links about us archives search home
SustainabiliTankSustainabilitank menu graphic

Follow us on Twitter


Posted on on July 30th, 2010
by Pincas Jawetz (

Open letter from Dr. James Hansen, published in Aftenposten, May 19, 2010

Dear Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg

As you know, I am fond of Norway, and have great respect for your country and its citizens, as well as for your personal ambitions to protect global climate. Your recent rainforest initiative is a splendid example of leadership the world desperately needs. And your commitment at the Copenhagen climate talks to reduce Norway’s emissions 40 per cent by 2020 was exemplary.

However, and especially in light of that, I am disappointed to learn that Statoil, Norway’s state-owned oil company, has taken such backward strides through its strategic decision to invest in Canada’s destructive tar sands industry. As the most energy-intensive source of oil, this project represents the worst of what humans are doing to the planet in a quest to prolong our global addiction to fossil fuels.

It is still feasible to stabilize the climate, but only if we leave the tar sands in the ground. The massive greenhouse gas amounts from the tar sands surely would cause the climate system to pass tipping points, while also trampling on the human rights of Canada’s First Nation communities and greatly damaging the Canadian boreal forest.

Prime Minister Stoltenberg, the world has reached a critical juncture in the climate debate. We can either move into the production of the most damaging fossil fuel, or we can begin to address our destructive addiction. We desperately need leadership at this time. I am confident that you could provide that leadership. Please do not prove me wrong.

In your capacity as owner or more than two-thirds of the shares in Statoil, I urge you to end Norway’s involvement in this dangerous, dirty and destructive project. I ask that you support the resolution at Statoil’s upcoming AGM on May 19th, that Statoil show environmental leadership and pull out of the Canadian tar sands. Statoil may pride itself on being a more responsible company than others, but that will not be enough in the tar sands. If we extract and use the tar sands, there can be no sustainable future for young people.

I look forward to my visit to Norway in June. I hope that it can be a time to celebrate Norwegian leadership in responsible environmental policies

Dr. James Hansen
James E. Hansen is member of the National Academy of Sciences, an adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University and at Columbia’s Earth Institute, grandfather and winner of the Sophie Prize 2010.
James E. Hansen will visit Norway June 22 and 23 2010 to receive the Sophie Prize.


The answer from the Government:

Dear Mr. Hansen,

Thank you very much for your e-mail to the Prime Minister, which was forwarded to the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy as the governmental body responsible for Statoil ownership issues. Let me first take this opportunity to congratulate you on being awarded the Sophie-prize for 2010. I know a lot of people are looking forward to your visit to Norway, and I hope you will enjoy your stay here.

On behalf of the Government, I am pleased to say that we hold your work on climate change in high esteem, and further, that we appreciate your engagement and your views on Norway’s efforts to find good sustainable solutions to the global climate challenges.

As you now know from the results of the Statoil Annual General Meeting, we see Statoil’s oils sands investment as a commercial decision which is within the Statoil board’s area of responsibility. We are of the opinion that such decisions should not be overturned by the AGM. It is our opinion that this is in line with good corporate governance, a view that is also shared by a vast majority in the Norwegian Parliament. I can however assure you that we will continue our offensive stance on climate change issues both at home and abroad, and we look forward to your continued engagement.

Yours faithfully
Robin Martin Kåss
Statssekretær, Olje- og Energidepartementet
Deputy Minister, Ministry of Petroleum and Energy
Postboks 8148 Dep, 0033 Oslo, Norway

Fra: Jim Hansen
Sendt: 24. mai 2010 14:08
Til: Postmottak SMK
Kopi: Jim Hansen
Emne: Climate Change and the Tar Sands Development Vedlegg: Hansen text for ad and letter in both languages.doc

Dear Prime Minister Stoltenberg,

I understand that you may have missed my open letter to you published in Aftenposten, so for your convenience I have attached it here.

My wife Anniek and I are looking forward to visiting your beautiful country in June.
With kind regards,
James E. Hansen


AND THE – Message from Sophie Prize Winner.

I am grateful to Jostein Gaarder and the Sophie Foundation for the opportunity to discuss the state of Earth’s climate, the implications for people and nature, and action that is needed.

Our planet today is close to climate tipping points. Ice is melting in the Arctic, on Greenland and Antarctica, and on mountain glaciers worldwide. Many species are stressed by environmental destruction and climate change. Continuing fossil fuel emissions, if unabated, will cause sea level rise and species extinction accelerating out of humanity’s control. Increasing atmospheric water vapor is already magnifying climate extremes, increasing overall precipitation, causing greater floods and stronger storms.

Stabilizing climate requires restoring our planet’s energy balance. The physics is straightforward. The effect of increasing carbon dioxide on Earth’s energy imbalance is confirmed by precise measurements of ocean heat gain. The principal implication is defined by the geophysics, by the size of fossil fuel reservoirs. Simply put, there is a limit on how much carbon dioxide we can pour into the atmosphere. We cannot burn all fossil fuels. Specifically, we must (1) phase out coal use rapidly, (2) leave tar sands in the ground, and (3) not go after the last drops of oil.

Actions needed so that the world can move on to the clean energies of the future are possible and practical. The actions would restore clean air and water globally, assuring intergenerational equity by preserving creation – the natural world — thus also helping achieve north-south justice. But the needed actions will happen only if the public becomes forcefully involved.
Citizens can help by blocking coal plants, tar sands, and mining the last drops of fossil fuels from public and pristine lands and the deep ocean. However, fossil fuel addiction can be solved only when we recognize an economic law as certain as the law of gravity: as long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy they will be used.

Solution therefore requires a rising fee on oil, gas and coal – a carbon fee collected from fossil fuel companies at the domestic mine or port of entry. All funds collected should be distributed to the public on a per capita basis to allow lifestyle adjustments and spur clean energy innovations. As the fee rises, fossil fuels will be phased out, replaced by carbon-free energy and efficiency.
Governments today, instead, talk of “cap-and-trade-with-offsets”, a system rigged by big banks and fossil fuel interests. Cap-and-trade invites corruption. Worse, it is ineffectual, assuring continued fossil fuel addiction to the last drop and environmental catastrophe.

We need a simple honest flat rising carbon fee across the board. It should be revenue neutral – all funds distributed to the public – “100 percent or fight”. It is the only realistic path to global action. China and India will not accept caps, but they need a carbon fee to spur clean energy and avoid fossil fuel addiction.

But our governments have no intention of solving the fossil fuel and climate problem, as is easy to prove: the United States, Canadian and Norwegian governments are going right ahead developing the tar sands, which, if it is not halted, will make it impossible to stabilize climate.

Our governments knowingly abdicate responsibility for young people and future generations. I have been disappointed in interactions with more than half a dozen nations. In the end, they offer only soothing words, “goals” for emission reductions at far off dates, while their actual deeds prevent stabilization of climate.

The Sophie Prize provides a new opportunity to draw attention to the actions that are needed to stabilize climate. Norway may be the best place, with its history of environmentalism. I can imagine Norway standing tall among nations, taking real action to address climate change, drawing attention to the hypocrisy in the words and pseudo-actions of other nations.

So I wrote a letter to the Prime Minister suggesting that the government, as the majority owner of Statoil, should intervene in planned tar sands development. I appreciate the polite response, by letter, from the Deputy Minister of Petroleum and Energy. The government position is that the tar sands investment is “a commercial decision”, that the government should not interfere, and that a “vast majority in the Norwegian parliament” agree that this constitutes “good corporate governance”. The Deputy Minister concluded his letter “I can however assure you that we will continue our offensive stance on climate change issues both at home and abroad”.

A Norwegian grandfather, upon reading the Deputy Minister’s letter, quoted Saint Augustine: “Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.”

The Norwegian government’s position is a staggering reaffirmation of the global situation: even the greenest governments find it too inconvenient to address the implication of scientific facts. Perhaps our governments are in the hip pocket of the fossil fuel industry – but that is not for science to say.

What I can say from the science is this: the plans that governments, including Norway, are adopting spell disaster for young people and future generations. And we are running out of time.

Stabilizing climate is a moral issue, a matter of intergenerational justice. Young people, and older people who support the young and the other species on the planet, must unite in demanding an effective approach that preserves our planet.

Because the executive and legislative branches of our governments are turning a deaf ear to the science, the judicial branch may provide the best opportunity for redressing the situation. Our governments have a fiduciary responsibility to protect the rights of young people and future generations. I look forward to working with young people and their supporters in developing the legal case for young people and the planet.

To the young people I say: Stand up for your rights, for your future. Demand that the government be honest, admit and face the consequences for you from their policies.

To the old people I say: we are not too old to fight. Let us gird up our loins and prepare to fight on the side of young people for protection of the world they will inherit.

I look forward to standing with the youth of the world as they demand their proper due and fight for nature and their future.


Other Recent Publications by Dr. James Hansen:

2010. Obama’s Second Chance on the Predominant Moral Issue of this Century. Op-ed on Huffington Post, Apr. 5.

2010. Only a carbon tax and nuclear power can save us. Op-ed in The Australian, Mar. 11.

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a comment for this article