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Paul Revere in a Labcoat

Dr. James E. Hansen's courageous truth-telling about climate change.

Dr. James E. Hansen might be described as Paul Revere in a labcoat.

In 1988 the physicist and director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies first sounded the warning that global climate change was coming—soon. Speaking before Congress, he testified that global climate change was not a potential problem for the distant future. It was happening all around us.

He spoke to Congress again this week, 20 years to the day of his famous testimony, and took the opportunity to discuss what can be done to curtail climate change.

Conservatives, who have long vilified Hansen, were outraged that a scientist would dare offer policy proposals to lessen the environmental, social and economic devastation of an international disaster. Presumably they also believe that doctors should be limited to making a diagnosis, leaving the prescribing of medicine to politicians, oil industry lobbyists and the Heritage Foundation.

Hansen endorsed a phase-out of all coal use, except where carbon emissions are sequestered below ground. He forcefully rejected efforts to find more oil through off-shore drilling and tar shale projects.

And he advocated a commons approach in moving from fossil fuels to renewable energy, modeled closely on the Cap-and-Dividend proposal promoted by On the Commons Senior Fellow Peter Barnes.

“Carbon tax with 100 percent dividend is needed to wean us off fossil fuel addiction,” he said, citing Barnes’s book Who Owns the Sky? in his footnotes… “The entire tax must be returned to the public, an equal amount to each adult, a half-share for children.”

“Carbon tax with 100 percent divident is non-regressive,” he continued. “On the contrary, you can bet that low and middle income people will find ways to limit their carbon tax and come out ahead. Profligate energy users will have to pay for their excesses.

“Demand for low-carbon high-efficiency products will spur innovation, making our products more competitive on international markets. Carbon emissions will plummet as energy efficiency and renewable energies grow rapidly. Black soot, mercury and other fossil fuel emissions will decline. A brighter, cleaner future, with energy independence, is possible.”