Via, 14-05-2011

Stopping the use of coal for electricity generation is the answer to halting global warming.

This is the view of an internationally acclaimed scientist, known as the ‘father of climate change’, who spoke at Massey University yesterday.

Dr James Hansen is one of the world’s leading climate scientists and was in Palmerston North as part of a six-stop tour of New Zealand.

He was one of the first scientists to bring the world’s attention to global warming in the 1980s and was Director of Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Yesterday he spoke to a packed theatre for his public lecture, which centred on leaving coal in the ground and how to persuade governments to take action to reduce carbon emissions.

He said a major problem in the pursuit of lowering carbon emissions was communication.

“It’s difficult for people to recognise that we have a crisis, but we do,” he said. “Politicians just assume we can go drill all the fossil fuels on the planet … we can’t do that.”

Dr Hansen said the world could not burn all of the fossil fuels and coal needed to be phased out. He proposed it be phased out by 2030.

“Coal plants are still being built all around the planet,” he said.

Inevitably the problem came down to money, he said.

“As long as fossil fuels are the cheapest … then somebody will keep burning them,” he said.

He proposed a carbon tax where the revenue would be returned to the public as a dividend.

He hoped this tax would eventually mean people wouldn’t rely on fossil fuels, and would “move on”.

“There would be the incentive to the public to move to a lifestyle that was less carbon intensive,” he said. “If we wait another few decades I don’t see how we can do it.”

Dr Hansen said getting the message from the public to the governments that it was an important issue was a tough one.

“We’re competing against voices that prefer business as usual,” he said.

Dr Hansen’s next lecture is in Wellington on Monday.

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