James Hansen presented a free public lecture at Creighton on Sunday titled “Shape Our Future: Energy, Climate Change and Human Rights.”
Hansen is a climate change scholar, scientist and activist. He is the author of “Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity,” and he has a new book coming out in 2020 called “Sophie’s Planet: A Search for Truth About Our Remarkable Home Planet and Its Future,” which is a series of letters written to his granddaughter, Sophie.
In 1988, Hansen brought global warming to the forefront with his testimony before Congress. His testimony is widely regarded as a pivotal moment in public awareness of climate change.
This event, which filled the Harper Center Ballroom, was co-hosted by the Citizens’ Climate Lobby – Omaha Chapter, Nebraskans for Peace and professor Patrick Murray who is the John C. Kenefick Faculty Chair in the Humanities. Creighton’s Office of Sustainability and the Global Engagements Office were co-sponsors of the lecture.
Opening remarks were provided by professor of sustainable studies and systematic and philosophical theology, Richard Miller, in lieu of Murray, who couldn’t be in attendance because of how quickly this event was scheduled.
“[Hansen’s] work and activism has inspired young people around the world, including our 500 student strong ‘Creighton Climate Movement,’” Miller said.
Creighton President the Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, S.J. also noted at the beginning of the event that among the crowd were a number of dignitaries from the Omaha area, including representatives from the Omaha Public Power District and the Omaha City Council.
Climate science is “a topic that is of utmost consequence for our planet and for our future,” Hendrickson said. “I believe that it is a fair statement to say that issues surrounding energy, climate change and human rights are among the greatest and most critical that we face as a nation and as a planet. As a Jesuit and Catholic institution, Creighton takes caring for the Earth as our common home very seriously.”
Hansen has published work relating to the burden of the climate crisis on the young people of today.
Hansen talked about the recent flooding in Nebraska and Iowa during his lecture. He noted that extreme weather is one of the three most destructive effects of climate change, as well as sea level rise and species extinction.
He told the crowd that the flooding doesn’t prove much on its own, but “a look at weather globally” does.
“There is an increased frequency of climate extremes, which is not natural. People around here should recognize climate extremes,” Hansen said.
Hansen presented shifting to nuclear energy as a way to move away from fossil fuels. He conferred that the most logical way to do so is to attach a fee at the point of origin for fossil fuels.
“I have worked with some of the best relevant economists in the world, and they agree that the most essential policy is to make the price of fossil fuels include their cost to society,” Hansen said.
The money from that fee would be returned to American households in the form of a dividend. Hansen estimated that 70% of Americans would make more money from the dividend than they would pay in increased prices.
“Fee and dividend is the one effective international approach. If the U.S. adopts a carbon fee, it will be an incentive for other countries to adopt a carbon fee,” Hansen said.
The floor was opened up for questions at the conclusion of Hansen’s lecture.
In response to a question asked on the effectiveness of divestment, Hansen called any university that does not divest “hypocritical” and said that if universities do not divest, they are signaling to the younger generation that “we have given up.”
Heider College of Business junior Cat LaRosa believes that this statement is “extremely relevant, as the Creighton Climate Movement is currently in the process of trying to pass a referendum about divestment.”
Recently, Creighton students have made a push for the university to divest from investing in fossil fuels.
On Sept. 23, the referendum passed through the Creighton Students Union cabinet. On Monday, the referendum passed through the CSU Board of Representatives, and then through the CSU Executive Committee on Tuesday. It will be voted on by the student body on Nov. 5.
LaRosa attended the lecture to learn more about climate change as a “humanitarian issue,” and to gain more “concrete” information regarding the causes, effects and possible solutions to climate change.
“It was shocking to see how interconnected, intense and widespread the effects of climate change have on almost every aspect of the lives of every human around the world,” LaRosa said.
Hansen concluded by urging people to join the Citizens Climate Lobby in order to lobby Congress for the fee and dividend. “[Climate change] is not an unsolvable problem,” Hansen said. “We have to save this world.”