What State Will Save The Climate Debate?

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.

  • Transcript


Question: Can you describe your recent activism efforts?

James Hansen: Well, activism is going to be necessary, it seems. We have to draw attention to the intergenerational injustice in climate change. You know, I went to Massachusetts because I recognized that they're a very progressive state, and I had hoped that -- you know, we have to find one state that will take an approach that works. And that means a carbon price, with the money, 100 percent of the money, returned to the public. There's a province in Canada that 's doing that, but people in the United States don't pay that much attention to what's happening in British Columbia, Canada. If we had one state that would pass a law with carbon price and 100 percent dividend to the public, then I think people would wake up, and they would say, hey, this works, and it's to the advantage of the public, not to the polluters.

 Question: Did you make any progress?

James Hansen: But the problem was that Massachusetts had already been listening, and they had begun to take action a year ago. What action? Cap-and-trade. So getting them to change direction at this point seems very difficult. I'm going to write something soon, trying to find one state -- one out of 50 states -- that is in a position and has leaders that can understand what is needed and may be willing to serve as an example for the other 49 states.

Question: What states do you feel are progressive enough to embrace this change?

James Hansen: Well, there are states that are progressive and have been trying quite hard. California's a good example, but again, I think they have already taken initial steps in a different direction. So I haven't looked carefully enough to say what is the best candidate state.

James Hansen: Well, I have children and grandchildren, and I've decided that I am going to try to make clear what the implications are. And I certainly have every right to do that. And I think that scientific colleagues are now much more willing to go along with that. If you go back a few decades, scientists tended not to like it if other scientists spoke up publicly. But the scientific community recognizes this is an issue where we have to educate the public.