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Excerpt: "Exploiting oil and gas trapped in tar sands and shale threatens to make climate change 'unsolvable,' said James Hansen, the former NASA scientist who raised concerns about global warming in the 1980s."

Climate change activist and former NASA scientist James Hansen. (photo: Mary Altaffer/AP)
Climate change activist and former NASA scientist James Hansen. (photo: Mary Altaffer/AP)

Dr. James Hansen: Tar Sands Make Climate Change 'Unsolvable'

By Dr. James Hansen, The Age

18 May 13


xploiting oil and gas trapped in tar sands and shale threatens to make climate change "unsolvable," said James Hansen, the former NASA scientist who raised concerns about global warming in the 1980s.

Conventional reserves of oil, gas and coal already have more carbon embedded in them than is safe to burn without causing "dangerous" levels of warming beyond a rise of 2 degrees Celsius since industrialisation, Hansen told a U.K. panel of lawmakers today.

"The potential amount of carbon in these unconventional resources is huge," Hansen told the Environmental Audit Committee. "If we introduce the tar shale and the tar sands as a source and exploit those resources to a significant extent, then the problem becomes unsolvable."

Hansen's intervention comes as U.S. and European Union lawmakers debate measures that would affect the market for oil from Canada's tar sands. U.S. President Barack Obama's administration is weighing approval of TransCanada Corp.'s proposed Keystone XL pipeline to link the tar sands to U.S. refineries on the Gulf Coast. EU nations are divided on a proposal to classify tar-sand oil as more polluting than conventional crude, putting it at a disadvantage against cleaner fuels under existing EU laws.

"We know we're going to get more oil out of these conventional sources," said Hansen. "If we also introduce the unconventional ones, there is no solution other than geo- engineering," he said, referring to deliberate measures designed to alter the climate. Hansen is now a professor at Columbia University in New York.

Driving storms

The scientist also said he's working on a paper based on "speculative" research that indicates accelerating ice loss from Greenland will eventually cause the North Atlantic to cool, creating the conditions for more powerful storms along the lines of Hurricane Sandy, the largest Atlantic hurricane on record.

"The cold freshwater coming out from Greenland is going to likely cause this cooling," said Hansen. "That's what I call the 'storms of my grandchildren' because you get cooling of the North Atlantic; warming of the tropics continues to increase, so the temperature gradient get stronger and it drives much stronger storms."

Hansen, 72, who this year retired as head of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, first raised concerns that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would cause global temperatures to rise faster than expected in a paper in the journal Science in 1981. In 1988, he testified to the U.S. Congress on the topic.

Carbon tax

Hansen said the United Nations approach to solving climate change by reaching consensus among all nations "doesn't have a chance of being effective," and instead advocated bilateral deals, especially between the U.S. and China. Such a deal would need to impose a "flat" carbon price in each nation, though not necessarily at the same rate.

"We need to put an honest price on carbon-based fuels which pays their cost to society," Hansen said. He said some Republicans, who have traditionally rejected measures to fight climate change, are coming around to the concept of a carbon tax on fuels that is revenue-neutral, paying money back to the public, as supported by George Shultz, who was secretary of state under former President Ronald Reagan.

"It's going to take more convincing," Hansen said. "I wouldn't say it's in any way a majority of conservatives yet."

A paper in the journal Environmental Research Letters yesterday found that the number of scientific papers rejecting the thesis that humans are causing global warming is a "vanishingly small proportion of the published research." your social media marketing partner


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0 # tm7devils 2013-05-18 22:59
Hey, Jason...are you reading this?
+7 # grandma lynn 2013-05-18 23:35
"...paying money back to the public" - I reacted to this with cynicism, oh-oh. I immediately thought - corporate America will take it in some form. What does that mean, "...paying money back to the public"? I don't see any mention of the Atlantic's Gulf Stream, needed to moderate the northern European climates. I would think we MUST BE friends with our northern European counterparts and care about their climate too. Not just about our own coastal storms, this. I'm all for Hansen's success with this - will be be honored or marginalized? Obama must nix the tar sands oil production, but will he?
0 # brycenuc 2013-05-19 01:51
Yes, of course, add to the cost of energy production that actually works and subsidize the renewable sources with added added tax money. Then 'voila!' we soon find that "renewable" sources surpass those that have been taxed out of existence. We are then left with but a single problem: producing sufficient energy to maintain our economy and civilization.
+3 # handmjones 2013-05-19 05:20
Almost a third of the CO2 emitted is from coal with the U.S. and China by far the largest emitters. The heavy oil produced in California, Venezuela, Canada etc. has a lower level of emissions per unit of energy produced.
It seems hypocritical to attack your partner's energy production before you stop your own much worse production.
-8 # lobdillj 2013-05-19 05:55
I am usually a supporter of Dr. Hansen, but he is barking up the wrong tree when he advocates a policy that assumes that the threat to the planet posed by carbon-based fuels can be overcome through taxation.
+1 # Helen 2013-05-19 16:36
I don't think Dr. Hansen means that taxation will do the whole job. But in this market-based economy, if the price of fossil-fuel based power became greater than that of clean energy, I'm sure most customers and investors would seek out the clean energy. Many Americans have been just too busy to look into options that would save them money in the long run. I have friends who installed solar several years ago and have been selling their "excess" energy back to our municipally-own ed electric company ever since, a set-up which I'm sure very few other power companies have offered.

Most carbon tax proponents want some or all of the tax revenues returned to the people on a per-capita basis, perhaps via an income tax credit. That would make it "revenue neutral". It also seems only fair: those whose lifestyle emits the most carbon would be paying their fair share of the damage we all are doing.
0 # 666 2013-05-20 05:13
I have real doubts such so-called "market mechanisms" will do enough good while there's enough time for such change.

We need to abandon the capitalist model of "market-driven" changes. the time to act is now. However such action also calls our basic forms of economics and government into doubt.
0 # handmjones 2013-05-20 09:29
What a futile project. The returned monies would be spent and all spending results in carbon emissions.
-3 # Malcolm 2013-05-19 09:44
0 # NAVYVET 2013-05-21 02:01
Don't discard the taxation idea. We need to use every possible mechanism to stop the extraction of fossil fuels! Some of you sound pitifully as though you've given up. DON'T!

Of course we need to turn to alternate energy A.S.A.P. At a meeting of "Turn Down the Heat" last Saturday I, and all who attended, got a freebie copy of's new film, DO THE MATH. It'll be shown somewhere in your area soon, and be sure to attend. To confine and then indict the fossil fuel oligarchs we need to turn UP the heat on them!

PS: Please spell Dr Hansen's name right. It's OK in the article. Why is the headline wrong?

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