Climate Week: What Dr. Hansen Thinks of President Obama and the Climate

Written by Nell Greenberg

Topics: Coal

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Recently, I interviewed leading climate scientist, Dr. James Hansen, for Earth Island Journal on why he hates coal, what he thinks of the President, the current climate bill and global climate negotiations, as well as his take on Ghandian Civil Resistance.

As we enter climate week, with President Obama poised to give his first big speech on climate change, and just before climate negotiations in Bangkok, i thought it might be a good idea to see what the ‘father of global warming’ thinks about our Administration and all things climate.

Below is an excerpt of the interview, for the full thing  click here!

photo of a man speaking in front of a banner which reads in part: coal vs. climate !Kate Davison/Greenpeace

You’ve had more experience than anybody in trying to translate the connection between science and policy. How do you feel President Obama is doing on the climate?

Well, I am disappointed that he has not become a little more involved. He seems to be letting the politics just play out, and perhaps planning to be a judge in the compromises. But it’s a case where we clearly need leadership. And he is still our best hope in achieving that.

What is clear is that we have to phase out the coal, and the place you would start is to say we are going to have a moratorium on any new coal-fired power plants. Because when you look at the science, what we’ve shown is that if you phase out coal emissions within 20 years, then you can keep the peak CO2 at something between 400 and 425 ppm. But that is critically dependent on phasing out the coal emissions on that sort of timescale. If you’re going to do that, you would not build any new coal-fired power plants.

But to put a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants, Obama would have to contend with the coal state senators and the coal lobby.

Yeah, it’s a nontrivial task. But he could do it, and he is the only one who could do it. Without that, it is just going to be this horse-trading that we’ve seen. And you just keep adding more and more bad things to the bill.

But anyway, you should have a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants. That is very clear. And mountaintop removal [coal mining], which I understand is only about seven percent of our coal, obviously should be the place you start. I had hoped that the new administration would recognize this and would ban this practice. But again, they seem to be in a position of compromising, of making it a little more difficult but allowing the practice to continue. If [Obama] decided to exert leadership on this, he could. He is articulate enough to explain that to the American public. But so far he is not doing that.

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