Scientist: Stop carbon emissions or face ruin

Droughts, more wildfires, hotter and longer summers and more violent storms will plague the desert Southwest if carbon-dioxide pollution continues, a leading climate-change scientist believes.

Sea levels will rise several feet, covering the state of Florida, the country of Bangladesh and most beachfront property by the end of the century if people keep pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at the current rate, said James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Hansen made those predictions Thursday at the Desert Research Institute where he spoke to 75 scientists, students and local citizens and later to several hundred DRI supporters during a dinner at Caesars Palace.

The Columbia University adjunct professor was in Las Vegas to accept the Nevada Medal for his research and efforts to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions.

The climate scientist stunned Gov. Jim Gibbons on Monday with a public letter that questioned Gibbons' support of three coal-fired power projects in Nevada, including one planned at Ely by utility company Sierra Pacific Resources.

Hansen argued that the world needs to stop building new coal-fired power plants and to start phasing out existing coal-burning plants because they spew out huge amounts of carbon dioxide, which leads to global warming.

In reaction to the letter, the governor's office called the institute at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday, asking about the letter, Hansen said. Nevada first lady Dawn Gibbons was hosting a dinner honoring Hansen in Reno that night.

Institute spokesman Greg Bortolin said he had a phone message from Dianne Cornwall, chief operating officer for Gibbons, waiting for him when he arrived at the office at 8 a.m. Tuesday.

"I thought Dianne was very gracious, and she wasn't upset," Bortolin said.

Cornwall said: "We know that DRI didn't put him up to this."

The governor, who proclaimed Wednesday as James Hansen Day, shouldn't have been totally surprised by Hansen's stand. Hatice Gecol, his energy adviser served on the DRI committee that selected Hansen for the Nevada Medal. And in 2006, Hansen made headlines when he said that President Bush tried to silence him after a speech on climate change.

DRI associate research professor David Shafer credited Hansen with pioneering research on global warming.

"He's probably one of the best-known climate scientists in the world today," Shafer said.

Hansen outlined a program designed to minimize, if not prevent, global warming.

He noted that one-fifth of all carbon-dioxide emissions remain in the atmosphere for 1,000 years.

"When you put CO? in the atmosphere, you can't get it back, and the one resource you can control is the coal," he said.

Hansen said the world needs to leave carbon in coal deposits. Instead, he called for more renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, and increased energy conservation.

"We have to find out how to live without fossil fuels pretty soon," Hansen said.

"It's just silly for Nevada with its potential to be a leader in renewable energy" to pursue coal power projects, Hansen said.

"You could export renewable energy to California and other places," he also said.

The desert Southwest, he said, could generate enough solar energy to supply all the electricity used in the country.

Contact reporter John G. Edwards at or 702-383-0420.