Jim Hansen in the same bed as Exxon and Shell?

| 7th December 2009
Dan Box
It's an unlikely alliance, but when one of the world's leading climate scientists and the world's biggest fossil fuel companies declare a common interest, it should draw attention

Strange bedfellows these, strange bedfellows indeed. On one side, curled snugly under the duvet, is Dr James Hansen, one of the earliest and most fierce prophets of climate change, and a man who has previously said that the chief executives of fossil fuel companies ‘should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature'.

Sharing a pillow on the other side are the chief executives of Shell and ExxonMobil, the world's biggest and second-biggest fossil fuel companies (actually biggest and second-biggest companies of any kind), Peter Voser and  Rex Tillerson. As they wake up on this, the first morning of the Copenhagen climate summit, what is it that these former foes have found to unite them?

Both, it seems, have been dreaming of a carbon tax.

Hansen says he will boycott Copenhagen because it is seeking to limit carbon emissions through emissions trading systems, which he describes as ‘selling indulgences'. The world should instead, he says, be taxing the carbon in fossil fuels, forcing up the price and forcing us to change our ways.

Voser has a slightly different take, though he is wearing matching pyjamas. For Shell, the various emissions trading schemes up and running have failed to make carbon expensive enough to make it worth investing in anything else. If you want carbon capture technology, he says, governments need to intervene in the market by setting a minimum price for carbon - effectively, a tax.

That is a way of making sure it gets the support,' he says.

Tillerson has been a carbon tax fan for a long time, and calls openly for the US Congress to become one too. And when you have the world's two biggest companies calling a tune, politicians tend to listen. Just last week, Senator Lisa Murkowski, one of a handful of Republicans who says she might support a US climate change bill, told a senate committee, ‘We need to dispense with this somewhat blind loyalty to economy-wide cap-and-trade ...We need to be encouraged to look to all of the alternatives'.

Expect to hear more of the same from Copenhagen over the next week. The emissions trading argument has recently been undermined, not least by fraud - most embarrassingly, in Denmark itself. More and more powerbrokers in Europe are talking about a carbon tax instead, while China has for months now been twitching back the sheets and suggesting it, too, might want to climb into the bed.

Curiouser and curiouser

First, this advert, in the back pages of a national newspaper:

Das Beckwerk

- a transnational corporation based in Copenhagen

- has conceived, organised, facilitates and with this public announcement is taking responsibility for all irregularities committed during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 15) in Copenhagen, 7-18 December 2009

No explanation is given. ‘Responsibility for all irregularities'? ‘A transnational corporation'? The website casts only a little more light on what they are planning - some kind of performance art maybe? All attempts to contact the corporation have failed. I await their irregularities with baited breath.


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