Sunday, June 10, 2007

Prepare for a torrent of forced migrations

June 01, 2007
Climate Change Refugees (extended version)

As global warming tightens the availability of water, prepare for a torrent of forced migrations.

By Jeffrey D. Sachs

Human-induced climate and hydrologic change is likely to make many parts of the world uninhabitable, or at least uneconomic. Even if there are some "winners" from climate change perhaps farmers in high-latitude farm regions where the growing season will be extended by warmer temperatures there will also be large numbers of undeniable losers. Over the course of a few decades, if not sooner, hundreds of millions of people may be compelled to relocate because of environmental pressures.

To a significant extent, water will be the most important determinant of these population movements. Dramatic changes in the relationship between water and society will be widespread, as emphasized in the new report from Working Group II of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change. These shifts may include rising sea levels, stronger tropical cyclones, the loss of soil moisture under higher temperatures, more intense precipitation and flooding, more frequent droughts, the melting of glaciers and the changing seasonality of snowmelt. Combined with the human-induced depletion of groundwater sources by pumping, and the extensive pollution of rivers and lakes, mass migrations may be unavoidable.

Impacts will vary widely across the world. It will be important to keep our eye on at least four zones: low-lying coastal settlements which are especially vulnerable to rising sea levels; farm regions which are dependent on rivers fed by glacier melt and snowmelt; sub-humid and arid regions which are likely to experience greater drought frequency; and humid areas in Southeast Asia vulnerable to changes in monsoon patterns.

A significant rise of sea levels, even by a fraction of a meter, much less by several meters, could wreak havoc for tens or even hundreds of millions of people. One recent study by Gordon McGranahan, Deborah Balk, and Bridget Anderson (2007) found that although coastal areas less than 10 meters above sea level constitute only 2 percent of the world's land area, they contain 10 percent of the world's population. (High-density urban settlements are commonly located on coastlines for convenient access to international trade.) These low-elevation coastal zones are highly vulnerable to storm surges and increased intensity of tropical cyclones  call it the New Orleans Effect.

Hundreds of millions of people may be compelled to relocate.

Regions much further inland will wither. Hundreds of millions of people, including many of the poorest farm households, live in river valleys where irrigation is fed by glacier melt and snowmelt. The glaciers are disappearing, and the annual snowmelt is coming earlier each year, synchronizing it less and less well with the summer growing season.

Thus, the vast numbers of farmers in the Indo-Gangetic Plain and in China's Yellow River Basin will most likely face severe disruptions in water availability. Yet those regions are already experiencing profound water stress due to unsustainable rates of groundwater pumping performed to irrigate large expanses of Northern China and Northern India. Surface water bodies in these regions are already over-appropriated and degraded.

In Africa, all signs suggest that currently subhumid and arid areas will dry further, deepening the food crisis for many of the world's poorest and most vulnerable people. The severe decline in precipitation in the African Sahel during the past 30 years seems to be related to both anthropogenic warming and aerosol pollutants. The violence in Darfur and Somalia is fundamentally related to food and water insecurity. Cote d'Ivoire's civil war stems, at least in part, from ethnic clashes after masses of people fled the northern dry lands of Burkina Faso for the coast. Worse chaos could easily arise.

In Southeast Asia, each El Ni?o cycle brings drying to thousands of islands in the Indonesian archipelago, with attendant crop failures, famine and peat fires. Some climatologists hypothesize that global warming could induce a more persistent El Ni?o state; if so, the 200 million people in Indonesia and neighboring areas could experience lasting drought conditions.

Until now, the climate debate has focused on the basic science and the costs and benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. That stage is now ending, with a resounding consensus on the risk of climate change and the need for action. Attention will now increasingly turn to the urgent challenge of adapting to the changes and helping those who are most affected.

Some hard-hit places will be salvaged by better infrastructure that protects against storm surges or economizes on water for agriculture. Others will shift successfully from agriculture to industry and services. Yet some places will be unable to adjust altogether, and populations are likely to suffer and to move. We are just beginning to understand these phenomena in quantitative terms. Economists, hydrologists, agronomists, and climatologists will have to join forces to take the next steps in scientific understanding.

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Political Interference with Government Climate Change Science

Political Interference with Government Climate Change Science

Testimony of James E. Hansen 4273 Durham Road, Kintnersville, PA
to Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

United States House of Representatives 19 March 2007


Political Interference with Government Climate Change Science


1. Rationale of Presentation

2. My Experience

A. White House Approval and Editing of Congressional Testimony

B. Communication Constraints by NASA Office of Public Affairs

C. Executive Control of Purse Strings

3. Practical Impact of Political Interference with Climate Change Science

A. Communication of Climate Change Threat

B. Delay of Action: Potential Economic Benefits Become Costs

C. Moral and Legal Burdens

4. Issues and Questions Raised

A. Propriety of Filtering Congressional Testimony

B. Politicization of Public Affairs Office

C. Executive Control of the Purse Strings

5. Summary Implications of Climate Change Science

A. Status of Science

B. Impact of Political Interference on Quality of Decision Making

C. Recommendations to Policy-Makers

  • 1. Rationale of Presentation

I provide this testimony because I believe that my experiences illustrate flaws that have developed in the functioning of our democracy. And I will use part of my presentation to compare the benefits of early actions to defuse the building climate crisis with the dangers of continued business-as-usual fossil fuel emissions.

I claim no expertise in legal matters or politics. My approach is to try to imagine how our forefathers would have viewed our present situation and how they may have dealt with the climate change issue. A well-informed educated public was and is a premise of our democracy; it is easy for me to imagine Benjamin Franklin presenting an objective discussion of climate change that would be thoughtfully received. Another fundamental tenet of our democracy, separation of powers within our government, with checks and balances, is brought into focus by the climate crisis.

  • 2. My Experience

A. White House Approval and Editing of Congressional Testimony

During the past 25 years I have noticed an increase in the degree of political interference with scientific testimony to Congress. My first testimony was to a United States House of Representatives hearing organized by Representative Al Gore in early 1982. I do not recall whether White House approval of that testimony was required, but in any case there were no objections to the content of that testimony1.

I testified to the United States Senate about climate change at least three times in the period 1984-1988. These testimonies required approval by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). I did not have direct contact with people in OMB, rather NASA Headquarters (usually the NASA Office of Legislative Affairs) was an intermediary between the scientist (me) and OMB. In one case I strongly objected to changes that OMB made to my testimony, because I felt that the changes substantially altered the conclusions of our research and served to reduce concern about possible human-made climate change.

In this case the NASA intermediary in the Office of Legislative Affairs volunteered the information that I had the right to testify as a private citizen and present my testimony with the wording that I preferred. I took advantage of that right, testifying as a private citizen, and never felt any repercussions for doing so.

In 1989, after climate change had become of greater public and political concern, the constraints on communication via congressional testimony became stricter, at least in my experience. When I submitted written testimony to NASA Headquarters in 1989 for presentation to a Senate Committee chaired by Senator Gore, my secretary was instructed by NASA Headquarters to send the original typescript to NASA Headquarters so that they could insert several changes that were required by the White House OMB. When I was informed of this I was angered, intercepted the typescript, and insisted that any changes had to be made in my office. Several acceptable rewordings were negotiated (NASA Headquarters being the intermediary between OMB and me), but three changes2 that OMB required were unacceptable to me. Unlike the case earlier in the 1980s, I was told by NASA Headquarters that I needed to accept the changes or not testify. I agreed to accept the changes, but I then sent a fax to Senator Gore requesting that he ask me during the hearing about those specific statements, because I wanted to make clear that they were the opinion of the White House OMB, not my opinion. (This exchange was briefly shown in the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”.)

Review and editing of scientific testimony by the White House OMB seems to now be an accepted practice. The explanation I was given for why budgetary people should be allowed to review and edit scientific testimony was that NASA plans need to be consistent with the Administration’s budget. Discussion with NASA personnel in Legislative Affairs and in Science program offices suggests that people at NASA Headquarters believe that NASA must “play ball” with OMB if it wishes to be treated well in its annual funding. It seems to me that this raises constitutional questions, because it is my understanding that the Constitution provides the power of the purse strings to Congress, not the Executive Branch of our government. I return to this issue in Section 4 below, after discussing in Section 3 the practical impacts of this political interference in climate science.

B. Communication Constraints by NASA Office of Public Affairs

The Office of Public Affairs in science agencies such as NASA exists for the purpose of helping communicate scientific results to the public. During my career I have noticed an increasing politicization of Public Affairs at the Headquarters level, with a notable effect on communication from scientists to the public. I refer not to the professionals in the Public Affairs offices at the NASA science centers, but to Public Affairs at NASA Headquarters, which is in charge overall and is generally headed by a political appointee. Interference with communication of science to the public has been greater during the current Administration than at any time in my career. As I was quoted on the 2006 calendar of the Freedom Forum “In my more than three decades in government, I have never seen anything approaching the degree to which information flow from scientists to the public has been screened and controlled as it has now.”

The effect of the filtering of climate change science during the current Administration has been to make the reality of climate change less certain than the facts indicate and to reduce concern about the relation of climate change to human-made greenhouse gas emissions. For example, one of my staff members submitted a story based on his paper that found the ocean was less effective at removing human-made CO2 than had previously been estimated. Public Affairs decided that this story should not be provided to the media. Another staff member had to attend a ‘practice’ press conference, in which he was asked whether anything could be done to stem accelerating loss of sea ice. When he suggested “we could reduce emissions of greenhouse gases” he was told sternly “that’s unacceptable!”, with the explanation that scientists are not allowed to say anything that relates to policy

An important example of political interference with the public’s right to know has occurred with press releases relating to global warming science that have gone from NASA Headquarters to the White House for review, approval or disapproval, and editing. That this practice is inappropriate, if not illegal, is indicated by the response from NASA Public Affairs when I made note of this practice in a public talk (Reference 3). The NASA Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs traveled from Headquarters to Goddard Space Flight Center to deliver an oral “dressing down” of the professional writer at Goddard Public Affairs who had informed me about this practice. The writer was admonished to “mind his own business”. This dressing down was delivered in front of the writer’s boss. Such reprimands and instructions are delivered orally. If NASA Headquarters Public Affairs is queried by media about such abuses, they respond “that’s hearsay!”, a legal term that seems to frighten the media. My suggestion for getting at the truth is to question the relevant participants under oath, including the then NASA Associate Administrator for Earth Sciences, who surely is aware of who in the White House was receiving and reviewing press releases that related to climate change.

Communication constraints by NASA Headquarters Public Affairs came to light in December 2005, after some of the instructions by Headquarters Public Affairs were written down in memos and e-mails. This occurred shortly after my “Keeling” talk (Reference 4) at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco and the release within a week thereafter of our (GISS, Goddard Institute for Space Studies) analysis of global temperature, which showed record global temperature in 2005. NASA Headquarters Public Affairs was furious about the media attention, their anger being sparked by a call from the White House objecting to the publicity on global warming. The consternation, expressed during several three-way telecons between Headquarters-GSFC/Greenbelt-GISS/New York, was described by a participant as a “shit-storm”. The upshot was a new explicit set of constraints on me, including requirement that any media interviews be approved beforehand and that Headquarters have the “right of first refusal” on all interviews, that I provide my calendar of all planned talks and meetings, and that I obtain prior approval for every posting on the GISS web site.

These orders were delivered orally, as usual, as was a threat of “dire consequences” if I did not comply. However, a new young political appointee at Public Affairs, apparently was not well-schooled in the rules and left a paper trail, including a description of a specific instance in which Public Affairs barred me from speaking to NPR, offering the Associate Administrator in my stead. These indiscretions were perhaps the primary reason for his departure from NASA, rather than the fact that his resume failed to show that he was one course short of the university degree that he claimed. However, he was not acting on his own or affecting communication with the public in a way contrary to the wishes of his bosses. The paper trail that he left showed that the problem starts at the top, the decision to bar me from speaking with NPR being made “on the ninth floor” of Headquarters.

It became clear that the new constraints on my communications were gong to be a real impediment when I was forced to take down from our web site our routine posting of updated global temperature analysis. At that time I decided to write down the constraints that I had been placed under and to inform the media. An article appeared in the New York Times by Andy Revkin, who had the courage to go with a story that had a limited paper trail. To NASA’s credit, the Administrator promptly issued an unequivocal statement in support of scientific openness.

However, in no way has the impact of deception of the public about climate change been undone by NASA’s forthright decision in favor of scientific openness. There remains a vast gap between what is understood about global warming, by the relevant scientific community, and what is known about global warming by those who need to know, the public and policy-makers. This gap should be of concern to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, because it relates in part to ways in which the functioning of our government is departing from the intentions of our forefathers. Of special relevance is the usurpation of congressional prerogatives by the executive branch, especially via increased control of the purse strings.

C. Executive Control of Purse Strings

The American Revolution launched the radical proposition that the commonest of man should have a vote of equal weight to that of the richest, most powerful citizen. Our forefathers devised a remarkable Constitution, with checks and balances, to guard against the return of despotic governance and subversion of the democratic principle for the sake of the powerful few with special interests. They were well aware of the difficulties that would be faced, however, placing their hopes in the presumption of an educated informed citizenry, an honestly informed public.

I have sometimes wondered how our forefathers would view our situation today. On the positive side, as a scientist, I like to imagine how Benjamin Franklin would view the capabilities we have built for scientific investigation. Franklin speculated that an atmospheric “dry fog” produced by a large volcano had reduced the sun’s heating of the Earth so as to cause unusually cold weather in the early 1780s, as he noted that the enfeebled solar rays when collected in the focus of a “burning glass” could “scarce kindle brown paper”. As brilliant as Franklin’s insights may have been, they were only speculation as he lacked the tools for quantitative investigation. No doubt Franklin would marvel at the capabilities provided by earth-encircling satellites and super-computers that he could scarce have imagined.

Yet Franklin, Jefferson and the other revolutionaries must be distraught by recent tendencies in America, specifically increasing power of special interests in our government, concerted efforts to deceive the public, and arbitrary actions of government executives that arise from increasing concentration of authority in a unitary executive, in defiance of the aims of our Constitution’s framers. These tendencies have dramatic impact on the global warming story.

Last year, about one month after the media hubbub about NASA Public Affairs’ censoring of science, the mission of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was altered surreptitiously by executive action and the budget for Earth Science Research and Analysis was slashed retroactively to the beginning of the fiscal year, thus subverting constitutional division of power. Many people are aware that something bad happened to the NASA Earth Science budget last year, yet the severity of the cuts and their long-term implications are not universally recognized. In part this is because of a stealth budgeting maneuver, which I suspect most members of Congress are not aware of.

When annual budgets for the coming fiscal year are announced, the differences in growth from the previous year, for agencies and their divisions, are typically a few percent. An agency with +3 percent growth may crow happily, in comparison to agencies receiving +1 percent. Small differences are important because every agency has fixed costs (civil service salaries, buildings, other infrastructure), so new programs or initiatives are strongly dependent upon any budget growth and how that growth compares with inflation.

When the administration announced its fiscal 2007 budget, NASA science was listed as having typical changes of 1 percent or so. However, Earth Science Research and Analysis actually had a staggering reduction of about 20 percent from the 2006 budget that Congress had passed. How could that be accomplished? Simple enough: reduce the 2006 research budget retroactively by 20 percent! One-third of the way into fiscal year 2006, NASA Earth Science was told to go figure out how to live with a 20-percent loss of the current year’s funds.

The Earth Science budget was further tightened in 2007 and is almost a going-out-of-business budget. From the taxpayers’ point of view it makes no sense. An 80 percent budget must be used mainly to support infrastructure (practically speaking, you cannot fire civil servants; buildings at large facilities such as Goddard Space Flight Center will not be bulldozed to the ground; and the grass at the centers must continue to be cut). But the budget cuts wipe off the books most planned new satellite missions (some may be kept on the books, but only with a date so far in the future that no money needs to be spent now), and support for contractors, young scientists, and students disappears, with dire implications for future capabilities.

Bizarrely, this is happening just when NASA data are yielding spectacular and startling results. Two small satellites that measure the Earth’s gravitational field with remarkable precision found that the mass of Greenland is now decreasing by about 150 cubic kilometers of ice per year and West Antarctica by a similar amount. The area on the ice sheets with summer melting has increased markedly, major ice streams (portions of the ice sheet moving most rapidly toward the ocean and discharging icebergs) have increased doubled in flow speed, and the area in the Arctic Ocean with summer sea ice has decreased 20 percent in the last 25 years.

One way to avoid bad news: stop the measurements! Only hitch: the first line of the NASA mission is “to understand and protect our home planet.” Maybe that can be changed to “…protect special interests’ backside.”

I should say that the mission statement used to read “to understand and protect our home planet.” That part has been deleted—a shocking loss to me, as I had been using that phrase to justify speaking out about the dangers of global warming. The quoted mission statement had been constructed in 2001 and 2002 via an inclusive procedure involving representatives from the NASA Centers and e-mail interactions with NASA employees. In contrast, elimination of the “home planet” phrase occurred with no fanfare in a spending report delivered to Congress in February 2006, the same report that retroactively slashed the Earth Science research budget. In July 2006 I asked dozens of NASA employees and management people (including my boss) if they were aware of the change. Not one of them was. Several expressed concern that such management changes by fiat would have a bad effect on organization morale.

These budgetary goings-on in Washington were noted in editorials of The Boston Globe: “Earth to NASA: Help!” (June 15, 2006) and “Don’t ask; don’t ask” (June 22, 2006), both decrying the near-termination of Earth measurements. Of course, the Globe might be considered “liberal media”. But it is conservatives and moderates who should be most upset, and I consider myself a moderate conservative. When I was in school we learned that Congress controlled the purse strings; it is in the Constitution. But it does not really seem to work that way, not if the Administration can jerk the science budget around the way they have. It seems more like David Baltimore’s “Theory of the Unitary Executive” (the legal theory that the president can do pretty much whatever he wants) is being practiced. My impression is that conservatives and moderates would prefer that the government work as described in the Constitution, and that they prefer to obtain their information on how the Earth is doing from real observations, not from convenient science fiction (see Reference 5).

  • 3. Practical Impact of Political Interference with Climate Change Science

A. Communication of Climate Change Threat

There is little doubt that the Administration’s downplaying of evidence about global warming has had some effect on public perception of the climate change issue. The impact is to confuse the public about the reality of global warming, and about whether that warming can be reliably attributed to human-made greenhouse gases.

However, I believe that the gap between scientific understanding of climate change and public knowledge about the status of that understanding probably is due more to the impact of special interests on public discourse, especially fossil fuel special interests, rather than political interference with climate change science.

I have no knowledge of whether special interests have had a role in political interference with climate change science. Nevertheless, it is my personal opinion that the most fundamental government reform that could be taken to address climate change and government accountability in general would be effective campaign finance reform.

B. Delay of Action: Potential Economic Benefits Become Costs

The effect of leaving the public confused about the reality of human-caused climate change is to delay actions needed to put the nation and the world on an energy pathway that would preserve creation, the planet that civilization developed on. If these actions are taken early, changes can be phased in gradually with great economic benefit to the nation.

Delay, on the other hand, means that changes will need to be made rapidly and thus inefficiently. Less appropriate technologies must be, in effect, “bull-dozed” before they are “worn out”, and our industry will not be ready with more appropriate technology. Early action would provide our industry a long-term competitive advantage.

An example is provided by vehicle efficiency. The 30% improvement in automobile and light truck efficiencies proposed by California, if adopted nationally, would result in an annual reduction in oil import requirements of more than $100 billion dollars, with oil at $50 per barrel (Reference 6). This is opposed by United States automobile manufacturers and oil companies, who, in my opinion, seem more concerned with their short-term profits than with the best long-term interests of the nation, the planet, and future generations.

C. Moral and Legal Burdens

The most troubling impact of the political interference with climate change science is the potential burden that we leave for our children and grandchildren. The Administration continually points to China, which will soon pass the United States as the largest emitter of CO2, as a reason for minimalist action by the United States on greenhouse gas emissions.

However, the science unambiguously shows that climate change is driven by cumulative emissions, not current emissions. Cumulative emissions of the United States are more than three times that of any other nation (Reference 7) and will continue to be the largest for decades. Furthermore, rather than negotiating on the terms of the international accord designed to reduce emissions in developed countries and slow the growth of emissions in developing nations, the United States walked away, thus preventing effective implementation.

One consequence is that, as indigenous people must abandon their land to rising seas or shifting climatic zones, they will be well aware of the principal source of the problem. Thus if we continue on this course, failing to effectively address climate change, we will leave a heavy moral burden, and perhaps a legal burden, for our children.

If the science and communication of the science were not interfered with, and if our children were allowed to express a preference, would they choose the current path of our government for energy and climate? I think not. Even with knowledge that fundamental changes will be needed to phase into a different energy course, I am confident they would want the United States to play a leadership role.

  • 4. Issues and Questions Raised

A. Propriety of Filtering Congressional Testimony
What is the basis, what is the rationale, by which Congress allows the Administration to filter, edit and alter scientific testimony of government scientists delivered to Congress? Is this behavior a right that is granted to the Executive branch by the Constitution or authorized by other official instruments?

Presumably there is basis for this practice or it would not be tolerated. However, based on my experiences, discussed in part above, it seems to me that the practice is detrimental to the functioning of our democracy. The taxpayers foot the bill for most of the research by government and academic scientists. Thus the public should not be denied the full benefit of knowledge that derives from that research.

B. Politicization of Public Affairs Office
The problem stems from the fact that Public Affairs offices at the headquarters level of the science agencies are headed by political appointees. The inevitable result is a pressure for science to show the answers that the party in power prefers to see. This is true independent of which party is in power. Any such pressure contradicts the nature of scientific investigation, which relies on unprejudiced evaluation of all alternatives.

The best solution to this problem would be to have the Public Affairs offices professionally staffed, with no political appointees. If this is not possible, they should be renamed as Offices of Propaganda.

C. Executive Control of the Purse Strings
When I came to NASA 40 years ago as a 25 year old post-doc it seemed to me that the NASA approach was to focus on excellence in science and engineering. It was expected that Congress and the White House would provide funding based on merits. Perhaps I was naïve. But I did not get any sense that NASA was working for the White House. There has been a huge change between then and now.

The Executive branch seems to be exercising greater control in the functioning of our government, in ways that our forefathers probably did not imagine and almost certainly would not approve. This includes White House control of testimony to Congress, White House control of information that scientists provide to the public through Public Affairs, and most decidedly through control of the purse strings.

Control of the purse strings is the most powerful of the tools in the hands of the Executive branch. It has a tremendous effect on information that is provided to Congress and to the public. You may think that a government scientist can easily exercise his right of free speech, to speak as a private citizen as I am today. But how many will do so, when the power of the purse strings is held by the Executive branch? You may think that there are plenty of government scientists who are confident of their ability to get a job elsewhere or would not mind being sent off to pasture. But it is not so simple as that. With the purse strings the Executive branch holds hostage your “children”, your science programs, and your colleagues’ livelihood. It is not easy to face your colleagues when they feel that you are damaging their support.

  • 5. Summary Implications of Climate Change Science

A. Status of Science
Progress in climate science during the past several years has increased our understanding of how sensitive the Earth’s climate is to forcings, such as human-made emission of gases into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. This understanding derives especially from the Earth’s history, which shows how the Earth responded to changing forcings in the past (Reference 7).

The data show that the Earth’s climate has considerable inertia, due especially to the massive oceans and ice sheets. Yet the climate can change dramatically on century time scales, and even on decadal and shorter time scales.

The evidence confirms a predominance of positive feedbacks that amplify climate response on short time scales, these feedbacks including increasing atmospheric water vapor and decreasing sea ice cover as the planet becomes warmer. However, the data also indicate the presence of feedbacks on decadal, century and longer time scales. These feedbacks include movement of forests and other vegetation poleward as the climate warms, increased net emission of greenhouse gases from the ocean and biosphere, and decrease in the area and brightness of ice sheets.

The predominance of positive feedbacks, along with the inertia of the oceans and ice sheets, has profound practical implications. It means that if we push the climate system hard enough it can obtain a momentum, it can pass tipping points, such that climate changes continue, out of our control. Unless we begin to slow down the human-made climate forcings, there is the danger that we will create a different planet, one far outside the range that has existed in the course of human history (References 7, 8, 9).

It is because of these climate feedbacks and the inertia of the ocean and ice sheets that the global warming problem differs fundamentally from the problem of conventional air pollution (Reference 12). By the time that the public can clearly see the existence of climate change, there is momentum in the system for a great deal of additional change. As a result we are probably already very near, if not beyond, the dangerous level of interference with atmospheric composition. I have discussed the possibility of drawing down atmospheric CO2 by burning biofuels in power plants and capturing and sequestering the CO2 (Reference 13). However, by far the most effective actions at this time would be to slow current emissions to the atmosphere, while better understanding and improved technologies are developed.

B. Impact of Political Interference on Quality of Decision Making
Political interference in transmittal of information about climate change science to the public has deleterious effects on the quality of decision making. Science cannot make decisions for the public. The public and policy makers must consider all factors in making decisions and setting policy. But these other factors should not influence the science itself or the presentation of science to the public.

One consequence of political interference is that the public is not yet well-informed about the nature and scale of actions that will be needed to address climate change. This is important because it will take time for the public and their policy makers to thoughtfully consider these matters. As an example of the nature and scale of actions that I believe will be needed to address climate change, I list in the following section some specific recommendations that I discussed at a recent presentation in Washington (Reference 13).

C. Recommendations to Policy-Makers
1. Moratorium on new coal-fired power plants until the technology for CO2 capture and sequestration is available. The reason for this is that about a quarter of CO2 emissions will remain in the air “forever”, i.e., more than 500 years. As a result, I expect that it will be realized within the next decade or so, that all power plants without sequestration must be “bull-dozed” before mid-century. Thus it makes sense to give high priority to energy efficiency and renewable energies in the near-term.

2. A gradually but surely increasing price on carbon emissions is needed to drive energy efficiency improvements and innovative technologies. The results will include high-tech high-pay jobs, technologies that will increase our exports and improve our balance of payments, improved energy independence and national security. It will require a strong leader to level with the public that a tax on carbon emissions is needed. If this is introduced along with technology investments, the public should be provided options that will reduce their carbon emissions and limit their taxes. The government should avoid trying to specify the technology “winners”.

3. Energy efficiency standards are needed in addition to a price on carbon emissions. Architects and engineers agree that the technology exists now for new and renovated buildings to produce 50 percent less CO2 than existing buildings, and emissions can be further reduced in the future. National adoption of the proposed California vehicle efficiency standards would make a huge reduction in our oil and energy needs, as discussed above. Barriers to efficiency, such as the fact that utilities make greater profits if they sell more energy, rather than if they encourage efficiency, need to be removed.

4. Congress should request the National Academy of Sciences to carry out a study on the stability of ice sheets, which is likely to be a driver in determining what level of global warming constitutes “dangerous” interference with the climate system (Reference 11). The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change already provides periodic reports of the science, at about 6-year intervals, but the problem is too urgent and important for the country to rely solely on such assessments. The National Academy of Sciences was established by Abraham Lincoln in part with just such “Service to the Nation” in mind.

5. Congress needs to address the following threats to American democracy: (1) the public’s right to unfiltered information, including congressional testimony free of political interference, and Public Affairs (public information) offices that are staffed by professionals not by political appointees, (2) the absence of effective campaign finance reform.

As long as these threats to democracy are not addressed it will be difficult to deal with human-made climate change successfully. The Committee on Government Oversight and Reform seems an appropriate place to raise these issues.

  • References

1. Hansen, J., D. Johnson, A. Lacis, S. Lebedeff, P. Lee, D. Rind, G. Russell, Climate impact of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide, Science 213, 957-966, 1981.

2. Kerr, R A., Hansen vs. the world on the greenhouse threat Science 244 1041-1043, 1989.

3. Hansen, J., Iowa Talk (Dangerous Anthropogenic Interference: A discussion of humanity’s Faustian Climate Bargain and the payments coming due), 2004,

4. Hansen, J., Keeling Talk (Is there still time to avoid “dangerous anthropogenic interference” with global climate? A tribute to Charles David Keeling), 2005,

5. Hansen, J., Swift boating, stealth budgeting, & unitary executives, World Watch 19 (Nov/Dec), 25-31, 2006.

6. Hansen, J., D. Cain, R. Schmunk, On the road to climate stability: the parable of the secretary, 2005,

7. Hansen, J., M. Sato, P. Kharecha, G. Russell, D. Lea, M. Siddall, Trace gases and climate change, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, in press, 2007.

8. Hansen, J, and 46 co-authors, Dangerous human-made interference with climate: a GISS modelE study, Atomos. Chem. Phys. Discuss. 6, 12549-12610, 2006,

9. Hansen, J., The threat to the planet, in July 13 issue of New York Review of Books, 2006, (also

10. Hansen, J. Global warming: Connecting the dots from causes to solutions, presentation at National Press Club, 2007,

11. Hansen, J. Scientific reticence and sea level rise, to be submitted to Environ. Res. Lett., 2007,

12. Hansen, J. Special interests are the big obstacle, The Times (London), p. 53, March 12, 2007.

13. Hansen, J. Communicating dangers and opportunities in global warming, presentation given on Dec. 14, 2006, at AGU Fall Meeting.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

MIT provides blueprint for future use of coal

Leading academics from an interdisciplinary MIT panel issued a report today that examines how the world can continue to use coal, an abundant and inexpensive fuel, in a way that mitigates, instead of worsens, the global warming crisis.

The study, "The Future of Coal--Options for a Carbon Constrained World," advocates that the United States assume global leadership on this issue through adoption of significant policy actions.

Led by co-chairs John Deutch, Institute Professor, Department of Chemistry, and Ernest J. Moniz, Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physics and Engineering Systems, the report states that carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is the critical enabling technology to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions significantly while also allowing coal to meet the world's pressing energy needs.

According to Deutch, "As the world's leading energy user and greenhouse gas emitter, the U.S. must take the lead in showing the world CCS can work. Demonstration of technical, economic and institutional features of CCS at commercial scale coal combustion and conversion plants will give policymakers and the public confidence that a practical carbon mitigation control option exists, will reduce cost of CCS should carbon emission controls be adopted and will maintain the low-cost coal option in an environmentallyacceptable manner."

Moniz added, "There are many opportunities for enhancing the performance of coal plants in a
carbon-constrained world--higher efficiency generation, perhaps through new materials; novel approaches to gasification, CO2 capture and oxygen separation; and advanced system concepts, perhaps guided by a new generation of simulation tools. An aggressive R&D effort in the near term will yield significant dividends down the road and should be undertaken immediately to help meet this urgent scientificchallenge."

Key findings in this study include:

-- Coal is a low-cost, per BTU, mainstay of both the developed and developing world, and its use is projected to increase. Because of coal's high carbon content, increasing use will exacerbate the problem of climate change unless coal plants are deployed with very high efficiency and large-scale CCS is implemented.

-- CCS is the critical enabling technology because it allows significant reduction in carbon dioxide emissions while allowing coal to meet future energy needs.

-- A significant charge on carbon emissions is needed in the relatively near term to increase the economic attractiveness of new technologies that avoid carbon emissions and specifically lead to large-scale CCS in the coming decades. We need large-scale demonstration projects of the technical, economic and environmental performance of an integrated CCS system. We should proceed with carbon sequestration projects as soon as possible. Several integrated large-scale demonstrations with appropriate measurement, monitoring and verification are needed in the United States over the next decade with government support. This is important for establishing public confidence for the very large-scale sequestration program anticipated in the future. The regulatory regime for large-scale commercial sequestration should be developed with a greater sense of urgency, with the Executive Office of the President leading an interagency process.

-- The U.S. government should provide assistance only to coal projects with carbon dioxide capture in order to demonstrate technical, economic and environmental performance.
Original story at

-- Today, Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle appears to be the economic choice for new coal plants with CCS. However, this could change with further research development and demonstration, so it is not appropriate to pick a single technology winner at this time, especially in light of the variability in coal type, access to sequestration sites and other factors. The government should provide assistance to several "first of their kind" coal utilization demonstration plants, but only with carbon capture.

-- Congress should remove any expectation that construction of new coal plants without carbon dioxide capture will be "grandfathered" and granted emission allowances in the event of future regulation. This is a perverse incentive to build coal plants without carbon dioxide capture today.

-- Emissions will be stabilized only through global adherence to carbon dioxide emission constraints. China and India are unlikely to adopt carbon constraints unless the United States does so and leads the way in the development of CCS technology.

-- Key changes must be made to the current Department of Energy research development and demonstration program to successfully promote CCS technologies. The program must provide for demonstration of CCS at scale; a wider range of technologies should be explored; and modeling and simulation of the comparative performance of integrated technology systems should be greatly enhanced.
The report is available online at

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

TXU faces a Texas coal rush

Interesting article from Fortune Magazine bellow. Other articles about TXU can be found (baptists) here, (environmental groups) here, (TU Scientists) here and for another one of my posts with a video of activists on the streets check this out.

[UPDATE] Sheryl Crow and Laurie David are now planning to tour texas to help build opposition.

For whatever reason - the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina, Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth," the plight of polar bears in the Arctic, the Democratic takeover of Congress - this is the moment when corporate America has at long last decided to get serious about global warming.

Joining hands with environmentalists, the CEOs of ten Fortune 500 companies, among them GE (Charts), Alcoa (Charts), DuPont, and utilities Duke Energy and PG&E (Charts), last month called on the government to regulate the greenhouse gases caused by burning fossil fuels. Dozens of big companies, including Wal-Mart (Charts), have pledged to reduce their own emissions of carbon dioxide. In a twist on the theme, Dell (Charts) will arrange to have trees planted for customers who pay $2 to offset the CO2 generated when a computer is plugged into the power grid.

And then there is TXU (Charts).

A $10.4-billion-a-year energy company based in Dallas, TXU is staking its future on coal - the dirtiest of all fuels used to generate electricity. Last spring the company announced plans to build 11 new coal-fired power plants in Texas at a cost of nearly $1 billion apiece. That has set off a firestorm of opposition - lawsuits, pickets, petitions, anti-TXU Web sites, lobbying at the state capitol, even a hunger strike.

One environmental group calculated that the new plants would generate 78 million tons of CO2 each year - more than the emissions of Sweden, Denmark, or Portugal. Texas already ranks first in the U.S. in carbon emissions.

"This is an $11 billion step in the wrong direction," fumes David Hawkins, a climate-change expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "And when you're marching backward with $11 billion, you can do a lot of damage."

But TXU is just getting started. The company says it will soon unveil plans to build another eight to 15 coal-burning plants outside Texas, counting on economies of scale to hold costs down. TXU also operates strip mines, which supply 70 percent of the coal it burns.

To explore the logic behind TXU's plans, I went to see Mike McCall, the company executive in charge of selling the coal plants to Texans. A burly, easygoing 49-year-old, McCall is a coal man to his core. He went to the college at the Missouri School of Mines with the financial help of Peabody Coal, the nation's largest producer, worked in coal mines in Illinois, ran a private railroad that shipped coal, and climbed the ladder at TXU to become head of its wholesale electricity unit.

McCall's argument on behalf of coal is straightforward. Coal is abundant, and it is mined in the U.S. It's cheaper than natural gas and more reliable than wind or solar power.

TXU would like to generate more nuclear energy - it plans to apply for permits to build up to three nukes in 2008 - but getting a green light from industry-friendly Texas regulators for coal plants, even with all the brouhaha, is a lot easier than obtaining the federal government's approval to build a nuclear power plant. No new permits for nukes have been issued since the 1970s.

That leaves coal as the best fuel available to satisfy America's ever-expanding appetite for electricity - all our computers and big-screen TVs and air-conditioned homes and offices need juice.

Currently, coal supplies about 52 percent of the nation's electricity, and U.S. demand for electric power is projected to grow by about 1.5 percent a year. (Nationally, more than 150 new coal plants are planned.) With its hot summers, fast-growing population, and expanding industrial base, Texas has an even more urgent need for power; peak demand could exceed supply as soon as the summer of 2008.

"If you care about national security and you care about energy independence," McCall says, "you want to find a way to use coal that's acceptable to the public."

As for climate change, he allows that it's an "important and long-term issue" and says TXU's plants will be designed so that someday they can be retrofitted to capture and store carbon. Right now, there's no way to capture carbon from coal-burning plants. But, McCall says, "we have confidence that technology will come along."

That, say TXU's critics, is hokum.
A long list of opponents

TXU is fighting not just the usual activists from the Sierra Club and Public Citizen but environmental groups like Environmental Defense and the Natural Resources Defense Council, which are ordinarily business-friendly. (With GE, DuPont, and others, they formed the coalition of big companies to lobby for carbon caps.)

Opposing the plants, too, are the Democratic mayors of Dallas and Houston, Texas celebrities such as rocker Don Henley, and prominent businesspeople, including real estate scion Trammell S. Crow and Garrett Boone, the chairman of the Container Store.

Albert J. Huddleston, a pro-business Republican who helped finance the Swift Boat television ads against John Kerry in 2004, is funding a lawsuit against TXU because he's concerned about mercury contamination of lakes and fish.

So intense is the fervor that a 50-year-old activist, Karen Hadden, went on a ten-day hunger strike last fall to call attention to the issue. "It is certainly an uphill battle," Hadden says, "but we're trying to keep the pressure on every front."

Opponents have sued Texas regulators as well as TXU. They are asking the Texas legislature to impose a moratorium on new coal plants. They have taken their case to Wall Street, where Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup, the lead underwriters for the plants, have come under fire. They are telling the TXU story in Washington as Congress moves closer to setting mandatory caps on greenhouse-gas emissions.

"TXU is becoming the poster child for why we need mandatory federal legislation," says Jim Marston, who runs Environmental Defense's Texas operations.

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

IPCC 4AR Summary for Policy Makers: What the (UK) Papers Say

The the 'Summary for Policy Makers' (SPM) of the WG1 Contribution to the Fourth Assesment Report (4AR).


The 4AR is comprised of 3 parts, dealing with the science (WG1), the mitigation of (WG3) and the adaptation to (WG 2) climate change. Each of these three working groups will release a summary and a full report.

The summary for policy makers of working group one's findings has just been released and it is what you have hear all the reports about in the media recently.


What the UK national papers are saying:

We have moved beyond the debate about weather climate change is or is not happening. I have read all of the leading articles on climate change in the UK papers and none of them deny the basic science, nor the need for action.

I last reviewed uk papers when the stern review was released, post here.




The Times is the clasic uk 'establishment' paper. The ipcc report recieves coverage in several articles, the lead being entitled 'End of Debate over Global Warming'.


The most right wing uk broadsheet. Remember how important the begining of an article is, here is the start of the Telegraphs article, it ends not by instilling uncertainty but by talking about a plan.

It is now beyond doubt that Earth's climate is warming and "very likely" that most of the increase since the mid-20th century is the result of mankind's activities, a panel of UN scientists said yesterday.

Financial Times

The Financial Times is THE busines paper in the UK. On the day the report was released the FT gives a rundown on the report. The day after it leads with a call to action for the business community, '
Urgent need for action on climate change'.



Both papers have done little esle for the last couple of days, this is great, if a little predictable!



The end of contrarians in the mail? Not often known for it's progressive stance on...anything, the mail has atlast joined the consensus. It includes the following statement, making the credibility of this report clear: '
The evidence in a new report published in Paris has the finest pedigree - the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which draws together 2,500 scientists from more than 130 countries.'


Again, the sun makes a notable shift in it's coverage of climate change. It dosnet do this spectacularly, mearly by not taking any side swipes at the govornment for the problem!


The mirror leads with very stongly worded coverage of the issue, this is very interesting to see, climate change being delt with in a serious way within one of the tabloids.

Express (subscription)
Star (subscription)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Climate Change News: Roundup of Climate Blog Stories (#2)

Roundup of recent climate change stories bellow, many of these stories have been highlighted in the sidebar of Climate Change News/Action/Resources as 'Top Climate Blog Stories'.

This week the blogosphere has been dealing with questions of transport, future energy solutions, negawatts as a source of energy, carbon offsets, weird weather, china's development and environmental devastation, and continued business innovation.

In the case of transport, the main developments this week have been increasing concern over the rapid expansion of corn based ethanol in the US and more broadly about the global blueprint for biofuels. Advancements in ultra-capacitors have been seen, and these promise to increase the durability and performance of electric cars which both utilise energy more efficiently and promise a low emissions route to mobility if renewables can be used to source this power.

The electricity sector as always has shown some of the more positive trends. Solar power is expanding dramatically, Sharp's largest plant will soon have a production capacity of 800MW per year--a large fraction of global manufacturing capacity just a couple of years ago. The rapid rise of both solar and wind power is being supported by record, and rapidly increasing CleanTech investment. Wind power contracts have grown to 1400MW for Siemens in the US, a figure that would have seemed enormous just a couple of years ago; today several wind farms either already built or in the planning will individually approach this size. In a significant partnership, India and Europe are starting to undertake serious discussions of how to scale up wind power across the sub-continent. All of this development is starting to be integrated, visions of a 'Green Unifying Theory' are being developed. Many discussions are taking place about the contents of such a theory, one component that isn't to likely to be included is coal. That's a shame because in a reversal of the famous dash-to-gas, the UK seems to be undergoing a somewhat smaller but rather disconcerting career-to-coal.

Meanwhile, in efficiency, negawatts have been in the news again, a report just release in Texas has found that they don't actually need new coal, or wind, they need efficiency and this option is remarkably affordable. Technological developments that may help with such improvements in the future include frequency regulation using flywheels that produce a tiny fraction of the GHG emissions associated with typical regulation facilities.

After 'Carbon Neutral' made it as word of the year by the Oxford English Dictionary it was perhaps predictable that there would be more scrutiny of this nascent market. This has proved to be the case. In the UK the Environmental Audit Comitte has started an investigation and the UK government is planning offset standards. I recently also made my views on the topic clear and supported my preferred company, MyClimate.

All of which has become even more relevant, and discussed due to the extremely weird 'winter' weather occurring throughout the northern hemisphere. Weather that is having many unforceen impacts.

In Asian news, ASEAN has come to an agreement on encouraging energy efficiency, cheap energy and biofules (ahem..). The tensions between economic development, energy security and climate change are really showing themselves. China's continuing rapid expansion to the detriment of its environment has been written about over at china dialogue in a two piece article. Meanwhile, more on Bejing's efforts to clean up prior to the 2012 Olympics can be found here.

Finishing off with some good news, Marks and Spencer's (M&S) has join the growing ranks of businesses prepared to take on (to some degree) the issues of climate change. This general willingness can also be seen the in the continued growth of the Climate Group which has just acquired three new members.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Climate Change News: Roundup of Climate Blog Stories (#1)

Roundup of recent climate change stories bellow, many of these stories have been highlighted in the sidebar of Climate Change News/Action/Resources as 'Top Climate Blog Stories'.

1. Biofuel concerns increase. Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute (and Plan B 2.0) has called for a halt to the construction of ethanol production facilities due to increasing competition between corn for fuel and cars.

2. Democrats may form global warming committe. This is quite speculative at the moment but could be a highly important development.

3. UK Electricity Sector shifts towards coal usage.

4. European Commission has carried out a study into the impacts of climate change on Europe. When considering the quote bellow, please remember that Europe is far more able to adapt to climate change then many contries of the south, and is also less vulnerable for geographic and business reasons.
“As many as 87,000 extra deaths a year would occur annually by 2071, assuming a three degree centigrade temperature rise. If efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions limit the rise to 2.2 degrees, additional mortalities would be 36,000 a year.”
5. Ayles Ice Shelf detaches from the Canadian coast, taking 3000 year old ice out into open water.

6. Jacques Chirac has announced plans for an international conference with the aim of agreeing to place taxes on good imported from countries which are not signed up to the successor to Kyoto. Interesting idea, removes the penalty for acting first that most countries are afraid of. The Uk Green party and several NGO's have been calling for something of this kind for some time. I don't know if there is the political support at the moment but i think that in the absence of sufficient progress at the UNFCCC level that this issue could have its time within the next 10 years. A very interesting story to watch.

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