Coal threatens all life, Hansen says

James E Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, launched a new anti-coal salvo at the weekend, writing in the Observer that "coal is the single greatest threat to civilisation and all life on our planet". Extermination of species would be the most threatening change, the climate scientist said, as one ecological collapse led to another.


"[I]f we cut off the largest source of carbon dioxide – coal – it will be practical to bring carbon dioxide back" to 350 parts per million, Hansen said – "lower still if we improve agriculture and forestry practices, increasing carbon storage in trees and soil". Carbon levels stand at 385 ppm today and increase by about 2 ppm annually. Coal, Hansen added, is "not only the largest fossil-fuel reservoir of carbon dioxide, it is the dirtiest fuel", polluting oceans and streams with mercury, arsenic and other toxins.


Hansen named Britain, the United States and Germany – in that order – as "the three countries most responsible, per capita, for filling the air with carbon dioxide". He noted: "The dirtiest trick that governments play on their citizens is the pretence that they are working on ‘clean coal’ or that they will build power plants that are ‘capture-ready’ in case technology is ever developed to capture all pollutants."


Government leaders, he said, have the best scientific organisations in the world at their disposal — and the scientific findings have crystallised in the past few years, "revealing the urgency". Wrote Hansen: "Our planet is in peril. If we do not change course, we’ll hand our children a situation that is out of their control."


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