James Hansen is the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University. Since 1988, he has warned about the threats of heat-trapping emissions, including carbon dioxide, that result from burning fossil fuels. A member of the National Academy of Sciences, he received the Heinz Environment Award in 2001 for his climate research. In 2006, was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People.
Question: How can businesses help fight climate change?
James Hansen: Well, businesses -- you know, Congress does listen to businesses. And they need to -- you know, our -- I call them the captains of industry -- they're the ones who are -- their support is needed to solve this problem. And they need to put some pressure on Congress to do the things that are needed rather than asking for special favors. Business leaders would actually like Congress to set a schedule for changes that are needed, and they would actually favor -- most of them, I think, would favor a gradually increasing, well established carbon price rather than this cap-and-trade which can oscillate, and you don't know how the impacts will be on your business. But if they knew what the increasing price on carbon was going to be, then they can make the changes to their business that are needed in order for them to continue to make money or even make more money; begin to invest in those things that are carbon-free.
Question: Are any businesses doing particularly well in this?
James Hansen: Well, there are businesses that are beginning to emphasize energy efficiency. We need -- in order for that to really work, there does need to be a carbon price. And there are some industries that are beginning to tell Congress it makes more sense to have a carbon tax and dividend than it does to have cap-and-trade.
Question: What are these industries?
James Hansen: Well, you know, one of them, which makes people nervous, is -- the CEO of Exxon Mobil said carbon tax is a good approach. Well, that makes people nervous, because Exxon Mobil has been one of the biggest producers of carbon dioxide. But in fact, that is what's needed. So we're willing to take support from wherever it comes.
Question: Why do you think they support it?
James Hansen: Well, I think that businesses do prefer an approach in which they know what is going to happen. With cap-and-trade you don't know what's going to happen.
Recorded on November 30, 2009