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Calling for Global Carbon Tax, James Hansen Says We're Failing 'Miserably' at Tackling Climate Crisis

"Emissions aren't going to go down if the cost of fossil fuels isn't honest."

Dr. James Hansen

Dr. James Hansen speaks at the 7th annual Poal Bear Plunge. (Photo: Josh Lopez/Chesapeake Climate/Flickr/cc)

Former NASA scientist Dr. James Hansen—often called "the father of modern climate change awareness" for, among other things, his famous 1988 Senate testimony about global warming caused by human activity—believes the international community has failed to take adequate action to address the global climate crisis.

"All we've done is agree there's a problem," Hansen told the Guardian. "We agreed that in 1992 [at the Rio Earth Summit] and re-agreed it again in Paris [at COP 21 in 2015]. We haven't acknowledged what is required to solve it. Promises like Paris don't mean much, it's wishful thinking. It's a hoax that governments have played on us since the 1990s."

"The solution isn't complicated, it's not rocket science," he asserted. Rather than non-binding international accords like the Paris agreement—which he has criticized for years—Hansen is in favor of taxing fuels that produce carbon.

"Emissions aren't going to go down if the cost of fossil fuels isn't honest. Economists are very clear on this," Hansen argued. "We need a steadily increasing fee that is then distributed to the public."

Hansen, who retired from NASA in 2013 and now, at age 77, teaches at Columbia University and engages in activist work for climate action, has been quick to condemn world leaders who haven't, in his view, gone far enough with their policies.


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California's Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are "both pretending to be solving the problem," he told the Guardian.

In his upcoming book, Sophie's Planet: A Search for Truth About Our Remarkable Home Planet and Its Future, Hansen reportedly writes that former President Barack Obama "failed miserably" to tackle the global crisis, calling his policies "late, ineffectual, and partisan."

In the interview with the Guardian, Hansen noted that Obama had the chance to block some of the destructive environmental and energy policies that President Donald Trump has enacted, but the former president declined to settle a constitutional climate lawsuit brought by Hansen, his granddaughter, and a group of young people, which will now go to trial in October.

"Near the end of [Obama's] administration the U.S. said it would reduce emissions 80 percent by 2050," Hansen explained. "Our lawsuit demands a reduction of six percent a year so I thought, 'That's close enough, let's settle the lawsuit.' We got through to Obama's office but he decided against it. It was a tremendous opportunity. This was after Trump's election, so if we'd settled it quickly the U.S. legally wouldn't be able to do the absurd things Trump is doing now by opening up all sorts of fossil fuel sources."

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