One of the world's top climate scientists has written a personal new year appeal to Barack and Michelle Obama, warning of the "profound disconnect" between public policy on climate change and the magnitude of the problem.
With less than three weeks to go until Obama's inauguration, ProfessorJames Hansen, who heads Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, asked the recently appointed White House science adviser Professor John Holdren to pass the missive directly to the president-elect.
In it, he praises Obama's campaign rhetoric about "a planet in peril", but says that how the new president acts in office will be crucial. Hansen lambasts the current international approach of setting targets through "cap and trade" schemes as not up to the task. "This approach is ineffectual and not commensurate with the climate threat. It could waste another decade, locking in disastrous consequences for our planet and humanity," the letter from Hansen and his wife, Anniek, reads.
The letter will make uncomfortable reading for officials in 10 US states whose cap and trade mechanism - the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative - got under way yesterday. The scheme is the first mandatory, market-based greenhouse gas reduction programme in the US.
Hansen advocates a three-pronged attack on the climate problem. First, he wants a phasing out of coal-fired power stations - which he calls "factories of death" - that do not incorporate carbon capture. "Nobody realistically expects that the large readily available pools of oil and gas will be left in the ground. Caps will not cause that to happen - caps only slow the rate at which the oil and gas are used. The only solution is to cut off the coal source," the Hansens wrote.
Second, he proposes a "carbon tax and 100% dividend". This is a mechanism for putting a price on carbon without raising money for government coffers. The idea is to tax carbon at source, then redistribute the revenue equally among taxpayers, so that high carbon users are penalised while low carbon users are rewarded.
Finally, he urges a renewed research effort into so-called fourth generation nuclear plants, which can use nuclear waste as fuel.