Dr Hansen, Please Keep Speaking Out On Climate Policy - Just Talking Science Isn't Enough

james hansen photo
Hot on the heals of winning a $100,000 prize for his work in the "development of our understanding of human-induced climate change," NASA's Dr JamesHansen has written in the Huffington Post that climate change is the "predominant moral issue of this century," comparing it to the battle to end slavery in the 1800s and the fight against Naziism in the last century.

"Our fossil fuel addiction, if unabated, threatens our children and grandchildren, and most species on the planet," Hansen adds.

Cap-and-Trade Not The Only Way to Set Carbon Price
In the remainder of the piece Hansen talks about how the "fundamental requirement" for kicking the fossil fuel habit is setting a price on carbon emissions, and then redistributing the monies collected to the public. Hansen has been a vocal opponent of cap-and-trade and he continues to articulate this view strongly--he's now calling it the "fee-and-green-check" approach. In order to break through the logjam of actually getting a price on carbon established, Hansen argues that President Obama needs to get more involved and "use his bully pulpit to persuade Congress to do what is right for the nation and future generations."

Poor Science Messaging Is Only Part of the Reason For Climate Action Opposition
All of which sounds fine to me. But Climate Progress doesn't quite think so and opines that it would be better for Hansen to stick to what he knows best, the science of climate change, and stay clear of policy--where because, through his consistent opposition to the sort of compromise that is a "core component our of political process" as evidenced by his lack of support for cap-and-trade, he "renders himself irrelevant."

With respect to the persistent work of CP, I hardly think Hansen's views on policy are irrelevant.

Mostly because I'm increasingly convinced that simply better messaging from scientists alone is not going to convince anyone to act on climate change. It is certainly needed--no doubt that many scientists could use some basic media training--but when it comes down to it, despite what it might seem on the face of it, the battle over climate change isn't about science at all.

It's about psychology and world-view more than anything. It's about an unwillingness to recognize that the familiar, resource abundant world, dominated by white men fueled by cheap energy and free-market uber alles hubris is quickly coming crashing down. It's the same sources of anxiety underpinning the battle over health care to some degree. It's a culture war, not a rational debate in any sense of it.

Corporations and industries which have made billions getting us into this mess and are spending millions trying to stop us getting out of it, in short-sighted madness, just play into that fear and anxiety.

Let's call it what it is. It's tempting to just think that if more people just new the facts and figures about climate change (or any environmental issue) they'd think about it like we do, that they'd see through the obviously profit-driven motives of the fossil fuel industry, or whatever industry, opposing climate action, but that's just not the case.

Practicality Seldom Creates Real Change, Conviction & Vision Do
Jim Hansen sticking to the science helps in that fight no more than continually talking about what is politically possible. It's confining the debate to what is politically possible, rallying around what can be done rather than reminding the fence-sitting public what ought to be done, which is setting us up for ecological failure, not a respected scientist speaking his mind and conscience on policy.

When it comes down to it, policy is indeed built in increments, and a portion of the environmental advocacy community needs to work that path. But at the same time a portion of us have to constantly be pushing for radical change pointing out where we need to be headed, political practicality and pragmatism be damned. And I'm glad Hansen's in the latter camp.

photo: World Development Movement via flickr.
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More on Dr James Hansen:
James Hansen Hopes Waxman-Markey Cap and Trade Bill Fails: Has He Lost the Plot?
Climatologist James Hansen Urges Obama to Ban Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining
Hansen Was Right: Cap and Trade Isn't the Solution

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