A fork in the road on dirty energy

tar sands protest

Photo: tarsandsaction/Flickr.

This article is taken from a response by James Hansen to an op-ed piece published by Joe Nocera in the New York Times on February 18, 2013, “How Not to Fix Climate Change.” 

There, Nocera writes “I believe the Obama administration should approve the Keystone pipeline, which would transport oil mined and processed from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. Like it or not, fossil fuels are going to remain the world’s dominant energy source for the foreseeable future, and we are far better off getting our oil from Canada than, say, Venezuela. And the climate change effects of tar sands oil are, all in all, pretty small.”

– Ed.

We stand at a fork in the road. Conventional oil and gas supplies are limited.

We can move down the path of dirtier more carbon-intensive unconventional fossil-fuels, digging up the dirtiest tar sands and tar shales, hydrofracking for gas, continued mountain-top removal and mechanized destructive long-wall coal mining. Or we can choose the alternative path of clean energies and energy efficiency.

The climate science is crystal clear. We cannot go down the path of the dirty fuels without guaranteeing that the climate system passes tipping points, leaving our children and grandchildren a situation out of their control, a situation of our making.

Unstable ice sheets will lead to continually rising seas and devastation of coastal cities worldwide. A large fraction of Earth’s species will be driven to extinction by the combination of shifting climate zones and other stresses. Summer heat waves, scorching droughts, and intense wildfires will become more frequent and extreme. At other times and places, the warmer water bodies and increased evaporation will power stronger storms, heavier rains, greater floods.

The economics is crystal clear. We are all better off if fossil fuels are made to pay their honest costs to society. We must collect a gradually rising fee from fossil fuel companies at the source, the domestic mine or port of entry, distributing the funds to the public on a per capita basis. This approach will provide the business community and entrepreneurs the incentives to develop clean energy and energy-efficient products, and the public will have the resources to make changes.

This approach is transparent, built on conservative principles. Not one dime to the government.

The alternative is to slake fossil fuel addiction, forcing the public to continue to subsidize fossil fuels. And hammer the public with more pollution. The public must pay the medical costs for all pollution effects. The public will pay costs caused by climate change. Fossil fuel moguls get richer, we get poorer. Our children are screwed. Our well-oiled coal-fired government pretends to not understand.

If a rising price is placed on carbon, the tar sands will be left in the ground where they belong. And the remarkable life and landscape of the original North American people will be preserved.

Re-posted from an original article on James Hansen’s website.

– James Hansen, Transition Voice

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