James Hansen, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, told the House Select Committee On Energy Independence And Global Warming that he is 99-percent certain that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has already risen beyond the safe level (PDF of speech, charts), The Guardian reports.
Hansen, who was one of the first to tell the U.S. Congress about global warming 20 years ago, said a carbon tax is the most efficient way to curb emissions that cause global warming.
Likening chief executive officers of energy companies to those of cigarette companies who once publicly denied the health hazards of smoking knowing the possible consequences, Hansen said, “We have to level with the public that there has to be a price on carbon emissions. That is the only way we are going to begin to move toward a carbon free economy.”
Hansen went on to say: “CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of long-term
consequences of continued business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for
high crimes against humanity and nature.”
Hansen called for a moratorium on coal-fired power plants that aren’t equipped with carbon capture systems:
“The thing that I think is most important is to block coal-fired power plants,” [AP reports Hansen as saying]. “I’m not yet at the point of chaining myself but we somehow have to draw attention to this.”
Frank Maisano, a spokesman for many U.S. utilities, including those trying to build new coal plants, said while Hansen has shown foresight as a scientist, his “stop them all approach is very simplistic” and shows that he is beyond his level of expertise.
Hansen also called for an overhaul of regulations to ensure utilities are rewarded for promoting energy efficiency, BusinessGreen reports.
While he said he would campaign to unseat several members of Congress who have a poor climate change voting record, Hansen also blamed special interest lobbyists for a what he called a criminal lack of political action.
“The problem is not political will, it’s … the lobbyists. It’s the fact that money talks in Washington, and that democracy is not working the way it’s intended to work.”
In related news, a group launched the 350.org campaign the same day Hansen spoke to Congressional leaders. The group, named after the “safe line for our global climate,” has taken out full-page advertisements in major papers around the world calling a reduction in the target level of CO2 to 350ppm. Hansen, and about 150 others, are backing the advertisements.