James Hansen has been warning the world since the 1980s about the risks we are imposing on ourselves. Unfortunately, not enough people have listened so we are continuing to increase the rate at which we are dumping CO2 into the only atmosphere we have.
In the above video [no longer available], Hansen uses clear, unemotional language and visual aids to explain how the accumulation of that normally innocuous gas increases the probability of hotter than normal seasons and increases the percentage of the earth’s surface area suffering from temperatures as much as 3-5 standard deviations above average.
Aside: I reject assertions that “the public” cannot understand the language of statistics and probability. There are far too many people in that public who frequent casinos, visit tracks, or watch sporting events for me to believe that they are not familiar with the terminology associated with measuring uncertainty and attempting to mathematically predict outcomes. End Aside.
At the end of the video, Hansen explains his favorite tool for helping to alleviate the problem. Under his proposed fee and dividend approach, hydrocarbon companies will pay a fee for every unit of material that they extract. That fee is based on the completely logical assumption that the product will end up being dumped into the atmosphere after it has performed the one time service for which it was purchased.
Since the hydrocarbon companies and their customers do not own enough of the atmosphere to store their own waste, they put that waste in someone else’s property. They have been doing this throughout history without paying for the privilege. The second part of Hansen’s proposal is the pure genius that makes me join the crowd of supporters. Instead of giving the government and the well connected control of the waste fees, Hansen advocates that 100% of the fee be returned to the atmosphere owners – “we, the people”.
Aside: I trace our ownership rights to the humanistic philosophy best expressed in statement in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence; we are endowed by our “creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”. Continuous, unrestricted access – otherwise known as ownership – to the atmosphere comes with the right to life. End Aside.
Hansen’s proposed tool will expose the people engaged in producing and using fossil fuels to the cost of disposing of their inevitable waste. It is important to collect the fee based on what the hydrocarbon companies take out of the ground and not on the amount that they sell. Fossil fuel companies are some of the worlds most prodigious consumers of their own product.
Under fee and dividend, energy prices will increase for everyone, but people who use less than the average amount of energy will have more money in their pockets than they did before the initiation of the program. Energy sources that do not produce CO2 or that produce less CO2 than average would become more valuable; they would finally have a monetary figure placed on their already existing quality advantage.
Of course, I have a vested interest in promoting this idea. I’m a nuclear professional. The energy from the technology I am employed to help develop and deploy will come without any need to pay the carbon waste fee. By the mid 1950s pioneers like my friend Ted Rockwell had successfully proven that nuclear power was clean enough to run inside sealed submarines and safe enough to put valuable humans within just a few feet of an operating propulsion plant.
I’m not shy about telling people that nuclear energy could use a boost right now. Our technology requires a substantial initial investment; building nuclear production facilities requires care and attention to detail with second and third checks to improve the probability of getting it right the first time. However, the cost and time investment required to build an electrical generating plant fueled by uranium, plutonium and/or thorium has been artificially increased as a result of purposeful efforts by well-organized and well-funded groups for more than 40 years.
During the past four years, our competitors have also been trying to convince American customers that they have discovered a perpetual supply of cheap natural gas. Interestingly enough, they tell their investors a rather different story about how they expect prices to increase soon to make their investments in production capacity pay off.
Though there may be some people in the nuclear opposition who are sincerely afflicted with an irrational nuclear phobia, the majority of the leadership clearly dislikes nuclear energy because they would prefer to sell something else. They might be selling a vision of an impossible utopia powered only by natural energy flows, but for the most part they are selling a continuation of business as usual, with fossil fuel retaining as much market share as possible.
Listen closely to the number of times that advocates of “anything but nuclear” mention their comfort with natural gas and then read some of the annual reports of companies that are best known as oil companies. You will find that those companies generally produce about half of their total energy in the form of natural gas and they are looking to that side of their business for future growth. That growth would not materialize without trying to capture a larger share of the same electricity market where nuclear has the potential to dominate.
Those antinuclear activists are either purposely or inadvertently carrying the water for the multinational hydrocarbon companies that want to sell as much product as they can extract at as high of a price as the market will bear. Fossil fuel companies understand that prices are higher when supplies are constrained; they prefer for the constraints to be placed on their competitors rather than be imposed on them.
Please look through the commercials that you so often see in magazines, on the billboards and on television to realize that burning hydrocarbons as fast as the major multinational companies want to you burn them is just not good for the environment, not good for the future of humanity, and is not equitable for future generations who will thank us for leaving some of the valuable coal, oil and gas for them to burn.
Hat tip to Common Dreams and to Current TV, which together provided access to The Dice are Loaded: NASA’s James Hansen Warns Escalating Climate Crisis Requires Intervention. I am well aware of the fact that both of those media outlets has a strong bias against the use of nuclear energy; maybe someday soon they will listen to what Hansen says about the importance of nuclear technology for addressing the real and pressing issues of global climate change.
PS Though James Hansen is a climate scientist who focuses on the CO2 effects on his area of expertise, there are many people who study ocean chemistry and biology who also worry about the way that dissolved CO2 becomes carbonic acid in water. Humans are putting enough CO2 into the atmosphere to affect the overall pH of the world’s oceans, which has an enormous effect on their ability to support their current populations of creatures.