Whole world is watching Scotland, says Nasa’s climate change expert

LEADING Nasa climate change scientist James Hansen has argued that the worldwide publicity given to the referendum on Scottish independence was the ideal time for First Minister Alex Salmond to be “honest” about his long-term climate change policies.

Dr Hansen, regarded as one of the world’s most respected climate change scientists, told The Scotsman that newly-elected US president Barack Obama squandered his chance to highlight global energy issues by targeting domestic policy, and he urged Mr Salmond not to do the same.

“Obama had the chance to say, ‘OK we’re going to fight our fossil fuel addiction’ and take on the big corporations, but instead he concentrated on health,” said Dr Hansen, 70, director of Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who was in Scotland last night to receive the Edinburgh Medal for his contribution to science.

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“Mr Salmond should use this time and be very, very open and honest about the energy plans are for the long run and the need to move towards the post-fossil fuel era.

“You might think Scotland is going to be like Norway. But that does not prevent moving towards a carbon-free economy.”

Dr Hansen, who has been arrested four times for protesting against projects he considered damaging to the environment and previously had statements censored by Nasa and the Bush administration, will use his acceptance speech to call for a rising corporation global tax on carbon emissions.

While acknowledging that oil and gas would be sold for some time to come, he said that did not preclude plans which that see money from a carbon tax distributed to the public.

“Using easily available oil and gas which can be traded on the international market is something that is going to happen, but we have to phase it out.

“We could have a gradually rising tax on carbon emissions, with the money collected from companies distributed to the public in a monthly dividend, to pay less for their fuel bills and start thinking of lifestyle changes, such a carbon-efficient car or building a home which includes energy efficient features.

“Why haven’t we done something like that before? Because fossil fuel industries have too much clout. Money talks in capitals around the world.”

Dr Hansen, will also say in his lecture that acting now to fight the disastrous effects of climate change is a moral issue on a par with slavery.

“Both are moral issues. In the case of civil rights the courts were able to come to the assistance of people whose civil rights were being violated by requiring governments to say what they were going to do about for example, segregated schools.

“In the same way, governments could be required to present a plan to reduce carbon emissions to ensure young people have a decent future.”

l Dr Hansen is appearing at the 2012 Edinburgh International Science Festival today in the Our Climate Future discussion, 8pm, and tomorrow in Fixing The Planet, 5:30pm, both at the National Museum of Scotland. Tickets: www. sciencefestival.co.uk