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NASA's Hansen- Keystone XL would be "game over" for climate

Climate change is sort of a "Pascal's Wager" for earth- the risks of being wrong, if it is in fact the case, far exceed to risks of being wrong if it isn't.  Worst case- no climate change and we're forced to begin a shift away from rapidly depleting fossil fuels (and the Koch Bros. fortunes merely stagnate, as compared to growing), perhaps even in time to avoid major economic  disruption.

SolveClimate News: Can you explain why you have said it's "game over" on the climate front if the Keystone XL pipeline is built?

James Hansen: President George W. Bush said that the U.S. was addicted to oil. So what will the U.S. response to this situation be? Will it entail phasing out fossil fuels and moving to clean energy or borrowing the dirtiest needle from a fellow addict? That is the question facing President Obama.

If he chooses the dirty needle it is game over because it will confirm that Obama was just greenwashing, like the other well-oiled coal-fired politicians with no real intention of solving the addiction. Canada is going to sell its dope, if it can find a buyer. So if the United States is buying the dirtiest stuff, it also surely will be going after oil in the deepest ocean, the Arctic, and shale deposits; and harvesting coal via mountaintop removal and long-wall mining. Obama will have decided he is a hopeless addict.

SolveClimate News: You have referred to Keystone XL as the "fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet." What actual effect would it have on the amount of carbon dioxide in the air?

James Hansen: If released all at once, the known tar sands resource is equivalent to 150 parts per million. As is the case with other fossil fuel sources, the amount in the air declines to about 20 percent after 1,000 years. Of course, only a small fraction of the resource is economically recoverable at the moment. But if you decide you are going to continue your addiction and build a big pipeline to Texas, the economically extractable oil will steadily grow over time. Moreover the known resources would grow because there is plenty more to be discovered.


34 Replies
Senior Advisor

Re: NASA's Hansen- Keystone XL would be "game over" for climate

That's a winning issue. Tell the American people there are 20,000 PRIVATE sector high paying shovel ready jobs available immediately but we can't allow them to be filled because of man made global warming.

Re: NASA's Hansen- Keystone XL would be "game over" for climate

Gas gets to say $8-10 and people will burn climate scientists to stay warm in the winter.

Re: NASA's Hansen- Keystone XL would be "game over" for climate

Here is the real question:


The oilsands are going to get developed. Either the oil is going to go to China or it is going to go to the US. The conservative government of Canada has made it clear that they are committed to development of production.


It is like coal- China burns half the world's coal and the atmosphere is a shared amenity.


I actually don't have a big problem with the pipeline if we would recognize that it is nothing other than a tiny, messy bandaid. Even if you can fill a pipline to capacity and send it all to the gulf refineries it won't more than make up for the depletion of lower carbon conventional oil.


Tons of jobs to be had from green energy/conservation projects. But it is like the case of shifting the 13% of GDP we currently spend on health care to something like the 6 or 7% that other highly developed countries spend. Can we even deal with the dislocation of the WPA make work/make profits system we have today?


In either case, is our economy reilient enough to shift away from the unsustainable?

Re: NASA's Hansen- Keystone XL would be "game over" for climate

Sorta like a farmer from the southern Ogalalla region of Texas panhandle told me when I asked when he'd run out of water. He said he'd run out of money long before he ran out of water.

Re: NASA's Hansen- Keystone XL would be "game over" for climate

Since it should be obvious to anyone with more than a thimble full of gray matter that the government is pathologically unable to make wise choices, if society decides it just has to get off of carbon, then we should simply make the consumption of fossil fuels more expensive by taxing it. Not some trading scheme so bankers can extract more rent. And the government should make no choices about alternatives via subsidies or grants, or other methods of rewarding patronage. Thebest solutions will rise to the top on merit.

Re: NASA's Hansen- Keystone XL would be "game over" for climate

Fantastic. Seriously.


A much better proposal than you'll see coming out of the mish-mash that is the quided and procured posturing coming from any politicos.


A danged good description of croneyless capitalism being asked to work, actually


Toughest part will be, Sam, the fact that those who would oppose it most would not be liberals, or classical conservatives or labor unions or people who suffer from lack of jobs or who are in jobs that don't provide close to basic sustainable income, but rather those who are "in the business" of energy. Who have grown accustomed to deeply subsidized operations. They'd feverrishly oppose anything that even hinted at it. Do. Always have.

Senior Advisor

Re: NASA's Hansen- Keystone XL would be "game over" for climate

Central planning. We will get off of carbon when we run out of it. What makes sense is to use the cheapest form of energy we have.

Veteran Advisor

Re: NASA's Hansen- Keystone XL would be "game over" for climate

I'm confused. For years I kept hearing about how we are well past 'peak oil' and how any time we may be running out, yet if this pipeline gets built, "known reserves would grow, because there is plenty more to be discovered". It's almost as someone is not telling the whole story somewhere, kind of like how the oceans definately would rise 10 cm by 2000 or 2010 or whatever if immediate action wasn't taken, unless of course, the don't.

Re: NASA's Hansen- Keystone XL would be "game over" for climate

Of course, just like farmers love their ethanol mandates and subsidies.  But the above solution would also require government not make the choices via unreasonable regulation.