Current approaches to deal with climate change are ineffectual, one of the world's top climate scientists said today in a personal new year appeal to Barack Obama and his wife Michelle on the urgent need to tackle global warming.
With less than three weeks to go until Obama's inauguration, Prof James Hansen, head of Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, asked the recently appointed White House science adviser Prof John Holdren to pass the missive directly to the president-elect.
One of the realities that Obama -- who made frequent references to that mythical beast, "clean coal," during his campaign -- will have to face is that cutting down auto emissions is only the first step he'll have to oversee. Specifically, coal use looms as a problem of great significance, particularly for electrical generation. If we go to electric cars, we won't be making any strides if we're charging them up with coal-fired electricity.
Hansen specifically addresses this, and has a plan for it:
Hansen advocates a three-pronged attack on the climate problem – all measures he has promoted before. First, he wants a moratorium and phase-out of coal-fired power stations – which he calls "factories of death" – that do not incorporate carbon capture and storage.
"Coal is responsible for as much atmospheric carbon dioxide as the other fossil fuels combined, and its reserves make coal even more important for the long run," the Hansens wrote.
Second, he proposes a "carbon tax and 100% dividend": a mechanism for putting a price on carbon without raising money for government coffers. The idea is to tax carbon at source, then redistribute the revenue equally among taxpayers, so high carbon users are penalised while low carbon users are rewarded.
Finally, Hansen wants a renewed research effort into so-called fourth generation nuclear plants, which can use nuclear waste as fuel. "In our opinion [fourth generation nuclear power] deserves your strong support, because it has the potential to help solve past problems with nuclear power: nuclear waste, the need to mine for nuclear fuel, and release of radioactive material."
Let's hope he listens better to people like Hansen than he does to his netroots base.