy for a hack like Anthony Watts to spend most of his time smearing Dr. Hansen then approvingly post his comments when they are somewhat in line with his political views (but for entirely different reasons).

  20. Pangolin says:

    My local weather walrus will do anything to muddy the waters and serve his corporate/religious masters on global warming. No fact is too mundane to be misinterpreted, overvalued, denied or simply made up from whole cloth. Anthony Watts is simply a tool and should be generally ignored as the circus clown that he appears to be. C’mon, this is a guy who made his name with pictures of weather stations six feet from air conditioners claiming interference.

    Seizing on some criticism of Jim Hansen for cap and trade is simply part of that. If it adds to the confusion all the better. It by no means implies that Hansen is wrong; we should wonder about cap and trade though.

  21. paulm says:

    Deborah if you think democracy in the US is where its at then you need to read Al Gore’s ‘The Assault on Reason’ – big money rules.

    If it weren’t for the internet and blogs like this, the story would be quite different. It is still no where near ideal.

    The issue of Climate Change has been so convoluted and mystified by, in particular big oil, that we are now in this sorry state of hazy denial.

  22. Dorothy says:

    Comment to your first article on Jim Hansen’s Temple of Doom letter: Hmmm. Not to be rude myself, Joe, but do you really think we should build a Cap and Trade system and find within the next ten years it will never work and we will have to start all over again with something else that has a better chance? Like Cap and Dividend or Tax and Dividend, for example. Any regulatory infrastructure, once up and running, is hard to dismantle. As a political realist, you should know that. You’re still taking your shoes off before you board your flight, aren’t you?

    Listen to the Climate Realists, like Jim Hansen and Chris Field, like the folks at MIT and the Met Office Hadley Centre. We’re fast running out of time.

    Comment to this second article: Joe, how can you confuse the Montreal Protocol with the Waxman-Markey bill? The first required nations to agree to cut Ozone emissions; the latter creates a cumbersome, unstable appendage to our economic system. A climate crisis is indeed looming. One year from now, according to the science I’ve been reading, the world’s climate will be greatly changed. I’ll mark my calendar to email you a reminder then.

  23. I’m not denying anything, Paulm, and I wish you would not deny anything either. It’s past time for denial. What I am saying, to paraphrase Rumsfeld, is that you fight climate change with the government and the legislative processes you’ve got.

    You and I can agree that time is of the essence. What I am saying is that it’s time to get pragmatic and stop wishing for a government that doesn’t exist.

    The government we actually have is, as I stated, far from ideal, but it’s the best shot at large-scale action we have right now. And attempting to make this government as it exists do something that’s legislatively impossible is, at this point, dithering.

  24. paulm says:

    A climate crisis is indeed looming.

    Top prize for the understatement of the post:)

  25. paulm says:

    Deborah, I am pining my hopes that within the year, nationalization of the coal industry will be legislatively possible. I see this as the only way we will be able to limit the worst outcome of CC (and its going to be bad).

    I will be certainly promoting this as the way forward and I hope others will realize sooner rather than later that the situation is too dire to dither over C&T or Tax Fees. Obama will have to sell this to the US (and the rest of the world). Its almost like he was chosen to fulfill this task.

    The EPA will certain play a big role as it gets more and more mandate from the judiciary, the government and the people.

  26. David B. Benson says:

    Send in Indiana Jones! :-)

  27. jorleh says:

    You are wrong Joe, totally wrong. We have in Europe cap and trade and it is a catastrophe.

    Only directors of energy firms have made fortunes with it and during cap and trade our emissions have risen 2% per year (plus manufacture partly pushed in China).

    You must have carbon tax with cap and trade, pure cap and trade is idiocy.

  28. Leland Palmer says:

    Our biggest problem is coal.

    We need to seize the coal plants and forcibly convert them to “carbon negative” biocarbon / oxyfuel / HiPPS / CCS power plants. These converted power plants could also have solar and engineered geothermal components added to them, to decrease biocarbon use and biocarbon transport costs.

    Another big problem is transportation. We need to use the electricity generated by the carbon negative and renewable energy power plants to run plug in hybrid vehicles, mass transit, and high speed rail.

    Another big problem is wildfires. We need to clear the forests of flammable undergrowth, and cut firebreaks through them, in order to limit the size of the huge wildfires we have been seeing lately. The biomass generated in this way could be locally carbonized and pelletized into biocarbon, and then shipped like coal via railroad or coal log pipeline to power plants.

    Another big problem is landfills. We need to cap existing landfills, and burn the methane they evolve. It might be possible to convert old landfills into biocarbon, but the water content and degraded nature of the carbonaceous matter in the landfills might preclude this. We can certainly transform all paper, cardboard, and other carbonaceous waste into biocarbon, and prevent this carbonaceous waste from ending up in landfills.

    Another big problem is cow manure and cow farts. We should deal with manure by carbonizing it into biocarbon, before it has a chance to decay and evolve methane.

    Each specific problem has to be dealt with, IMO. We have the science and the technology to do this. Biocarbon and electricity can serve as energy transmission mediums to move energy through the society.

    The hope of cap and trade, and of a carbon tax, is that it will indirectly stimulate solutions to each of these problems, or make it profitable for business to implement solutions to all of these problems.

    Let’s pass cap and trade and carbon tax programs- they might even work, in many cases.

    But let’s also address each one of these problems by direct government action.

    Our self-regulating climate system only understands billions of tons of carbon, not “political reality”.

  29. Ronald says:

    The problem with what Hansen wrote is that it is true. This Cap and Trade is going to be bad and just because some politicians support it, that doesn’t mean it’s not going to be bad.

    There are advocates of reducing carbon dioxide emissions who are for Cap and Trade, enough to bring the Cap and Trade proposal farther along than Carbon Taxes.

    But there are many who are not advocates to reducing carbon dioxide emissions, who would go for a Carbon Tax that trades carbon taxes for other taxes, such as carbon tax and lower income or property taxes. Such as Arthur Laffer, who was a Professor at some University in Los Angeles, who was the academic behind Pres Reagan’s tax cuts and is famous for the Laffer Curve. Laffer was for a Carbon Tax and trading it for other taxes, than a Cap and Trade that increases business costs.

    A Carbon Tax can be supported by a larger number of people. I’ve convinced conservatives I know of that the benefit’s of a Carbon tax over all other taxes in our area where the arguements are not connected to the Global Warming issue. Cap and trade only is conducive to talking about the Global Warming issue, much less flexiability of argument.

    The argument that Hansen’s letter is used by deniers and therefore just plays into the hands of the deniers is wrong. If the Carbon tax was pushed by the Obama administration over the Cap and Trade bill, the Global Warming deniers would be using the arguments of Cap and Trade advocates against the Obama bill also. Don’t listen to the enemies of reducing carbon dioxide emissions to decide what should be done, they will only want to divide the Carbon dioxide Reduction Advocates anyway they can.

    Frankly Joe, your using a denier against Hansen is just the kind of thing that the deniers want you to do.

  30. Craig — What price do you think is right for a ton of emitted CO2? Using the “free market” to set the price of a waste product (less than zero, presumably) is a concept which I do not understand. Let’s face the reality that the “free market” in the European experience with cap-and-trade has not been effective in actually reducing emissions. Cf. what jorleh said.

    Leland Palmer says the biggest problem is coal, which should be addressed by direct government action. I agree, except I would not go so far as to nationalize the coal industry. The grid, OK.

    Direct action on CFCs made a difference. A big plus to Leland Palmer’s approach is that it works on defined sectors. W-M is far too big and unfocused and subject to alligator shoes to have any hope of demonstrable success in the near term. So why not a short, focused bill on CO2 emissions from coal power generation, only? That’s the big problem for world CO2 emissions. Why drag in auto emissions, biofuels subsidies, etc., in a bazaar of squabbling pleaders?

    I also agree with Ronald. Why not use tax credits down the road to give an incentive for the power generation industry to make the adjustment to a low carbon future? Why raise money up front from a credit-strapped industrial sector? Maybe I’m unduly suspicious of our honorable Congress, but there might be the possibility that the revenues from pollution auctions (cap-and-trade) will not go to emissions mitigation. Even a “lock box” approach might fail (e.g. Social Security). Better not to take any money at all up front, but make clear that there will be fines as penalties to laggards some time in the future.

    Critics of Waxman-Markey might have a point that this concoction of the coastal elites is insensitive to the plight of the coal states and the Rust Belt.

  31. pete best says:

    Political realism is probably along the lines of peak oil comes first, around 2010 to 2012 to some or around 2020 for the IEA in its energy outlook 2008 report. The USA then goes into a economic and hence political nosedive where oil prices start to remain there permanently and $5 a gallon (still cheap) begins to ruin large sections of the economy. The USA is not ready for this and it cannot be in time. Its vehicles on average 22 MPG, its country is road freight bound and its railways are useless. Its suburbs are miles out of town and hence there lies a big dilemma.

    You can forget AGW once this happens. OK so the USA needs to find alternative fuels but its infrastructure is more than likely to drill for more oil and even go to war to secure supplies if it has not already done so. Its a messy future and not one where AGW might feature.