Dr Hansen, 68, was one of the first voices to raise the alarm about rising global temperatures in the early 1980s, forecasting correctly that the planet would warm in the coming decades.
Next week he publishes his first book, Storms of my Grandchildren, warning that “our planet, with its remarkable array of life, is in imminent danger of crashing” and declaring, “It is our last chance.” He decries the cap-and-trade system envisaged by governments as ineffective in stemming carbon emissions. Under such systems, governments set limits on overall emissions and polluters trade quotas among themselves.
“The fundamental problem is that fossil fuels are the cheapest form of energy. As long as they are, they are going to be used,” he said. “It’s remarkable. They refuse to recognise and address the fundamental problem and the obvious solution.”
He dismisses government announcements of national targets for greenhouse gas emissions as promises that will not be kept.
It would be better for the Copenhagen summit to fail rather than reach the type of cap-and-trade-based system envisaged, he said. “If they sign on to anything like they are talking about then it’s definitely counter-productive. Any time you start down that path, it’s time wasted. We would do better taking a year time-out and figuring out a better path.”
Dr Hansen, adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Earth Institute in New York, says the only way to control global warming is through a carbon tax. “We are going to have to move beyond fossil fuels at some point. Why continue to stretch it out?” he said.
“The only way we can do that is by putting a price on carbon emissions. The business community and the public need to understand that there will be a gradually increasing price on carbon emissions.” He proposes that carbon tax revenues be returned directly to the public in the form of a dividend.
He also believes that the world must be prepared to abandon coal unless its emissions are captured.