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Revolutionary Resolutions #1: James Hansen advocates “Just say NO to COAL”

January 5, 2010

Just as DARE’s “Just Say No to Drugs” campaign belittles the struggles of drug addicts and avoids the greater cultural and economic challenges that lead to drug use, so does the simple “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” approach to dealing with global warming lack substance as well as any significant signs of success.

Here’s the Inconvenient Truth: no matter how much or how often you personally ride your bike, hang your clothes on the line, bring your own bag and cup, recycle everything, etc, it’s JUST NOT ENOUGH to stop climate change in its tracks and save life on earth as we know it.

Nope. What has to happen is much much greater than an individual’s actions at home and work. While the common over-consumption and the wasting of resources (sending functional items and reusable materials to landfills and behaviors like driving short distances instead of walking or riding a bike or using 6% of a household’s energy for drying clothes) is WRONG, what has to happen to save life on the planet as we know it requires political will and pressure. Right now we are choosing to sacrifice thousands of species and many many thousands of human beings, especially those species and humans which live on the continental margins.

Just how much will the Earth’s surface warm up over the lives of our children? NASA’s APOD answered it thus on April 21, 2009:

No one is sure. Compared to the past 100 million years, the Earth is currently enduring a relative cold spell, possibly about four degrees Celsius below average. Over the past 100 years, however, data indicate the average global temperature of the Earth has increased by nearly one degree Celsius. Few disagree that recent global warming is occurring, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that we humans have created a warming surge that is likely to continue. A future temperature increase like that shown on the above predictive map may cause sea levels to rise, precipitation patterns to change, and much pole ice to melt. The result could impact many local agricultures and the global economy. Geoengineering projects that might include artificial cloud creation might reduce the amount of warming sunlight that reaches the Earth‘s surface.

To save life on this planet as we know it, WE must quit using carbon based fuels. Even more specifically, WE must PHASE OUT COAL EMISSIONS IMMEDIATELY.

Who am I to recommend you change your life radically by joining us in taking on this task? After all, I’m just a blogger. (And an activist. And I have a college degree in environmental studies if that matters to you.) And I have been following climate change since I took a class on it in the 1980’s with Dr. Bob Curry at UCSC, and writing about these issues since I started blogging. A year ago, I blogged about a NOAA report which predicted that the climate change we’ve already experienced will take 1000 years to reverse itself:

“The policy relevance is clear: We need to act sooner … because by the time the public and policymakers really realize the changes are here it is far too late to do anything about it. In fact, as the authors point out, it is already too late for some effects,” according to Kevin Trenberth, head of climate analysis National Center for Atmospheric Research.

In my page Warming 101, I quote a June 2008 article where NASA’s James Hansen says that to cut emissions, “coal-fired power plants that don’t capture carbon dioxide emissions shouldn’t be used in the United States after 2025, and should be eliminated in the rest of the world by 2030.”

Burning fossil fuels like coal is the chief cause of anthropogenic greenhouse gases. Hansen said the Earth’s atmosphere has got to get back to a level of 350 parts of carbon dioxide per million. In May 2008, according to the article, it was 10 percent higher: 386.7 parts per million. “The thing that I think is most important is to block coal-fired power plants,” Hansen told the luncheon. “I’m not yet at the point of chaining myself but we somehow have to draw attention to this.”

“If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385ppm to at most 350ppm,” writes NASA’s James Hansen (2008).

James Hansen’s latest attempt to call attention to the dire consequences of our continued use of coal is the recent publication of his book, Storms of my Grandchildren: The Truth of the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity. Susan Salter Reynolds reviewed his book Sunday Dec. 27, 2009 in the LA Times.

According to Reynolds, Hansen is propelled by three forces:

1) Being asked by his grandchildren why he didn’t do more to stop global warming: “I suspect one day your more perceptive grandchildren will say that you let the politicians lie to you.”

2) Disgust at greenwashing: “I believe the biggest obstacle to solving global warming is the role of money in politics.”

3) Changes in his own understanding about climate change and the importance of reducing carbon dioxide to 350 parts per million. According to Hansen, if we shut down all coal plants in the next two decades, we have a chance to bring current levels of CO2 in the atmosphere down from 387 to 350ppm. The challenge? 50% of the electricity in the US comes from coal; in China, it’s 80%.

Reynolds writes that “Hansen is not big on personal emissions reductions, efficiency and recycling efforts, ore renewable lifestyle choices. He applauds the effort but does not feel it will do the trick.” What will is a “linear phase-out of coal emissions by 2030” which means emissions cut in half by 2030. To make this happen will require a revolutionary resolution as far as I am concerned. I agree with Hansen that we can’t count on government to make this radical change without our forcing it on them.

As Hansen points out, the politicians, driven by special interest groups “are pursuing policies to get every last drop of fossil fuel, including coal, by whatever means necessary regardless of environmental damage.”

“I’m 68 years old and I am fed up with the way things are done in Washington,” writes Hansen.

So if you’re fed up, what can YOU do? What will I do? It is still important to REDUCE REUSE RECYCLE REPURPOSE RECREATE because it is still WRONG to just trash everything. But it’s not enough. We have to take James Hansen’s advice and figure out ways for the government to just say no to coal.

I don’t know how that’s going to happen so I’m going to just keep on learning. There’s lots of info out there. I’m going to watch for opportunities to have an impact on the way people think and join groups like that call attention to the need to get back down to 350 ppm. I’ll visit documents climate change through a rephotographing project. And I’ll be prepared to counter myths about global warming with facts, but I won’t waste too much breath, energy or time in trying to convince others who have closed their minds.

10 MYTHS about Global Warming

*   It isn’t really happening (documented science overwhelmingly shows temperatures rising rapidly)

*   It’s natural (temperature increases, especially since the 1970’s, are far above natural variations)

*   Any effects well be very gradual (not only are severe storms getting stronger, but climate history shows sharp climate changes can occur  abruptly, in only a few years)

*   It does not affect the U.S. (the U.S. is experiencing rising sea levels, more severe storms and droughts, die-off of forests, altered animal migrations, and loss of glaciers such as those in Glacier National Park)

*   It will be good for us (some areas may become more pleasantly warm, but the cost of negative effects will far outweigh any benefits; disease and heat deaths are increasing)

*   Agriculture will benefit (CO2 may make some crops grow faster, but also will accelerate weeds, pests and droughts; crops may not grow well  where they once did as climate zones shift.)

*   It’s being handled by our government Changes we make to how we get and use energy will cost billions and throw millions out of work. (There are costs to any change, but study after study shows the net effect of conservation, efficiency and less-polluting energy will be more local jobs, less cost for power, and savings in health and local pollution control. The costs of severe climate change effects like seacoast erosion is far greater than working to reduce them.)

*    It’s not a big deal compared to national security (Global warming is actually the most serious threat to the widest range of human  concerns.  Our national and world security is directly threatened by negative climate effects on weather, water supply, disease, agriculture, marine resources, and health)

*   Technology will solve the problem for us (Massive “fixes” like burying greenhouse gases are very unlikely, but many smaller changes can make a difference AND are available now)

*    There’s nothing to be done anyway (Everyone can make a difference today by making simple lifestyle changes and by getting INVOLVED and produce the political will to change the BIG picture).

For factual information on common claims and challenges to the science of global warming, please see the site “Skeptical Science

5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 5, 2010 11:20 pm

    Option A: Go grass roots on Global Warming’s a$$, take control of the local and national AM radio waves with proven facts and stage rallies around the world. Get an UBER-corporate ECO-FRIENDLY giant to give something away for free so all the couch potato’s are FORCED to leave their lazy-boys.
    Option B: Duck and cover.

    One of my biggest dreams (in my oh-so dilapidated mind) has been to incorporate the counties homeless in picking up trash off the streets and exchanging their finds for some kind of profit. Whether it be cash, or a room, or alcohol. Unfortunately I am not the guy to stage such a thing.

  2. January 5, 2010 11:39 pm

    Thanks for stopping by with your ideas, Daniel. What it’s really going to take, I’m afraid, is a revolution. And an “army” of compassionate rebels. I’m glad we’re on the same side we’re together on this!

  3. January 5, 2010 11:45 pm


  4. January 12, 2010 6:13 pm

    Absolutely, lifestyle changes can never be enough.

    Banning coal won’t solve everything either, but it would make a giant dent in the problem, and have an order of magnitude more impact than any possible lifestyle changes.


  1. James Hansen: “Just say NO to COAL” « whisper down the write alley

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