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James Hansen says Copenhagen approach “fundamentally wrong” would be better to “reassess”

James Hansen, one of the world’s foremost climatologists, told the Guardian today that he believes the Copenhagen talks are flawed to the point where failure of the talks may be the best way forward.

“The approach that is being talked about is so fundamentally wrong that it would be better to reassess,” Hansen said.

Hansen has long been critical of the cap-and-trade system that is being proposed as a global remedy for climate change at the summit in Copenhagen next week. Comparing the system to the indulgences handed out by the Catholic Church to sinners in the Middle Ages, Hansen told the Guardian: “It’s just as well that we not have a substantive treaty, because if it is going to be the Kyoto-type thing, and people agree to that, then they’ll spend years trying to determine exactly what that means and what is a commitment, what are the mechanisms, and the whole idea that you have goals which you’re supposed to meet and that you have outs, with offsets (sold through the carbon market), means you know it’s an attempt to continue business as usual.”

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) graph showing that surface temperatures for the past 140 years (global) and the past 1000 years (Northern Hemisphere).

Instead of a cap-and-trade system, Hansen would like to see a straight carbon tax placed as close to the source of the emissions as possible. Currently, Sweden, Finland, and France has all instituted a carbon tax.

Back in the late 1980s Hansen was one of the first scientists to warn the world about the perils of climate change and has remained an important—and active—voice on global warming ever since. He has called for fossil fuel company executives to face trial for spreading misinformation on climate change and has been outwardly critical of the Obama Administration for not doing enough on climate change.

Hansen is also one of the few climate scientists who has become an active protestor: he was arrested at a protest against mountaintop coal mining last year.

Suzanne Goldenberg, reporter for the Guardian, noted that while Hansen’s views on cap-and-trade were not typical of environmentalists and policymakers, Hansen believed they could still have influence.

In the interview, Hansen further argued that no world leader has yet to understand the full impact of climate change.

“This is analogous to the issue of slavery faced by Abraham Lincoln or the issue of Nazism faced by Winston Churchill. On those kinds of issues you cannot compromise. You can’t say let’s reduce slavery, let’s find a compromise and reduce it 50 percent or reduce it 40 percent,” Hansen said, adding that “we don’t have a leader who is able to grasp it and say what is really needed.”

Hansen added he hoped the United States would look at nuclear power as a possibly important option in the fight against climate change.

“Even if there is any uncertainty in the minds of politicians about whether nuclear power should play a role, [Clinton] should not have stopped the [research and development of nuclear power],” Hansen said.

He has written a book that comes out on Monday entitled: Storms of my Grandchildren: the Truth about the Coming Climate Change Catastrophe and our Last Chance to Save Humanity.

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