On Friday, May 3rd, climate scientist James Hansen accepted the 2013 Ridenhour Courage Prize. The prize is named after Ronald Ridenhour, a Vietnam veteran who became aware of the My Lai Massacre, and asked questions in the field. Then, when he returned home a year later, he initiated a letter-writing campaign to inform top officials in Washington. His efforts broke the cover-up, and eventually the My Lai Massacre was tried, though top military officials escaped punishment.
Hansen was awarded the same prize that has gone to Howard Zinn, President Carter, Daniel Ellsberg, Gloria Steinenm and others. Here is a transcript of his brief speech (roughly six minutes long). All times refer to the YouTube video of the speech (6:44).
… The irrefutable scientific conclusion is that we cannot burn all of the fossil fuels without handing our children and grandchildren — and future generations — a situation that is out of their control, with enormous consequences for the well-being – for their well-being — and for the very existence of many of the other species on our planet. We must leave most of the remaining coal in the ground, as well as the carbon-intensive, highly polluting, unconventional fossil fuels such as tar sands and tar shale.
… The task of leaving these dirty fuels in the ground and moving on to a bright future for today’s young people cannot be accomplished by trickery and gimmicks, such as carbon cap-and-trade and offsets, with its inevitable horsetrading and lobbying. We must have a simple, honest, across-the-board carbon fee, collected from the fossil fuel companies, at the small number of domestic mines and ports of entry. And, that money must be distributed to the public, one hundred percent, equal amounts to all legal residents. The fee must continue to rise gradually, so the public businesses and entreprenuers have the incentive to make choices and develop products that reduce and eliminate fossil fuel use. This will stimulate the economy, as we develop new, more carbon-efficient products and energy sources.
… About sixty percent of the people will get more money in their monthly dividends than they pay in increased prices. But, to stay on the positive side, they must make wise choices. Yes, this implies some wealth redistribution. Low-income people, if they try, can gain somewhat. Rich people who have multiple houses and fly around the world will pay more than their dividend, but they can afford it. This approach can be made international via an agreement between United States and China. China has many reasons to join, because climate disruption will hit them hard, and they need to solve pollution problems. Other nations will then join, in order to avoid border duties on their products, and in order to gain the clean energy benefits.
… The United States must exercise leadership. This is the last chance for the liberal left and the conservative right to cooperate for the good of the nation and the world. For the good of young people, future generations, and nature.
… What I have described is a progressive, conservative approach that puts an honest price on fossil fuels, making them pay for their cost to society, yet allows all alternatives to compete on a level playing field.
… We must demand that the liberal left keep their hands out of our pockets and off of our wallets. Not one dime of the carbon fee should be used to make the government bigger. One hundred percent of the money must go to the public. Nor should any money, any of the money be used for subsidizing research on specific government-selected industries. The government is incompetent to choose the best technologies. Let them all compete. There are existing resources and departments for research development and demonstration.
… The public is fed up with self-indulgent partisanship. If today’s parties cannot cooperate on such a simple, honest approach, that would stimulate our economy, provide millions of good jobs, a clean environment and stable climate, then in 2016 there should be a new party. (applause) Not – not a fringe party on the left or right, but a centrist party, an American party, a party that will take Washington back from the lobbyists and give it to the American people. (long applause) .. Thank you.