As climatologists go, James Hansen is a legend. In 1988, he was already warning Congress about the dangers of global warming.
The scientist normally speaks in measured tones, but he evoked nervous laughter from the crowd at the Commonwealth Club of California last night when asked by Climate One host Greg Dalton why he didn't favor California's cap-and-trade program to control greenhouse gas emissions. Hansen's response: "Because it's half-assed."
Based on other statements from the climate pioneer, including an interview to be aired on KQED on December 24, it's pretty clear that Hansen was taking aim at cap-and-trade as a concept -- but he made clear that there are features of California's program that he thinks will make it specifically ineffective.
Hansen said California "is a leader and really has people who understand this and want to do something about it, so I'm very disappointed when they choose a half-baked system like cap-and-trade, with offsets." Offsets allow industry to comply with the regulation partially by funding carbon-reduction projects elsewhere, rather than cleaning up their own operations." The comment drew applause from the audience of about 180 in San Francisco. "That's been tried in Europe and it didn't do much," Hansen told the audience. "What you want is a system which is very simple."
Hansen, who heads NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies at Columbia University, favors "putting a price on carbon" in the form of an outright tax or "fee" on fossil fuel combustion, with proceeds distributed to taxpayers to stimulate the economy and help offset increases in energy prices. In fact, Hansen even has a price in mind: $10 per metric ton of carbon emissions, to start, escalating at $10 per year. That just happens to be within a few cents of the price established at California's first auction of carbon pollution permits, held last month. But when asked by Dalton if cap-and-trade didn't have some "certainty" of lower emissions built into it, Hansen snorted and said, "It's certain that it won't be effective. That's what's certain."