July 26th, 2015
11:41 AM ET

Dr. James Hansen gives his idea to curb climate change on Fareed Zakaria GPS

Please credit any usage to “CNN’s FAREED ZAKARIA GPS”

The following transcript is of an interview by host Fareed Zakaria with former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Dr. James Hansen. They discussed Hansen’s hypothesis for the Earth’s future climate due to the unstable sea levels, the public’s skepticism, and his idea to curb climate change.

MANDATORY CREDIT for reference and usage: “CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS”

VIDEO HIGHLIGHT

A dire warning on climate change

TEXT HIGHLIGHTS

Hansen’s hypothesis on sea levels rising as much as 10 feet within 50 years: “Not only would it be 10 feet, but it would imply that in the next decades after that it would be even more. Because where this water is coming from is the west Antarctic ice sheet, and then there’s another part of the east Antarctic ice sheet which also has several meters of sea level rise in its ice. So what that would mean is coastal cities would become dysfunctional. Parts of the city would still be above water, but it wouldn’t make sense to try to rebuild them partially because they know the water is going to keep rising. So we can’t let it go unstable. We would lose all the coastal cities in the world, and that’s enormous a cost, which would affect everybody, whether they’re living on the coast or not.”

Hansen on public skepticism: “Oh, sure. That's the nature of science. That's the lifeblood of science. You always are skeptical of any new conclusion. And so that's not surprising at all. But compare it to the 1980s, when I testified to Congress. There was an overwhelming skepticism and criticism, and then, over a few years, the story changed. Here, there were a lot of people becoming very suspicious that the IPCC was underestimating the sea level problem.”

Hansen’s idea to curb climate change:  “…As long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy, people are going to keep burning them and going to find them, to dig them up wherever they can find them. …what we need to do is add a gradually rising fee to the fossil fuels, which you would collect from the fossil fuel companies at the source... And that money should be distributed to - all legal residents of the country. That way the person who does better than average in limiting his carbon footprint will make money, and it will be a big incentive for them to pay attention to their carbon footprint. It will be a big incentive for entrepreneurs to develop no carbon and low carbon energy sources and products. And the economic studies that have been done show that this actually stimulates the economy. So it doesn't cost anything.”

FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

POPE FRANCIS (TRANSLATOR): I ask the Lord that he may give us the grace to gain the awareness of this problem of destruction that we ourselves are responsible for.

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN GPS HOST: That was Pope Francis on Tuesday praying in front of a group of more than 60 mayors from around the world who had come to the Vatican to talk about climate change. Well, his prayers may have been answered.  A controversial paper released this week, claims to bring new understanding to just how much damage we've done and says it may be worse than previously believed, predicting much faster polar melting and thus potentially catastrophic sea level rises - much faster than we ever believed possible, as much as 10 feet within just 50 years.

The paper's lead author is a name you may know. The Washington Post calls him the world's most famous climate scientist. James Hansen is the former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. He is the man who many credit with bringing global warming to the world's attention in the 1980s, through some striking congressional testimony. He's now an adjunct professor at Columbia University's Earth Institute.

You say that there will be a 10-feet rise in 50 years. What does that mean? It feels like a long way off; it’s numbers. What would that mean?

JAMES HANSEN, ADJUNCT PROFESSOR, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Not only would it be 10 feet, but it would imply that in the next decades after that it would be even more. Because where this water is coming from is the west Antarctic ice sheet, and then there’s another part of the east Antarctic ice sheet which also has several meters of sea level rise in its ice. So what that would mean is coastal cities would become dysfunctional. Parts of the city would still be above water, but it wouldn’t make sense to try to rebuild them partially because they know the water is going to keep rising. So we can’t let it go unstable. We would lose all the coastal cities in the world, and that’s enormous a cost, which would affect everybody, whether they’re living on the coast or not.

ZAKARIA: And most of the world lives around coastlines.

HANSEN: That’s right.

ZAKARIA: But your hypothesis, you look back - you know, you look at a period that's really 120,000 years ago. And some of your critics are saying, well, who knows if that's applicable now? Why did you choose that point?

HANSEN: Well, we did several things. That was one of the things we did, is to look at the last time it was warmer than today. And it was less than one degree Celsius warmer than today and sea level reached heights of six to eight meters higher than today. So if we allow the temperature to go two degrees higher, we're guaranteeing that that sea level rise will occur; we just aren't sure how fast it will occur. And what our study shows, it's a lot faster than the glaciologists had imagined.

ZAKARIA: You saw The Washington Post asked some other scientists - there have been people on Twitter, like Ruth Mottram, who have responded. And some of them are skeptical. Do you - do you understand the skepticism?

HANSEN: Oh, sure. That's the nature of science. That's the lifeblood of science. You always are skeptical of any new conclusion. And so that's not surprising at all. But compare it to the 1980s, when I testified to Congress. There was an overwhelming skepticism and criticism, and then, over a few years, the story changed. Here, there were a lot of people becoming very suspicious that the IPCC was underestimating the sea level problem.

ZAKARIA: So here's the million dollar question, trillion dollar question. What do we do about it?

HANSEN: What the science is telling us is that we have an emergency. If we want our children and grandchildren to inherit a planet which is not running out of their control, we're going to have to reduce emissions as fast as practical. As long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy, people are going to keep burning them and going to find them, to dig them up wherever they can find them. But we have to make them pay their cost to society. So what we need to do is add a gradually rising fee to the fossil fuels, which you would collect from the fossil fuel companies at the source - the domestic mine or the port of entry.

And that money should be distributed to the public - all legal residents of the country. That way the person who does better than average in limiting his carbon footprint will make money, and it will be a big incentive for them to pay attention to their carbon footprint. It will be a big incentive for entrepreneurs to develop no carbon and low carbon energy sources and products. And the economic studies that have been done show that this actually stimulates the economy. So it doesn't cost anything. It's - and it's just common sense that in order to move to a future with clean energies, we have to make the fossil fuels pay their cost to society, but do it in a way which is not a tax. You know, the conservatives will never accept it if it's a tax in which the government takes the money and then uses it to make the government bigger. We've got to make it revenue neutral. And the best way to do that is to give the money back to the public.

ZAKARIA: James Hansen, pleasure to have you on.

HANSEN: Thank you.

END INTERVIEW


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