DENVER -- Climate scientist James Hansen -- now retired and free from the constraints of his role at NASA -- last night promoted a carbon tax as the most effective way to curb greenhouse gas emissions in a keynote address before Colorado conservationists.
In one of his first U.S. appearances since his April retirement, Hansen spoke at Conservation Colorado's annual Rebel With a Cause Gala, where he was honored with the event's namesake award.
"I'm glad, by the way, that you called me a rebel, because in my 20 minutes I will be pretty rebellious," Hansen said at the start of his speech before about 610 people at the Denver Marriott hotel. "This is nothing new for me. I have always been pretty simple-minded, and I tend to just blurt out what I think is the truth, and that almost always gets me in trouble."
Hansen, who headed the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City for more than 30 years before stepping down, has served as a leader in climate science for decades.
In addition to speaking publicly on the causes and impacts of global warming, Hansen has also taken part in protests and civil disobedience, such as the February incident in which he chained himself to the White House gates to show opposition to the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline.
"It always makes me sad to see him going off to jail because we need him in the lab. He's the one guy who shouldn't have to waste his time behind bars ... but I'm glad he's willing," 350.org Colorado regional organizer Micah Parkin said in her introduction of Hansen, reading remarks from environmentalist and 350.org founder Bill McKibben.
During his speech last night, Hansen reiterated many of his regular talking points, advocating for a carbon tax as well as calling for the public to put more pressure on Congress and demonizing the oil and gas industry lobby for its influence.
"We must make our government do its job and start doing what's in the public's interest, not in the interest of the fossil fuel industry," Hansen said.
He also took aim at Rocky Mountain Institute chief scientist Amory Lovins and other advocates of "soft energy paths" that promote reduction in the use of fossil fuels and related greenhouse gas emissions through increased use of renewable energy resources.
"Many people prefer to hear fairy tales. One of the most popular fairy tales is this: All we need to do is promote renewables and we will solve the energy problem and the climate problem. Baloney! I could use different words but I'll use a mild one," Hansen said.
Hansen went on to call Lovins "one of Colorado's great assets" before adding: "This is a free country and we can believe what we want, but if you chose to believe that fairy tale, then you should know this: It is not you who will suffer most of the consequences of the public's gullibility. It is your children and your grandchildren."
Instead, Hansen advocates for a national carbon tax that would be collected from fossil fuel producers and redistributed to U.S. citizens.
"In this way the person who does better than average in limiting his carbon footprint will make money," Hansen said. "In this way every person in the country becomes an environmentalist, looking out for the well-being of their children in an effective way."
He has also argued that such a system would encourage the development of new energy technologies and efficiencies without government intervention that has drawn conservative criticism.
"If we don't do this, then governments are going to continue to allow the fossil fuel industry to go after every fossil fuel they can find," Hansen added.
Hansen ended his speech with an appeal for attendees to contact the Citizens Climate Lobby, a Coronado, Calif.-based group that lobbies lawmakers and promotes opinion pieces on a carbon tax.
Following the speech, Hansen, who recently toured several European nations and the United Kingdom to encourage officials to reject oil produced from Canadian oil sands (ClimateWire, May 21), said he will speak at CCL's 2013 International Conference in Washington, D.C., at the end of this month.
Hansen said in the meantime, he is working on a new research paper and preparing to testify in legal challenges organized by Our Children's Trust that argue the federal government is obligated to protect the atmosphere (Greenwire, Dec. 19, 2012).