Climatologist James Hansen speaks out against cap and trade

December 22, 2009 | By | 6 Replies More

Amy Goodman recently interviewed climatologist James Hanson, who argued that the collapse of the climate talks in Copenhagen was good for the planet, because cap-and-trade-with-offsets are disastrous, in that they fail to reduce the use of fossil fuels. He proposes that we need to put a price on fossil fuel emissions and redistribute that to the

Image of James Hanson: Creative Commons

Image of James Hanson: Creative Commons

population as a mechanism for discouraging the use of fossil fuels. Hanson characterized the need to reduce the use of fossil fuels, including the regrettable use of tar sands of Canada, as a moral issue because lives are at stake, as are entire low-lying countries:

Amy Goodman: So, how did you go from being the head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies to getting arrested for these protests?

JAMES HANSEN: Well, these protests are what we call civil resistance, in the same way that Gandhi did. We’re trying to draw attention to the injustice, because this is really analogous. This is a moral issue, analogous to that faced by Lincoln with slavery or by Churchill with Nazism, because what we have here is a tremendous case of intergenerational injustice, because we are causing the problem, but our children and grandchildren are going to suffer the consequences. And our parents didn’t know that they were causing a problem for future generations, but we do. The science has become very clear. And we’re going to have to move to a clean energy future. And we could do that. And there would be many other advantages of doing it. Why don’t we do it? Because of the special interests and because of the role of money in Washington.

What is the problem with “cap and trade”?

[T]hey attempt to put a cap on different sources of carbon dioxide emissions. They say there’s a limit on how much a given industry in a country can emit. But the problem is that the emissions just go someplace else. That’s what happened after Kyoto, and that’s what would happen again, if—as long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy, they will be burned someplace.

Note: Amy Goodman and DemocracyNow have consistently delivered high quality news without corporate sponsorship. If you click on the above video interview with James Hanson, you will first see Amy Goodman’s short request for contributions to support DemocracyNow. I am urging you consider joining me in making at least a small contribution to support corporate-free news. If you haven’t before viewed the news at DemocracyNow, I invite you to try it; I know that you’ll be delighted to hear important information coming straight to you devoid of any corporate filters, meaningful and thoughtful reporting.


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Category: Environment, global warming, Sustainable Living

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (6)

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  1. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    The thought occurred to me long ago that those who are promoting cap and trade obviously do not believe that CO2 is causing the global warming trend. If they did believe it, they would have caps but no trade.

    If you apply cap and trade to drunk drivers, everyone would be given 3 get-out-of-jail free cards for DUI offenses, and these cards would be transferable.The poor would sell their card at auction and take their chances, the rich would bid on the extra cards and the brokers and auctioneers would make a great deal of money, while nothing would be done to actually reduce DUI offenses, they would probably increase as the wealthy could buy their way out, and the poor would go to jail.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Or maybe they feel like their resigned that there's nothing that really going to get done that is meaningful, and they have deluded themselves that it's better to do something rather than nothing. Another instance of movement is progress. Exhibit A being the U.S. military invasion of Iraq, among numerous other contemporary candidates.

  2. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    I know a lot of people who practice the idea of "Do something Now, even if it's wrong!"

    Many proponents of cap and trade don't understand what it is, but feel like any action is better than delaying action until the climate dynamics are fully understood and effective steps can be taken.

    Many of the business types are in denial that the problem is real. They see the cap and trade as yet another mandated expense to reduce their profits.

    And there are a few opportunists that see a way to make money from cap and trade, by setting up carbon credits as a tradable commodity.

    We create a limited (and therefore valuable) artificial resource in the "carbon credit". Then they are made publicly tradable on the commodities exchange. Sounds to me like something an Enron executive would think of.

    A much better solution would involve finding incentives to the industries for finding and using sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels.

  3. Dan Klarmann says:

    As near as I can tell, Cap'n'Trade is a means for monetizing carbon emissions. Once it is fiscally "normal" to figure in the cost of ones emissions, then it becomes much easier to do something about them. If there is no obvious cost, there is no incentive to act.

    That the fine print of the proposed particular exchange system may not be the absolute best solution is not really the point. No matter how it is written, there will be those who game the system. Better to get the game going, and let the rules evolve.

  4. Niklaus Pfirsig says:


    The problem is that it is a game and nothing more. It is a distraction from any real solution, while at the same time doing absolutely nothing about the problem.

  5. Dan Klarmann says:

    I still say that the game will improve if any variation of monetizing emissions becomes part of the rules. The short term result may not be a noticeable reduction in worldwide emissions. But by establishing a precedent of buying and selling the cost of recovering from waste products, simple economy will help curtail such waste.

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