James Hansen: "The green new deal as they've defined that is nonsense. We need a real deal which understands how economics works and what we need to do in order to move off of fossil fuels. And that requires in addition to this rising carbon fee, with the distribution to the public. We also have to have the technologies we have to help the developing countries, the Western world burned the carbon budget for the whole world. Now we've got a problem. And we're going to have to help those countries they want to raise their standards of living to match ours. And so there, it's a big problem but it's a solvable problem."
Host to Sunrise Movement's co-founder Varshini Prakash: "You and James Hansen both agree on the scale of the challenge but he thinks your solution is nonsense."
Varshini Prakash: "Well I would say that I don't think that simply putting a price on carbon is going to be enough in this moment I think if it were 30 years ago that might have been enough and and even after the most recent IPCC report the UN Climate report that came out last fall's said that we need to make unprecedented changes to every part of our economy and our society to stop this crisis. So I don't think that that's going to be enough I think we need to be we need..."
Hansen: "Yeah, it's not enough, but it's the underlying policy that's required to make the price of fossil fuels honest, otherwise people will keep burning them the same way that we did in the West, because people want energy, they're going to raise their standard of living. They need energy, and we need to make the price of fossil fuels include their cost to society that's the underlying requirement. But there is technology development also, I just quickly touch on, because, because James talked about matching."
By Zoya Teirstein
In the 1980s, NASA scientist James Hansen brought climate change to the attention of Congress, and shortly thereafter the public. Humans, he testified in 1988, were responsible for rising global temperatures.
But the man who put his reputation on the line to alert the world to the dangers of global warming doesn’t appear to agree with the most recent crop of climate advocates.
In April 20 debate with Sunrise Movement’s Varshini Prakash and Christian Aid’s Amanda Mukwashi, Hansen called the Green New Deal “nonsense.”
Hosted by Al Jazeera, the 12-minute debate highlights a growing fault line between two theories of climate action. Among progressives and environmental justice advocates, the Green New Deal represents a last-ditch, economy-wide overhaul. Hansen, on the other hand, seems to argue for a more economically incremental approach that is centered on a carbon tax.
That tension came to a head when Hansen appeared visibly aggravated by the progressive proposal and Prakash, realizing that one of the most prominent climate scientists in the world was scoffing at her organization’s central focus, could only laugh in disbelief.
Although Hansen is a proponent of using technology to bring down emissions, a carbon tax, he said, “is the underlying policy required. People need energy, we need to make the price of fossil fuels include their cost to society.”
The green new dealers, on the other hand, think their predecessors are offering too little too late. Prakash referenced a “point of no return” during the debate, a threshold past which temperatures rise so much that they trigger a series of unstoppable and catastrophic feedback loops. That kind of outcome can only be stopped by drastic action, she argued. When I spoke to Sunrise’s Evan Weber late last year, he indicated that the organization wasn’t actively pursuing a carbon tax.
What was most striking about Hansen’s argument was his measured tone, a stark difference from the way even the typically staid scientists behind the U.N’s IPCC report are beginning to discuss the issue.
“We should be phasing down emissions now,” he said, which seems like a bit of an understatement considering he’s been advocating for decreased emissions for the last, oh, four decades. “If we do that, we will get a little bit warmer than we are now, and then temperature(s) can begin to decline,” he said, adding that we will have to phase out fossil fuels over the “next several decades” in order to accomplish this goal.