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Hansen’s trip report finds “sobering degree of self-deception” in Germany, UK, Japan

By Joe Romm

"Hansen’s trip report finds “sobering degree of self-deception” in Germany, UK, Japan"


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The nation’s top climate scientist has visited some of “countries that are among the best-educated on climate change” and come away disappointed. For real disappointment, though, imagine what happens when climate scientists from those countries visit America.

The whole report is worth reading, with many fascinating nuggets. Hansen joins the cavalcade of experts who thoroughly debunks the notion that changs in solar irradiation are responsible for global warming trend in recent decades. But I want to excerpt here is analysis on coal, including a terrific figure he has that I am extracting from his PDF:


What the figure makes clear is that from the climate perspective, the problem is coal (without carbon capture and storage). If you want to restrain or reduce greenhouse gas emissions, you need to cut coal emissions. Here is what Hansen says about the figure and its implication for policy:

The surge in global CO2 emissions is mainly a surge in coal use. The surge is mainly in the East, especially China, but the West cannot make a peep about that, because the West is building coal plants itself, has many more on the books, and presents no effective alternatives. In addition, the West is responsible for most of the excess CO2 in the air today.

Figure 3 also shows that coal use in Russia is modest and not increasing. Thus the common assertion that Russia is a wild card that would prevent successful control of global warming is diminished by realization that the primary requirement is phase-out of coal emissions.

In summary, policy implications of the geophysical boundary conditions include:
(1) Annual CO2 emissions, and thus percent reduction of annual emissions, is not an appropriate metric for controlling climate change. Lifetime of CO2 is so long that slowing CO2 emissions has little effect on climate change. Instead, we must limit the total fossil fuel CO2 emission.

(2) Phase-out of coal emissions is the sine qua non for climate stabilization. Oil and gas, the most convenient portable fossil fuels, are sufficiently abundant to carry the world well into the dangerous CO2 zone, but not irretrievably so. If coal emissions (not necessarily coal use) were phased out promptly (within ~2 decades, which probably would require phase-out in the West within ~1 decade), it would be practical to get back to CO2 levels lower than the present day amount. Coal is by far the dirtiest of the conventional fossil fuels, providing additional reason to target it for phase-out. Conclusion that the largest pools of oil and gas will be used, and that oil and gas reserves are smaller than coal reserves, does not imply that it makes sense to extract every last drop of oil and gas. Given the need to move beyond fossil fuels in any case, and the need to get back to a safe level of atmospheric CO2, policy-makers should consider actions that move beyond fossil fuels as rapidly as possible, preferably leaving in the ground the oil and gas that is more difficult to extract or located in environmentally sensitive regions.

(3) Countries cannot be allowed to “buy out” of coal phase-out via supposed reforestation or reduction of non-CO2 forcings. Sequestration of CO2 via improved forestry and agricultural practices is needed to reduce atmospheric levels below current levels. If reforestation CO2 reductions are used up as a trade-off for coal emissions it will be difficult, if not impossible, to get CO2 levels back below current levels. Similarly, the limited potential for reduction of non-CO2 forcings is needed to balance the positive (warming) climate forcing due to other non-CO2 effects, especially expected reduction of reflective aerosols.

(4) Unconventional fossil fuels, including tar shale, tar sands, and methane hydrates, which contain more carbon than coal and other conventional reserves, must not be widely developed.

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18 Responses to Hansen’s trip report finds “sobering degree of self-deception” in Germany, UK, Japan

  1. tidal says:

    Another excellent contribution from Dr. Hansen.

    Perhaps it is just me, but I think that final paragraph – “Unconventional fossil fuels, including tar shale, tar sands, and methane hydrates, which contain more carbon than coal and other conventional reserves, must not be widely developed.” – is stated a little “directly” than he has in the past, specifically w.r.t. tar sands… His position on tar sands always seemed like a bit of an afterthought in the past… again, maybe just me… It always “followed” that if you were looking to limit total carbon emissions, you had to limit tar sands production too, but he didn’t seem to take as hard a line there as he did on coal.

  2. charlesH says:

    Hansen on nukes. From the trip report subject of Joe’s post.

    “Bottom line: I can’t seem to agree fully with either the anti-nukes or Blees. Some of the anti-nukes are friends, concerned about climate change, and clearly good people. Yet I suspect that their ‘success’ (in blocking nuclear R&D) is actually making things more dangerous for all of us and for the planet. It seems that, instead of knee-jerk reaction against anything nuclear, we need hard-headed evaluation of how to get rid of long-lived nuclear waste and minimize dangers of proliferation and nuclear accidents. Fourth generation nuclear power seems to have the potential to solve the waste problem and minimize the others. In any case, we should not have bailed out of research on fast reactors. (BTW, Blees points out that coal-fired power plants are exposing the population to more than 100 times more radioactive material than nuclear power plants – some of it spewed out the smokestacks, but much of it in slag heaps of coal ash.”

  3. John Hollenberg says:

    Definitely some food for thought from Hansen on the nuclear issue. Certainly sounds like it is a lot better than coal in almost every way.

  4. John McCormick says:

    charlesH, to put a blunt edge on your comment;

    Our generation is foreclosing the nuclear option our children have the right to pursue.

    John McCormick

    [JR: you guys must be joking right? We have thrown some $100 billion in subsidies at the nuclear industry since 1948, we have forced taxpayers to take the economic burden of any nuclear catastrophe, We have streamlined the permanent process, states Re: even allowing nuclear utilities to raise people's utility bills years before a single electron flows to pay for new budget busting nukes, we've had nuclear-loving conservatives running this country for most of the last seven years, and notwithstanding the efforts of most conservatives, we're probably going to have a price on carbon dioxide within a few years. And all those for an extremely mature technology that is 20% of the electricity market. If we did those things up for efficiency, wind, solar PV, and solar baseload nobody would even think of building another nuclear plant. Your product is too damn expensive to convince even Warren Buffet it is worth the risk.]

  5. paulm says:

    Again, Hansen for Nobel award.

  6. Robert says:

    “Instead, we must limit the total fossil fuel CO2 emission.”

    This is the key point, one that Hansen repeats often.

    Controlling other variables such as the proportion of power generated renewably does not directly address atmospheric CO2 concentration. Why do policymakers not undestand this? For example,


    “[Obama will require carbon emissions to be “80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050” through cap & trade (with 100% allowance auction!) starting with a mandate “of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.”] “

  7. Robert says:

    It is an interesting report, although your headline does the UK and Germany an injustice. Germany’s emissions are declining fast and the UK’s are flat. Compare this to the US, China and the global picture, bearing in mind also that the US is starting from a much higher per-capita level.

    It is also a slight misquote. The word “sobering” is not used, hence Googling the phrase “sobering degree of self-deception” will find nothing (except this blog!).

  8. Joe says:

    The full phrase was in Hansen’s e-mail:

    My “Trip Report” reveals a sobering degree of self-deception in countries that are among the best-educated on climate change.

    The “Report” includes discussion of 4th generation (fast reactor) nuclear power, boron-powered and hydrogen-powered cars, and the role of the sun in global temperature change.

  9. Robert says:

    Its not really important, but the report includes “The letter continues with sobering self-deception about how mandating ‘carbon-capture-ready’

    On the face of it the UK is doing quite well, in that’s its emissions are not rising, but a study last week at some uni pointed out that we are fooling ourselves by not including China/India manufacturing emissions. Also, we don’t include aviation, which is growing rapidly.

    I am not sure that any of the developed nations have got anything to shout about. We are a million miles away from the type of response that Hansen says is needed.

  10. John McCormick says:

    Joe, No, I am not joking.

    Many dollars have been spent to subsidize campaigns to ensure public paranoia against nuclear anything. Ralph Nader proclaimed his intent during the 1970′s to choke nulcear power on its waste.

    I was talking about Gen IV and gearing up for Gen V. Federal funding will be the biggest obstacle to continuing the international nuclear partnership.

    And, let me borrow the views of Jim Hansen when he reminded us of the Clinton Admin’s shucking and jiving on nuclear programs and budget requests:

    [ IFR design can be practically failsafe, relying on physical properties of reactor components to shut down in even the most adverse situations, thus avoiding coolant problems of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, as well as the earthquake problem. The terrorist threat can be minimized by building the reactor below grade and covering it with reinforced concrete and earth.

    Wait a minute! If it’s that good, why aren’t we doing it? Well, according to Blees, it’s because, in 1994, just when we were ready to build a demonstration plant, the Clinton Administration cancelled the IFR program. Blees offers a partial explanation, noting that Clinton had used the phrase “You’re pro-nuclear!” to demonize rivals during his campaign, suggesting that Clinton had a debt to the anti-nuclear people. Hmm. The matter warrants further investigation and discussion. It’s not as if we didn’t know about global warming in 1994.]

    for emphasis:

    “Clinton had used the phrase “You’re pro-nuclear!” to demonize rivals during his campaign, suggesting that Clinton had a debt to the anti-nuclear people. Hmm. The matter warrants further investigation and discussion. It’s not as if we didn’t know about global warming in 1994.”

    And, Joe, you said:

    [Your product is too damn expensive to convince even Warren Buffet it is worth the risk

    My product is still in the R&D stage. and, if Arjun etal, have their way, it will be tossed into the dumpster.

    John McCormick

    [JR: During five years at the Department of Energy and many years since, I heard from countless people with the solution to our energy problems who had been thwarted by government or the national labs or the auto industry or the oil companies in developing their miracle cure. It was always the same conspiracy over and over again. Call me when you're technology is commercial -- if you can't get it commercialized, maybe it's not the as great as you think.]

  11. Ronald says:

    One omission from the report was the Carbon Dioxide emissions from France. Was that intensional, lack of data, not part of the trip, to low to measure because they use nuclear power or something else? A comparison would be interesting and even essential.

    I agree with the message of this website, that nuclear is to expensive, but we still have to give it a fair vetting.

    Another point is that maybe cents/KWh is not a good measure of comparing costs of low and non carbon fuel electrical power sources. Some have commented that we should be using gallons per 100 miles (or liters per 100 Kilometers) for motor vehicles because of the inability of comparing different vehicles using MPG. Example, moving from 10 mpg to 20 mpg saves more energy than moving from 25 mpg to 50 mpg. The same might be happening with cents/KWh. It might be better to use total yearly KWh per billion invested to comparing new generating sources.

  12. John McCormick says:

    Joe, you are dumbing down this thread.

    John McCormick

  13. Cyril R. says:

    No, IFR cannot be 100% failsafe by operation. It doesn’t matter because they are a solution in search of a problem; there is no shortage of fissile fuel. In trying to solve a problem that we don’t have, they create a far bigger problem: higher capital costs. Just what nuclear powerplants don’t need.

    The biggest challenge for the nuclear construction companies now is to prove they can build nuclear plants within budget.

  14. Cyril R. says:

    “Joe, you are dumbing down this thread.

    John McCormick”

    And I’m sure you think that snide remarks increase the intellectual quality of the debate eh?

  15. John McCormick says:


    that was my message to Joe: increase the intellectural discussion on Gen IV. Joe places more hope in wind/solar and their

  16. John McCormick says:

    Cyril, my previous comment was cut off at the following:


    that was my message to Joe: increase the intellectural discussion on Gen IV. Joe places more hope in wind/solar and their

  17. John McCormick says:


    this thread is not responding to my full comment. I’ll desist.

    John McCormick

  18. Alex J says:

    Coal may be the bigger problem, but barring a serious global carbon taxation or cap & trade effort, it’ll likely continue being used, particularly in developing nations. So we should take emission cuts wherever we can, including the transit sector, while working out the problem of coal-fired power plants with multi-decadal lifespans.