James Hansen: ‘Neither Party Wants To Offend The Fossil Fuel Industry’

There’s been a noticeable shift in the way that prominent figures talk about how to deal with climate change. Many advocates have shifted from a more accommodating “let’s all join together and develop clean energy” message to directly targeting the fossil fuel industry as a villain. This effort, embodied in’s “Do the Math” tour, has become a central piece of messaging in the environmental community.

In the research community, scientists are increasingly stepping beyond their conservative comfort zones and making bolder statements about observed and projected changes to the climate — even saying we have a moral obligation to do something. Some, like NASA’s James Hansen, are straddling both of these messaging platforms. To the delight of both climate messengers and climate skeptics, Hansen is undoubtedly the most outspoken climate scientist today. He has been for almost 25 years.

In his speeches and media appearances, Hansen displays a unique sense of moral outrage that many scientists avoid and sometimes chastise. (For more on Hansen’s moral/scientific approach to talking about climate change, watch his outstanding TED Talk from this March called, “Why I must speak out on climate change”).

But Hansen doesn’t just talk in broad brush strokes about the need to transition away from fossil fuels. He’s been very upfront about taking the fossil fuel industry head-on, loosen its grip on politics, and make it pay for environmental damage. He’s also not afraid to call out both parties for bending over backward to accommodate the fossil fuel industry during an election year.

“The politicians are not willing to say that we cannot burn all the fossil fuels without guaranteeing a different planet,” said Hansen in an interview with Ceyk Uygur on The Young Turks last night. “Neither party wants to offend the fossil fuel industry” by explaining the hard choices we have to make, he explained.

Watch it:

HANSEN: Neither party wants to offend the fossil fuel industry. They want to win the election. And they know the power of the fossil fuel industry. You can’t turn on your television without seeing these advertisements about clean coal, tar sands, and the claim that there’s more jobs associated with fossil fuels than with other energies. That’s of course not true, but they’re hammering that into the voters heads. And so if anyone challenges the fossil fuel industry, they know they’re going to lose the money that they get from the fossil fuel industry. And secondly, they’re going to have the fossil fuel industry against them in the election.

UYGUR: So it seems to me based upon what you’re saying is that we can’t solve the climate change problem until we solve the money in politics problem. Because this money has flooded politics, if you will, to the degree that they’ve effectively shut down our politicians who should be fixing this.

HANSEN: Yeah, campaign finance reform has been lost as a topic. However, the real problem is that fossil fuels are still the cheapest energy because we subsidize them. The taxpayer subsidizes them. We do not make fossil fuels pay for their cost to society — air pollution and water pollution from fossil fuels…And these climate effects — $20 billion effect from this storm. Who’s gonna pay for that? You are, the taxpayer. Not the fossil fuel industry. So what we have to do is collect a fee from the fossil fuel company at the domestic mine or the port of entry and distribute that money to the public. So the fee will then increase the price of fossil fuels, but the people will then have the money to make the decisions of what energy sources they’re going to use. And gradually we will move away from fossil fuels as this fee rises toward clean energies. And that’s what we’re going to have to do. The politicians are not willing to say that we cannot burn all the fossil fuels without guaranteeing a different planet — and cheating our planet.

Hansen is still unique in his willingness to call out politicians and fossil fuel companies for stalling action or covering up the issue. As the problem gets worse, it’s likely we’ll see others join his side.

11 Responses to James Hansen: ‘Neither Party Wants To Offend The Fossil Fuel Industry’

  1. Dickensian American says:

    Tangential topic, but Joe, I thought you might be interested to read about the localized gas shortages we are currently experiencing in Brooklyn. Not sure how the rest of the region is faring at the moment. For the most part, our house gets by on pedal power and public transit.

    (Other local on the ground perspective postings related to post-Sandy Brooklyn showing up at that site daily.)

    This whole experience is making me reconsider where in our rehab schedule of about 10 years we’ve placed installation of solar panels. Having even modest power to keep one fridge partially cool and communication devices charged and not needing a fossil fuel generator would be a big aid in times of need.

    Haven’t seen gas lines like these since the 1970s.

  2. Paul Magnus says:

    Hansens a Hero. And he deserves a Nobel.

  3. Mike Roddy says:

    I greatly admire James Hansen, but he is not alone among climate scientists. Michael Mann, Lonnie Thompson, Peter Ward, and a number of others make the same points. Let’s also not forget Joe Romm, who is unique in being a scientist, communicator, and a relentless fighter.

    We live in a petro state, a dangerous situation on every level. The situation calls for a fight to restore both our democracy and the habitability of earth itself. Politicians have rarely been up to this sort of task, nor has the media. We the people have to demand change, and shame the dark forces who are blocking it. Let’s all take this to the next level.

  4. I think Dr. Hansen would give up all thoughts of such honors if we would just listen to him.

  5. Leif says:

    I think the problem is deeper than not offending the Ecocide Fossil Barons.

    IMO a fundamental flaw in western capitalism it the ability of the few to profit from the pollution of the commons. The GOP do not fund abortion. Fine! A precedent. Why must “We the People” be forced to fund the ecocide of the planet for lack of alternatives. This is far worse than “taxation without representation” this is “taxation with dire consequences” to humanity and Earth’s life support systems. I object!

    Socially enabled capitalism, where the rich profit and the rest of us share the loses, is a failed paradigm that has out lived any possible usefulness to humanity, yet refuses to die without taking the rest of humanity, and most of Earth’s Life Support Systems, with it.

  6. Mark E says:

    I sure hope Dr Hansen lives to receive his Congressional Medal of Honor in person. Sadly those sorts of things usually take about 8 or 9 generations….

  7. john atcheson says:

    Certainly fossil fuel industries have political power, but it is important to remember the source of that power: money.

    If our political process was not a system in which candidates are a commodity that is bought and paid for , then the Exxons of the world wouldn’t exert so much control over our national agenda.

    So the fix is to get money out of politics.

  8. Sailesh Rao says:

    Unfortunately, Dr. Hansen and other climate scientists, in addition to Al Gore and Bill McKibben don’t want to offend the Meat industry either.

    When will we acknowledge that our human-dominated, speciesist lifestyle has to change?

  9. Bernard J. says:

    Hansen truly deserves a Nobel Peace prize for his tireless efforts.

    Absolutely. Really. Truly.

  10. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The real fix is to get money out of life, ie to restore all the other measures of value other than crude profit and loss and rank materialism. Greed is the great scourge of humanity.

  11. dick smith says:

    “There is enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.” Mahatma Gandhi …

    As others point out, above, more scientists are speaking out, but it’s hard not to see Dr. Hansen as the Gandhi of the climate movement.