Sunday, 15 November 2009

Prof. James Hansen - back online

Following a few surgeries to address prostate cancer, Dr Hansen has returned to the online community. On November 6 he posted a summary of his activities over the past few months. He remained impressively active during his recovery; finishing a book, Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity to be released December 8. He also gave a presentation in the Netherlands last month. As is his style, the full presentation and elaborated commentary may be found on his website. It's 18 pages in total and includes persuasive climate data and calls for action that include:

  • No new Coal Stations without carbon capture and storage.
  • Total phase-out of coal by 2030
  • Putting a price on carbon (fee and dividend approach)
  • Setting / improving energy efficiency standards
  • Deploying more renewable technologies (solar, wind, geothermal, biomass)
  • Deploying 3rd and 4th generation nuclear
  • Carbon capture and storage (used aggressively with biofuels)

Hansen also discussed his planned participation in a student led public action in Boston, USA. In this case, the action was a 'sleep-out' outside the Massachusetts State House, by students who refuse to sleep in dorms/apartments powered by coal-fired electricity. They weren't blaming the State government, but are looking for government leadership to solve the problem. Hansen, a world renowned scientist and author anticipated the possibility of getting into a bit of trouble with the law (a minor misdemeanor) and possibly paying a US $50 fine.

A few comments on the above summary.

First I'm delighted to learn the surgery went well, that Hansen is cancer free and his post-op recovery is complete. I wish him all the best and many more years to enjoy the company of his grandchildren and to defend their future.

Next, I note the inclusion of 3rd generation nuclear in Hansen's list of energy deployment options. I believe this is somewhat new compared to, say; his letter to the Obama's where he advocated the expedited development and deployment of Gen-4 designs. This is more evidence of the increasing trend of prominent environmentalists' calls for increased nuclear energy technology deployment. Stuart Brand's recent book being another.

Also, a comment on what I did not include above. Hansen lists a number of serious challenges to achieve the technically feasible - 350 ppm scenario. Most of these are linked to the significant influence of lobbyists and special interests (i.e. the large amount of money spent by the fossil fuel industry to sustain the status quo). He also criticises political green-washing and rhetoric, noting the significant divide between what he believes must be done and reality (for example, consider various Australian political and 'green' leaders who make claims about Australia being 'blessed with plentiful renewable resources' while coal stations continue to be deployed). Shameful - and worse - harmful distractions to tangible action toward real solutions.

Finally, I applaud Hansen's passion and full-throttle action; participating in the public action mentioned above, as well as his defence of the UK protest by the Kingsnorth 6 among others. I give him at least partial credit for my own participation in the day of action last month. I think I surprised the organiser who walked buy with a pamphlet asking if I understood what the action was about. Needless to say, he saved the material for another participant. It wasn't much, but it seemed noticeably more significant than sitting here, authoring a simple blog post.

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