The so-called “godfather” of global warming is out with a new study calling for “governments to alter energy policies without further delay” to protect future generations from “deleterious climate impacts.”
“I think it is essential that the third branch of government, the courts, get involved in the climate story,” James Hansen, the former head of NASA’s climate science arm and an environmental activist, told reporters on a call Monday.
But Hansen’s new study is less about science and more about bolstering a legal case his environmental group has brought against the federal government over global warming. The case is now under review by a federal judge and a decision should be forthcoming.
Hansen is listed as a plaintiff in a suit brought by the group Our Children’s Trust (OCT) against the Obama administration to compel the government to cut greenhouse gas emissions 6 percent a year — which would be a legal endorsement of the cuts Hansen called for in a 2013 study.
“We need to quantify what is needed in an understandable way so that the judicial system can make an evaluation and step in and have some effect where the other branches of government have failed us,” Hansen said.
Hansen says the Earth has warmed nearly 1.3 degrees Celsius since the late 1800s due to human reliance on fossil fuels. He and 11 other climate scientists predict “continued high fossil fuel emissions by the current generation would place a burden on young people to undertake massive technological CO2 extraction” that could cost “104–570 trillion dollars this century.”
“If rapid phase down of fossil fuel emissions begins soon, most of the necessary CO2 extraction can take place via improved agricultural and forestry practices,” Hansen and his colleagues wrote in their study.
“In this case, the magnitude and duration of global temperature excursion above the natural range of the current interglacial (Holocene) could be limited and irreversible climate impacts could be minimized,” they wrote.
Hansen’s study mentions OCT’s lawsuit against the Obama administration, but neglects to disclose he is listed as a plaintiff in the suit, which was brought on behalf of a group of young adults. Hansen is literally listed as the “guardian” of “future generations” in legal filings.
OCT filed their lawsuit in 2015 with the U.S. District Court of Oregon to oppose federal approval of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in Coos Bay. OCT claimed approving the LNG project “enhances the cumulative danger caused by [government’s] affirmative aggregate actions” that contribute to global warming.
OCT then asked the court to order the Obama administration to “cease their permitting, authorizing, and subsidizing of fossil fuels and, instead, move to swiftly phase out CO2 emissions.”
Federal lawyers and oil and gas industry attorneys have filed motions to dismiss the suit, but those motions were denied by a federal judge in April. Now, the case is being reviewed and a decision should be issued in the next couple of months.
This is the second time OCT has sued the federal government to force global warming regulations on industry. In July, OCT won a legal victory in Washington state when King County Superior Court Judge Hollis Hill ordered state officials to quickly impose a new global warming rule.
“This is not a situation that these children can wait on. Polar bears can’t wait, the people of Bangladesh can’t wait,” Hill said. “I don’t have jurisdiction over their needs in this matter, but I do have jurisdiction in this court, and for that reason I’m taking this action.”
Now, with a federal court case hanging before them, Hansen has put out a new study to bolster OCT’s case against the Obama administration.
“It is anticipated that the plausibility of achieving the emission reductions needed to stabilize climate will be a central issue at the trial,” reads Hansen’s study.
With that in mind, Hansen’s study concludes the “underlying policy required to spur rapid reduction of fossil fuel emissions is a transparent steadily rising carbon fee that makes fossil fuels include their costs to society.”
“Governments have shown the ability to achieve high rates of emissions reduction,” reads the study, adding “Belgium, France and Sweden achieved emission reductions of 4-5%/year sustained over 10 or more years in response to the oil crisis of 1973” as they ramped up nuclear power.
“[I]f large fossil fuel emissions are allowed to continue, the scale and cost of industrial CO2 extraction, occurring in conjunction with a deteriorating climate with growing economic effects, may become unmanageable,” reads the study. “Simply put, the burden placed on young people and future generations may become too heavy to bear.”
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