Obama has done more than any US president in history to combat global warming, but we are still insanely far behind what is needed to avert true catastrophe, and Obama has made a number of statements on the matter that seem to show he doesn’t get it. In response to one recent statement on Canada’s tar sands, one of the top climate scientists on the planet, NASA’s James Hansen (head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies), wrote an op-ed in the NYTimes this week. Here are some of the highlights (emphasis added):
GLOBAL warming isn’t a prediction. It is happening. That is why I was so troubled to read a recent interview with President Obama in Rolling Stone in which he said that Canada would exploit the oil in its vast tar sands reserves “regardless of what we do.”
If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.
Canada’s tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history. If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control. Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities. Global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50 percent of the planet’s species would be driven to extinction. Civilization would be at risk.
That is the long-term outlook. But near-term, things will be bad enough. Over the next several decades, the Western United States and the semi-arid region from North Dakota to Texas will develop semi-permanent drought, with rain, when it does come, occurring in extreme events with heavy flooding. Economic losses would be incalculable. More and more of the Midwest would be a dust bowl. California’s Central Valley could no longer be irrigated. Food prices would rise to unprecedented levels.
If this sounds apocalyptic, it is.
Read the full piece, “Game Over for the Climate,” on the NYTimes. But the bottom line is:
- Obama and every in power who gets it (at least somewhat) need to push hard for a fee on carbon emissions (a market-based approach to tackling global warming once upon a time championed by Republicans);
- Obama shouldn’t allow Canada tar sands companies access to the US oil refineries through an international oil pipeline;
- if the tar sands are developed, it’s game over for the climate.
Sorry, that turned into 3 lines.
And, OK, I’m going to throw in 2 more paragraphs from the NYTimes piece. These are on the solution Hansen proposes (something an informed public would surely get behind). Here they are (emphasis added):
We need to start reducing emissions significantly, not create new ways to increase them. We should impose a gradually rising carbon fee, collected from fossil fuel companies, then distribute 100 percent of the collections to all Americans on a per-capita basis every month. The government would not get a penny. This market-based approach would stimulate innovation, jobs and economic growth, avoid enlarging government or having it pick winners or losers. Most Americans, except the heaviest energy users, would get more back than they paid in increased prices. Not only that, the reduction in oil use resulting from the carbon price would be nearly six times as great as the oil supply from the proposed pipeline from Canada, rendering the pipeline superfluous, according to economic models driven by a slowly rising carbon price.
But instead of placing a rising fee on carbon emissions to make fossil fuels pay their true costs, leveling the energy playing field, the world’s governments are forcing the public to subsidize fossil fuels with hundreds of billions of dollars per year. This encourages a frantic stampede to extract every fossil fuel through mountaintop removal, longwall mining, hydraulic fracturing, tar sands and tar shale extraction, and deep ocean and Arctic drilling.
Image Credit: James Hansen photo by Bill Ebbeson