James Hansen, Martin O’Malley update on what they are doing

15 December 2017 James Hansen

Below is the statement that I sent recently to thank people who have supported our Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions program in the Columbia University Earth Institute.

Our paper Young People’s Burden: Requirement of Negative CO2 Emissions published this year makes clear how difficult it will be to stabilize climate.  The battle must be fought on multiple fronts.  On the other hand, as we also note, there is some basis for optimism.

Here is one legal case (in New Zealand) in which some progress is being made.  I will report on others in upcoming Communications.  I believe that the legal approach will become increasingly important in the future, because the judiciary is relatively independent of fossil fuel interests.  The Guardian did an article on this.

Betsy Taylor is President of CSAS, Inc., I am the Chief Executive Officer, Bill McKibben, Jim Miller and Larry Travis are Board Members, and Jay Halfon is the Secretary and Treasurer.


In cooperation with Stuart Scott, Executive Director of United Planet Faith & Science Initiative, I had four press conferences in Bonn, each of them doubling as his half-hour TV program “Climate Matters.”  The videos of these are given below.  He would like to translate them to different languages, via subtitles, e.g., Young People’s Burden has been translated to German (click on the CC on the YouTube video).  German and Spanish translations are underway.  He, stuart.h.scott@gmail.com, would welcome volunteers to translate to other languages.

On the sober side: Our paper Young People’s Burden: Requirement of Negative CO2 Emissions, completed this year and discussed at the COP-23 meeting in Bonn, shows that growth rates of the human-made factors driving climate change have not slowed – indeed, they have accelerated.  The fundamental fact is: fossil fuels will continue to be burned at a high rate as long as the price of fossil fuels does not include costs to society (air pollution, water pollution, climate change).

For Hansen, the key is to make the 100 big “carbon majors” – corporations like ExxonMobil, BP and Shell that are, by one account, responsible for more than 70% of emissions – pay for the transition to cleaner energy and greater forests. Until governments make them do so by introducing carbon fees or taxes, he says, the best way to hold them to account and generate funds is to sue them for the damage they are doing to the climate, those affected and future generations.

Young People’s Burden  https://youtu.be/_shhcGeY1Ao

Making the Carbon Majors Pay for Climate Action  https://youtu.be/vLuWNew3znU

Nuclear Power? Are Renewables Enough?  https://youtu.be/v1f4BKsFrCA

Scientific Reticence  https://youtu.be/S7z61UZoppM

[1] Hansen, J., M. Sato, P. Kharecha, D. Beerling, R. Berner, V. Masson-Delmotte, M. Pagani, M. Raymo, D. Royer, and J.C. Zachos: Target atmospheric CO2: Where should humanity aim? Open Atmos. Sci. J., 2, 217-231, 2008.

Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland and mayor of Baltimore

Few are better positioned to see hope in these places than O’Malley, who served two terms as mayor and another two terms as governor before running unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. O’Malley now chairs the advisory committee of the MetroLab Network, which facilitates collaborative relationships between city governments and academia.

O’Malley spoke earlier this month at MetroLab’s annual summit in Atlanta, taking time during the event to talk with Government Technology about the future of gov tech, his own legacy and how this work is reshaping government for the better, as well as the role MetroLab plays.

“Citizen expectations have been elevated by the private sector in this Uber generation,” O’Malley said. “People expect visibility, they expect transparency, they expect service delivery, and they expect government to be able to deliver with the same proficiency and technical capacity that the private sector does, and who can blame them? Expectations have been raised, and that’s a good thing. The better men and women, who are leading America’s cities, have figured out they have more freedom to try new things, to advance innovations and to up the technical capacities of government in ways that 10 years ago might have seemed like a frivolous or risky expenditure.”


O’Malley also sees two concepts steadily emerging from cities and universities in the MetroLab Network: expanded use of sensors and better predictive analytics.

“Those things are part and parcel by the movement in government enabled by technology that’s moving us from being governments where decisions are made based on hunch or politics, to based on evidence, from the ability to respond to calls for service, to being able to actually anticipate or deploy resources based on alerts or past history,” he said.

More cities — including Chicago, Atlanta and Kansas City, Mo. — use the Internet of Things (IoT) to collect data, getting clearer pictures of air quality, traffic and crime. Often with help from universities, they also use analytics to anticipate problems. The data also shows how tax dollars are being spent and the tangible results they’re creating.

Cities are at the forefront of a new way of governing, according to O’Malley. “One day it will percolate up to states, and then hopefully up to federal government, but cities are at the forefront of a new and better way of government,” he said. “It’s no longer simply command and control, a hierarchy of rank and position, it’s about collaboration, about doing what works. It’s fundamentally entrepreneurial. What technology gives us is the ability to actually see and model the belief space, if you will, that is the physical environment of a city, and to take actions that affect in a positive way the dynamic in a city to become a comfier, safer and more prosperous place.”


This idea that innovation is changing the way government functions is taking hold slowly.

Mayors as a group can be hesitant to try something untested because even just one high-profile failure can reduce chances for re-election. Once an idea has been proven, however, it spreads quickly. O’Malley said MetroLab is a means of holding up successful partnerships to de-risk ideas for other mayors.

“Every mayor wants to be the best at doing something second,” O’Malley said. “In Silicon Valley, if you fail multiple times, but you have one or two big successes, you’re hailed as a great entrepreneur. You have a few failures as mayor, especially where technology is concerned — people get fired for that and lose elections. So, it’s important to de-risk it, because it’s one thing to make investments with investors’ money, and certainly you have fiduciary duties there, but people are making investments and they’re taking a risk. When it comes to tax dollars, there’s a higher bar of scrutiny that people apply, and rightly so.”

For many years, the chief rule of government has been to do things because your boss told you to. With data, however, this is also changing.

“Those rules are insufficient anymore,” O’Malley said. “The new rule is do it because I can show you it works. It really does promise a renewal of democracy, of self-governance. That’s really the only way forward. We’ve got to stop clinging to the past.” 


There are no official rankings, but one struggles to find an elected leader whose work has inspired more progress in gov tech than O’Malley.

Under his leadership, Baltimore developed one of the earliest 311 call centers in the country, as well as one of the first programs that gathers data to track and improve the performance of city workers. The latter program was called CitiStat (modified to StateStat when O’Malley was governor), and it has led to a wave of similar initiatives nationwide.

In fact, during the conference a public servant from New Jersey’s Department of Children and Families told O’Malley her agency’s ChildStat program was based on his work. While names and details differ, both 311 call centers and stat programs have spread.

“I like to believe our success informed some of that,” O’Malley said. “I used to love when other mayors would take what we’d done and use it to get results in their own cities.”

One example is a program Baltimore developed to identify where children were at risk for lead poisoning, a program later replicated by St. Louis.

Citing a religious quotation, O’Malley says, “To do the tough work of public service, you have to approach it with the attitude that if you save just one life, it’s as if you’ve saved the world, but at the same time, there is a joy that comes from seeing other people learn from your piece of the experiment and build upon it to save even more lives.”

Zack Quaintance is a staff writer for Government Technology. Prior to that, he spent five years working in daily newspapers, and another five years working in the tech sector. He lives in Northern California.