Dr. Hansen stated that we have already exceeded a safe amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, which he places at 350 parts per million (ppm). He testified that the US must begin using a carbon tax to lower the nation’s emissions and that the US must stop producing energy from coal by 2020.

Story Transcript

REP. EDWARD J. MARKEY, COMMITTEE ON ENERGY INDEPENDENCE AND GLOBAL WARMING: Dr. Hansen 20 years ago was a latter-day Paul Revere, saying global warming is here and coming more intensely as each year goes by.

MATTHEW PALEVSKY (VOICEOVER): On Monday, Dr. Hansen, who heads NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and who advises Al Gore on the environment, testified to the existence and dangers of global warming. He presented charts that predict the loss of the entire Arctic ice shelf within two decades, and stated that we are already past safe levels of CO2 in our atmosphere.

DR. JAMES HANSEN, DIRECTOR, GODDARD SPACE INSTITUTE: What I can say with a very high degree of confidence—I would say more than 99.9 percent certainty—that the safe level of CO2 is no more than 350 ppm, the long-term safe level. And we have already passed that level.

PALEVSKY: Hansen has given up on hopes of overcoming society’s addiction to oil, instead advocating for a moratorium on new coal plants and investment in renewable energy.

HANSEN: If we phased out coal by 2030, then the peak CO2 would only be a bit more than 400 ppm. However, it would stay above 350 for a couple of centuries. We could get it down below 350 by means of improved forestry and agricultural practices. We have to level with the public that there has to be a price on carbon emissions. That’s the only way we’re going to begin to move toward a carbon-free economy, which we have to do.

PALEVSKY: Dr. Hansen also stated that CEOs of big oil and coal companies should be tried for crimes against humanity and nature for purposefully misinforming and misdirecting the public in regards to global warming. Chairman Markey was asked to comment on this accusation after the testimony.

MARKEY: I think when history comes down to ultimately determine who was responsible, I think it will be that rather than accepting the science and making the modifications, they continued to fight this rearguard action. It’s a pretty sad moment here, where you know the technology’s there, the warnings from the United Nations, you know that debate is over, except in the minds of these executives that, if they can continue to cloud this debate, they believe they can buy more years. But as Dr. Hansen’s saying, we don’t have those years. So, yes, I do.


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James Hansen

James Hansen heads the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City. He is currently an adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University and serves as Al Gore's science adviser. Hansen is best known for his research in the field of climatology and his testimony on climate change to congressional committees in the 1980s that helped raise broad awareness of the global warming issue.