Last updateThu, 11 Jan 2018 7pm

Redistributing Wealth to “Save the Earth”

One of the world’s leading environmentalists, James Hansen, calls for a tax on carbon emissions. The revenues would come mostly from high earners and businesses, and would be ”deposited monthly,” as dividends, into the bank accounts of low earners with smaller “carbon footprints.”

James Hansen

Born on March 29, 1941 in Denison, Iowa, James Hansen earned a B.A. in physics and mathematics in 1963, an M.S. in astronomy in 1965, and a Ph.D. in physics in 1967—all at the University of Iowa. In 1967 he took a job with NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), which monitors temperature fluctuations at thousands of sites worldwide. Hansen became director of GISS in 1981 and has held that position ever since. He is also an adjunct professor in Columbia University's Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and is widely regarded as the world's leading promoter of the theory that human industrial activity—particularly the burning of fossil fuels and the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere—is the chief catalyst of a potentially catastrophic global-warming trend. Hansen first predicted such climatic changes in a 1981 article which he co-authored with a team of GISS scientists in the journal Science.

In a June 23, 1988 speech that was a seminal event in the movement to focus public attention on global warming, Hansen addressed the U.S. Congress and warned that unless the burning of fossil fuels were to be curtailed quickly and dramatically, the natural world suffer irreparable harm.

Soon after receiving a $250,000 award from Teresa Heinz Kerry's Heinz Family Foundation (a major funder of left-wing environmental causes), Hansen, in a move considered highly unusual for a NASA scientist, endorsed the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004. He thereafter served as the primary climate advisor for Al Gore's 2006 documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth.

On the twentieth anniversary of his 1988 speech to Congress, Hansen returned to Capitol Hill to demand that the chief executives of large fossil-fuel companies be put on trial for “high crimes against humanity and nature.”

In a December 29, 2008 letter addressed to Barack and Michelle Obama, Hansen urged the president-elect to impose, on carbon emissions, a tax that would not only “affect all products and activities that use fossil fuels,” but would also, in the process, help redistribute wealth by “aiding the disadvantaged.” Hansen explained that while such a tax would “increase energy prices,” low- and middle-income people would “come out ahead” because their carbon footprints would generally be small enough to warrant little or no tax liability, whereas, by contrast, wealthy people “with large cars and a big house” would pay “much higher” taxes. The revenues from such taxes, said Hansen, should be "deposited monthly" into individual Americans' "bank accounts" as dividends that would disproportionately help low earners.

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