Thursday, March 01, 2007

A private individual speaks

Jim Hansen talked at the National Press Club on Feb 26. You can find the video on CSpan and the presentation graphics on his web site at Columbia.

UPDATE: CSPAN has institutional link rot. One possibility to view the video is this link at Real Player. Another is via a current link in the Google cache to a link for the video. Follow the Googlec link and go down to the middle of the page where there is a functioning javascript command that invokes the CSPAN video. That is: javascript:playClip(clip29902) which I am pretty sure labels the clip on CSPAN containing the video.

Hansen stated that discussions of climate change must inevitably have a policy component, and that he therefore spoke as a private individual and not for NASA or the administration. Ice sheet collapse clearly scares him. He sees this as now probable, and certainly possible.

Hansen outlined a five point program to meet the threat imposed by humans altering the atmosphere, indeed he calls it a threat to creation, a threat which will alter the planet in nasty ways (at least if you are a bunny, worse for you humans).

  1. Moratorium on coal fired power plants: Sequestration technology is decades away
    All plants w/o sequestration must eventually be bulldozed (before mid-century)
    Efficiency can handle needs during interim (and is necessary on the long run)
    This should be done by Congress. In the interim Citizens must accomplish it
  2. Carbon tax and technology investments: Gradually rising price on emissions drives innovation & efficiency
  3. Energy efficiency standards
  4. National Academy of Sciences should urgently organize a study of ice sheet stability
  5. Effective campaign finance reform: Climate problems cannot be solved as long as special interests are calling the tune.
Hansen endorsed a citizen organization, Step It Up, which wants Congress to step up and reduce CO2 emissions by 80% in 2050.

Towards the end a question was raised about the current US government. Hansen replied:
I have had a chance to advise during this administration. My impression is that they are much less interested in facts that don't support the policies that are in place than they are in counterfacts. For example my suggestions that we try to reduce some of the non-CO2 pollutants were welcomed but not suggestions that we also have to make dramatic reductions in the growth rates of CO2. It's very discouraging that just a few days ago the Vice-President still made statements that said well yeah the world is getting warmer and we are not sure just how much of that is just natural and how much of that is human....
I think its more of listening to people who are saying things that are comfortable. So they listen to a science fiction writer, I forget his name.... Michael Crichton, I think we have scientists who have been studying this problem and know what they are talking about and it would be worthwhile to spend a little more time paying attention to them.
But enough of the depressing, who made an appearance in the Q&A at the end, but a member of the LaRouche press core, Christopher Jones from 21st Century Science, home of Zbigniew Jaworowski pointing to the semonlinal (and not even wrong) study of the Good Diplom Beck. Translating Hansen into Rabettese the answer was an inquiry about what the questioner was smoking. Yet, the fact that he let the questioner go on forever, points to the fact that anyone speaking on climate change had better be familiar with the crap of the day and prepared to call it out.


Dano said...

It's useful to get dirty in the wingnutosphere to be able to discern their tactics.

Just as scientists should turn their abstracts into Haiku to test whether their ideas are clear enough, they should venture every once in a while to denialist blogs to see what they are up against: a few nutjobs with a loud voice.



Anonymous said...

"I think its more of listening to people who are saying things that are comfortable."

Ie, "saying things that you want to hear."

Sadly, that says all that needs to be said about Bush and CO.

Through a process of "survival of the un-fittest", Bush has eliminated all dissenters from his inner circle -- ie, all those who actually possess the competency to give useful advice based on analysis of real world circumstances.

The only one's remaining in the inner circle are the yes men and women -- those who are unfit to be giving advice on anything more than where Bush should be getting his pizza.

Anonymous said...

Hansen may or may not be right about Global Warming...I simply don't know for sure.

But one thing I do know for sure...his proposed solutions are idiotic.

"Moratorium on coal fired plants"

"Bulldoze all existing plants by end of mid-century"

"Taken care of by efficiency"

Good lord, this guy hasn't the slightest clue how the energy grid works. He's basically advocating something that cannot succeed. That's an engineering fact.

Unless global warming advocates start talking about massive, and I mean massive worldwide nuclear power construction, they are not serious and should be ignored.

Anonymous said...

"Hansen may or may not be right about Global Warming...I simply don't know for sure."

Say no more.

Hansen is right about global warming -- and he was right back in 1988.

I suggest you read up on the subject because the data has proven Hansen right.

That fact that you don't know this indicates that you need to educate yourself on the issue.

EliRabett said...

Since the average life of a power plant is less than 40 years, the goal of replacing coal fired plants by the turn of the century is not a priori silly. The issue, of course, is what are they replaced with. Hansen is comfortable with replacing them with coal fired plants that sequester their emissions. Moreover, even current plants need major upgrades for emissions of stuff like mercury, NOx and SOx.

Anonymous said...

"Unless global warming advocates start talking about massive, and I mean massive worldwide nuclear power construction, they are not serious and should be ignored."

When did we who believe that global warming is real become "global warming advocates"?

The fact that we think it's a problem means just the opposite.

Those who believe that "global warming is good" (like economist Thomas Moore" -- Climate of Fear") are the real "global warming advocates".

More to the point: if I'm in a burning theater with more than one exit and I suggest to those around me that they take the one on the left, does that mean there is no fire in the theater and that people should continue to watch the movie?

Anonymous said...

"Unless global warming advocates start talking about massive, and I mean massive worldwide nuclear power construction, they are not serious and should be ignored."

Amory Lovins believes just the opposite.

Lovins (a physicist by training and energy efficency expert by vocation) has a proven track record of being dead-nuts right (eg, with regard to his predictions in the early 80's about US energy use over the next 20 years) when most others were completely wrong.

He understands better than most that, because of the enormous capital outlay for nuclear plants, it is cheaper to save energy (and thereby reduce emissions) through increased efficiency than it is to build and operate new nuclear plants -- so economic arguments alone mitigate against the nuclear option.

"True, nukes don't produce carbon dioxide—but the power they produce is so expensive that the same money invested in efficiency or even natural-gas-fired power plants would offset much more climate change." -- Lovins et al

Anonymous said...

I missed the video, now available only by purchase, apparently. On YouTube, though, you can watch various parts of James Inhofe's presentation to the "conservative" CPAC gathering in DC. Yikes! One can see the strings attached to Marc Morano and on to.....those who profit from business as usual and those whose ideology calls for a dystopian "free market"? Good thing Inhofe is not more eloquent --just cranky.

Anonymous said...

'Good thing Inhofe is not more eloquent'

..or intelligent.

Anonymous said...

I thought of adding that but restrained myself...that we be guilty of stating the obvious......

Anonymous said...

Sometimes the obvious needs to be stated ...and restated...and re-restated (again).

Repetition was good enough for Mozart, so why not for anonymice?

EliRabett said...

Eli and the forty rabetts have found an open sesame for the video, actually two, and we are somewhat confident one will work. See the UPDATE that has been added to the post.

Hank Roberts said...

Hansen video is 'archived' -- still available, I'm watching it now. Google "C-span Hansen March 2007" -- this may work:,%26ArchiveDays%3D100%26Page%3D4+c-span+Hansen+2007&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=7&gl=us&lr=lang_en&client=firefox-a

Does anyone know if the video is downloadable, and transcribed? It's very clear, very blunt.

Anonymous said...

Thank goodness for diligent anonymice--when at first you don't succeed, wait for somebody smarter to figure it out.

Anonymous said...

By the way, for anyone who reads -- and believes -- that nuclear power is cheaper than other methods of generating electricity, beware what has been left out of the cost: eg, capital investment, as here

The authors of a 2003 MIT study (which supported using nuclear energy as one means of reducing green-house emissions, by the way) stated that "In deregulated markets, nuclear power
is not now cost competitive with coal and natural gas."

The Future of Nuclear Power

The authors thought nuclear power had the potential to become competitive if certain things were done to bring down the capital cost (limited, since much of which is associated with safety, and for good reason) and if a carbon tax was put in place on fossil fuel generation, for example.

The authors of the above MIT study also had this to say about waste and proliferation:

"Waste. Geological disposal is technically feasible but execution is yet to be demonstrated or certain."

"Proliferation: The current international safeguards regime is inadequate to meet the security challenges of the expanded nuclear deployment contemplated in the global growth scenario."

The cost to deal with waste and to put safety measures in place to deal with proliferation are rarely included when estimating the real cost of nuclear generated electricity.

Given the concerns about nuclear terrorism, it is certainly probable that the anti-proliferation regime required in a world powered primarily by nuclear power would end up costing a pretty penny to create and maintain ad infinitum.

Taxing carbon emissions on fossil fuel plants might bring the cost of nuclear energy into line with other methods, but when one factors in the other external costs like waste and anti-proliferation, one is back to where one started, with nulcear being non-competitive economically.

And it's still better -- and cheaper -- to take the money that one would have spent on building nuclear plants and investing it in renewables and efficiency improvements as Lovins et al suggest.

EliRabett said...

Oil, coal and gas have significant externalities that are not dealt with.

Anonymous said...

resumably you are talking about the other emissions from fossil fuel plants.

True enough.

But Lovin's argument hinges on the fact that conservation (eg, through efficiency improvments) is almost always a cheaper way of reducing emissions than building nuclear power plants (or fossil fuel ones, for that matter).

He argues that it makes the most sense to take the money that would have been spent on nuclear plants and invest it in efficiency improvements and renewable energy. These will pay the highest dividends in emissions reductions over the long run.

This argument is quite independent of the externalities of coal, oil and gas.

EliRabett said...

Not really, I'm talking about such things as Middle Eastern policy, having to suck up to the Russians, etc.

I am not talking about doing nuclear and not efficiency. Rabetts are famous for being able to chew carrots and walk.

Anonymous said...

Forgive me for doubting, but most of the rabbits I have seen sit idly while they chew.

I also have a chinchilla (which admittedly is not a rabbit) and it also never moves when it eats (except its mouth, that is).

But then again, perhaps rabetts are different from rabbits in which case all bets are off.

But getting back to the topic, conservation also decreases dependence on foreign oil, just in the way that nuclear would, but with a major difference.

The proliferation problem associated with a large expansion in nuclear power may make the current problem of keeping the foreign oil flowing look minor in comparison.

EliRabett said...

You may want to get hold of the Mar. 12 issue of the New Yorker which has an article by Steve Col on nuclear terrorism. One interesting factoid that recently came out is that dirty bombs are not nearly as dangerous as previously thought because of the difficulty of creating a fine enough aerosol of radioactive particles. That does not mean that they are a walk in the park.

Anonymous said...

I am familiar with studies done on dirty bombs.

While it might not kill large numbers of people, just one such attack on a large city could have a large psychological and massive economic impact.

Study Raises Projection For 'Dirty Bomb' Toll¬Found=true

There is a flip side of the proliferation coin, however -- involving fission (plutonium) bombs made from spent reactor fuel -- enriched to the necessary purity. This would undoubtedly be much more difficult, since it would require the necessary equipment to isolate/purify the plutonium from the spent reactor fuel (which at this time probably means state sponsorship), but as we have seen from the case or N Korea, getting the spent reactor fuel to start with is currently one of the hardest parts of the process -- essentially, the limiting step.

Anything that makes the first step easier makes the world a more dangerous place
...and that's not even considering the possibility of fuel reprocessing and fast breeder reactors, which some have talked about, which could greatly increase the proliferation risks.