NASA’s Hansen on Live Earth, Gore, and Coal

More from James Hansen’s email:

I was invited to go on stage at “Live Earth” at the Meadowlands, between Jon Bon Jovi and Smashing Pumpkins performances. I agreed to this, on the condition that I could bring my grandchildren, Sophie and Connor. I assumed it would be like last year when I appeared with Al Gore before a young audience, with a rather impromptu discussion of global warming. Bad assumption. When I asked “Where’s Al?”, I was told that I would be going out alone, and didn’t I have something to put on the teleprompter? Hmm.

Well, with someone standing beside me, I wrote something, but I had a hard time reading the teleprompter. I had told Sophie the day before that I may ask her about saving animals from global warming (see “Trains of Death”). But we couldn’t all fit in one car, so no chance to talk with her on the way to the concert. Once there, the volume was too deafening. But Sophie said we should save “all of them” and 3-year old Connor concurred with her assessment (“me too”). I didn’t realize Sophie was nervous — she did great — but it was clearly draining; she slept till 11:30 the next morning, which she had never done. Now she is very happy about the experience and has something to talk about in 3rd grade “show & tell” this fall.

The point I made with the audience is the overwhelming importance of a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants. Without that, the “101 things” that citizens can do to reduce their emissions do not amount to a hill of beans; all savings of emissions would be blown away by a utility building a new coal-fired power plant. Conversely, a successful moratorium is the main action needed to achieve a stabilization of climate.

A fundamental issue arose, because the “Live Earth” pledge had a waffle-worded statement about coal plants, which implied new coal-fired power plants were o.k. if it was claimed that sometime in the future they would be fitted out for carbon capture and sequestration [“To fight for a moratorium on the construction of any new generating facility that burns coal without the capacity to safely trap and store the CO2”]. Gore’s people confirmed that this was the intended statement of their “energy experts”. When I explained the distinction to Al Gore, he immediately agreed that, by a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants, he meant the same thing that I did: a real moratorium. This is a case where such leadership is essential.

“Energy experts” are just like those who caved in to the automobile manufacturers a decade ago (see “Who Killed the Electric Car”), destroying the chances to slow vehicle emissions. Now the planet is at a far more critical point, and, for reasons explained above, coal is the central issue. Leadership is essential, but it can only lead in a direction that it is being pushed. Young people, who will be affected most, must provide most of that push.