James Hansen’s Plan for Reversing Climate Change

In an emotionally charged but (IMNSHO) fact-based opinion piece in the New York Times today, NASA exec James Hansen suggests that a gradually accelerating tax on carbon fuel producers that is distributed directly back to citizens could reverse global climate change before it finally imperils civilization.

Hansen, who’s a lightning rod for the folks on the “business-can-do-no-wrong-so-leave-them-alone” side of the political divide, has been at the forefront of the nearly unanimous group of world scientists warning us about the perils of climate change for decades. In today’s piece, he continues to paint a cataclysmically depressing picture of where things will go if we keep following our present human course. The trouble is, his picture is realistic.

Of particular focus in Hansen’s most recent piece is the tar sands extraction being pursued by Canada. President Obama said in a recent interview that the Canadians were going to go ahead with this incredibly terrible idea for producing the dirtiest large-scale fuel source known to man, regardless of whether the U.S. allows them to run a pipeline to the Gulf of Mexico. Never mind that that course of action is all but impossible for Canada to follow if we don’t allow the pipeline. Hansen points out that this sludge “contain[s] twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history.”

So his idea — which may not be new for all I know but it’s the first I’ve read of it — is simplicity itself. “We should impose a gradually rising carbon fee, collected from fossil fuel companies, then distribute 100 percent of the collections to all Americans on a per-capita basis every month. The government would not get a penny.” He says that computer models based on this notion show that it would stimulate the economy without growing the government, give most Americans more than they are paying in increased fossil fuel costs, and result in savings six times greater than that projected for the Canadian tar sands project. I think he’s probably underestimating the degree to which the government would grow (we’ll need a new bureaucracy to manage and distribute the funds, right? Can’t trust oil companies to cut all the checks to all the right folks for all the right amounts.)

This seems like an idea that conservatives and liberals alike would support. So of course it won’t happen.

But we clearly must do something or we’re leaving our grandchildren and great-grandchildren in a horrific mess that may well end human civilization.

4 comments for “James Hansen’s Plan for Reversing Climate Change

  1. revsteve
    May 11, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    Well said, Dan! Thanks for bringing this to our attention.I love this concept of taxing at the sources and redistributing the proceeds directly. It’s sort of tantamount for the energy companies providing a rebate (or dividend) directly to the customer.It’s not clear to me, however, how this would act as a disincentive for them to develop “dirty”, polluting resources.Along these lines, I’ve been thinking about the tax breaks that Congress keeps giving to the energy companies — ones that the energy companies say they neither need nor want, but Congress keeps passing them anyway.And, at the same time, Congress doesn’t want to keep interest rates on student loans low — something that students want and need and is ultimately in the best interest of the country to the extent that it educates the populace.So, how about this for an idea: So long as Congress insists on the tax breaks for the energy companies, the energy companies take the monies from them and put them into a fund to subsidize student loans. Let’s call this “The Robin Hood Program” as money is diverted from the rich in order to support those in need. The beauty of this is that it wouldn’t take “an act of Congress” to put into motion — the oil companies would simply have to form a “SAC” (similar to a “PAC”, but a “Student Action Committee”). Anyway, that’s my lightbulb for the day….Thanks for your continued interesting and provocative posts!Steve

  2. Dan Shafer
    May 11, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    I like your idea of redirecting the subsidies, too.I think the idea behind the gradually increasing fee is to make it more and more expensive for people to buy the oil companies’ products, which depresses demand which leads the companies and others to produce cleaner and, by extension, cheaper fuels. It’s a bit indirect and the weakest link in the argument but it might work.

  3. revsteve
    May 11, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    Cool on both counts!  How could we get Rachel Maddow to lead the charge on these?S

  4. Dan Shafer
    May 11, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    Would that we could. I’ve given up writing her. She obviously doesn’t think I’m nearly as insightful and brilliant as *I* think I am. 🙂