What Australia should do about climate change



9 March 2010

In a Sydney leadership luncheon presentation jointly hosted by the US Studies Centre and Malleson Stephen Jaques, Dr James E. Hansen, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies in New York, delivered a strong argument for moving to nuclear power.

Hansen is regarded as one of the world’s leading climate scientists. He is credited with first raising awareness of the issue of global warming in the United States and he has been a strong proponent of the need for concerted international action.

In his address, Hansen refuted the suggestion that the scientific evidence for global warming was now under question. He argued that the questions which had been raised recently by the release of e-mails and the discovery of an error in the ICCC report regarding melting of the Himalayan glaciers were minor mistakes which did not weaken the thrust of the main argument. In response to a question put by a member of the audience that it was a reasonable hypothesis to consider that the world was entering into a cooling cycle based on the last decade, he cited more recent evidence confirming melting of the ice caps, as well as evidence from a broader range of temperature measurements which implied that warming was continuing.

Asked whether the scientific community had not understood the impact of these recent concerns on the political support for carbon reduction schemes, such as the proposed Australian cap and trade system, Hansen said that he believed cap and trade was an inferior remedy to using a carbon tax. Cap and trade avoids the tax label, but is administratively more complicated and open to manipulation by politicians catering to special interests.

Hanson noted the high reliance in Australia on coal as a power source and argued that if Australia were to meet its emission targets it would have to shift away from coal. Renewable sources such as wind and solar would play a part in the solution, but could not be expected to fill the gap. The only solution suitable for Australia, as for many other countries, is nuclear power. Hansen noted the growing importance of nuclear energy in the US mix of proposed sources and argued that Australia should adopt nuclear energy as an important and necessary part of its energy portfolio.