Dr. James E. Hansen and his grandchildrenIn a report published by Columbia University in June 2011, climatologist Dr. James E. Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Center for Space Flight, criticizes the U.S. push to exploit the Canadian tar sands for oil production, via the “Keystone Pipeline.” In “Silence is Deadly,” Hansen remarks:

The U.S. Department of State seems likely to approve a huge pipeline to carry tar sands oil (about 830,000 barrels per day) to Texas refineries unless sufficient objections are raised. The scientific community needs to get involved in this fray now. If this project gains approval, it will become exceedingly difficult to control the tar sands monster….

Although there are multiple objections to tar sands development and the pipeline, including destruction of the environment in Canada and the likelihood of spills along the pipeline’s pathway, such objections, by themselves, are very unlikely to stop the project.

An overwhelming objection is that exploitation of tar sands would make it implausible to
stabilize climate and avoid disastrous global climate impacts
…. Phase out of emissions from coal is itself an enormous challenge. However, if the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over.

Governments are acting as if they are oblivious to the fact that there is a limit on how much fossil fuel carbon we can put into the air. Fossil fuel carbon injected into the atmosphere will stay in surface reservoirs for millennia….

It is my impression and understanding that a large number of objections could have an effect and help achieve a more careful evaluation, possibly averting a huge mistake….

In September 2011, Hansen posted his report “The White House and Tar Sands,” in which he comments:

George Bush confessed our addiction to oil. Taking tar sands oil amounts to borrowing a dirty needle from a neighbor addict. Fortunately, Congress adopted and Bush approved the Energy Independence and Security Act 2007, which was intended to prevent U.S. agencies from buying alternative fuels that generate more pollution in their life cycle than conventional fuel from customary petroleum sources….

This raises a question: if the Keystone XL pipeline is approved, can we make a citizen’s arrest on Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for violating the Security Act? If they were put in the back of a hot paddy wagon in DC and held for at least several hours with their hands tied behind their backs, maybe they would have a chance to think over this matter more clearly.

The climate scientist and whistleblower provides solutions to the problem, and then remarks:

How could this be achieved, given our well-oiled coal-fired Congress? Not easily. Obama had the chance when he was elected. He would have needed to explain to the public that national security, energy security and climate security all yield the same requirement: an honest price on carbon emissions that provides market-based incentives for moving to clean energies.

Obama lost his chance for a spot on Mount Rushmore by not addressing the moral issue of the century. He would have needed Teddy Roosevelt’s drive and Franklin Roosevelt’s ability to speak to the public. A second chance if re-elected? It would be much harder, even if characters like Inhofe are smoked out by then. And it cannot be done with a sleight-of-hand approach, pretending there will be little impact on fossil fuel prices as in the proposed cap-andtrade, or with government picking winners as in the would-be “green jobs” program.

The energy/climate matter will be addressed eventually. But will it be in time and which country will lead?… If the United States continues on its current path, and if China seizes the opportunity to be the leader by putting an honest price on carbon, it will probably mean second rate economic status for the United States for most of this century.

On August 29, 2011, Hansen made a speech in front of the White House, the full transcript of which is included here:

Let us return for a moment to election night 2008. As I sat in our farm house in Pennsylvania, watching Barack Obama’s victory speech, I turned my head aside so my wife would not see the tears in my eyes. I suspect that millions cried. It was a great day for America.

We had great hopes for Barack Obama – perhaps our dreams were unrealistic – he is only human. But it is appropriate, it is right, in a period honoring Martin Luther King, to recall the hopes and dreams of that evening.

We had a dream – that the new President would understand the intergenerational injustice of human-made climate change – that he would recognize our duty to be caretakers of creation, of the land, of the life on our planet – and that he would give these matters the priority that our young people deserve.

We had a dream – that the President would understand the commonality of solutions for energy security, national security and climate stability – and that he would exercise hands-on leadership, taking the matter to the public, avoiding backroom crippling deals with special interests.

We had a dream – that the President would stand as firm as Abraham Lincoln when he faced the great moral issue of slavery – and, like Franklin Roosevelt or Winston Churchill, he would speak with the public, enlisting their support and reassuring them.

Perhaps our dreams were unrealistic. It is not easy to find an Abraham Lincoln or a Winston Churchill. But we will not give up. There can be no law or regulation that stops us from acting on our dreams. Have no doubt – if that tar sands pipeline is approved, we will be back, and our numbers will grow. For the sake of our children and grandchildren, we must find someone who is worthy of our dreams.

During the protest in which he made this speech, Hansen and others, including actress Daryl Hannah, were arrested. Critics argue that Hansen and other global-warming theorists and activists are being alarmist and hyperbolic.

Further Reading

The Crude Logic of Daryl Hannah