Phase out coal and burn trees instead, urges leading scientist

Current targets on emissions are 'a recipe for global disaster, not salvation'

A A A

Humanity must urgently embark on a massive programme to power civilisation from wood to stave off catastrophic climate change, one of the world's top scientists has told
The Independent on Sunday.

Twenty years ago, Professor James Hansen was the first leading scientist to announce that global warming was taking place. Now he has issued a warning that a back-to-the-future return to one of the oldest fuels is imperative because the world has exceeded the danger level for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Growing trees, which absorb the gas from the air as they grow, burning them instead of fossil fuels to generate electricity, and capturing and storing the carbon produced in the process is needed to get the greenhouse effect down to safe levels, he says.

Professor Hansen's assertion that there is too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will alarm governments and environmentalists, who are concentrating on the already daunting task of limiting its build-up, while allowing it to rise well above present levels. However, his views will command respect because, as director of Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies for the past 27 years, he has been one of the few climate scientists ready to risk his reputation by openly stating what many suspect to be true.

In 1988 Professor Hansen put global warming on the political agenda by telling the US Congress that he was "99 per cent certain" that human activities were warming up the planet. It took the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change until last year to catch up, by which time nearly two vital decades had been lost.

In the UK last week, his evidence helped to secure the acquittal of six Greenpeace activists charged with causing criminal damage to the Kingsnorth power station in Kent.

The level of carbon dioxide stands at 385 parts per million (ppm), about 100ppm above what it was at the start of the Industrial Revolution. It is rising by about 2ppm a year. The most ambitious international efforts focus on stabilising it at 450 ppm, though few see this as achievable.

But Professor Hansen says this goal "is a recipe for global disaster, not salvation" and that present levels have already "brought us to the precipice of a planetary tipping point". He adds: "If we go over the edge we will transition to an environment far outside the range that has been experienced by humanity, and there will be no return within any foreseeable future generation."

He is convinced that 350 ppm is the absolute maximum that will avoid the loss of the polar ice sheets and other disasters. He says that all coal power stations must be phased out by 2030, unless they are equipped with special "carbon capture and storage" equipment that stops the gas escaping into the atmosphere. If that was done, the level could be stabilised at 400 ppm. After that, a vigorous programme of planting trees to suck up carbon dioxide – coupled with the use of carbon capture equipment when the trees are burnt, and improvements in agricultural practices – could get levels down to 350 ppm "within a century".

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us