Jim Hansen had just spoken out against mountaintop removal coal mining at the Appalachia Rising rally in Washington, DC, in 2010. About 1,000 of us participants, most of whom were from the Appalachian grassroots, were about to demonstrate through the streets of Washington — to the EPA headquarters, to the heavily-complicit PNC Bank, and on to the White House, where Jim would join with others in being arrested at a sit-down civil disobedience action. Taking the opportunity to speak briefly with him, I applauded his willingness to take direct action as a scientist-citizen in confronting the coal companies and the federal government. I mentioned another climate scientist whom I hold in high regard for his character, seriousness about communicating, and willingness to push back on denialists. Jim’s response: “What is he ready to do?” So, on the eve of Dr. Hansen’s retirement from NASA to focus on his role as a citizen, there’s your question: What are you ready to do? Here’s a sampling, from the Climate Science Watch archive, of some of what Jim has been ready to do.
Justin Gillis reported in the New York Times April 1:
James E. Hansen, the climate scientist who issued the clearest warning of the 20th century about the dangers of global warming, will retire from NASA this week, giving himself more freedom to pursue political and legal efforts to limit greenhouse gases.
His departure, after a 46-year career at the space agency’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan, will deprive federally sponsored climate research of its best-known public figure.
At the same time, retirement will allow Dr. Hansen to press his cause in court. He plans to take a more active role in lawsuits challenging the federal and state governments over their failure to limit emissions, for instance, as well as in fighting the development in Canada of a particularly dirty form of oil extracted from tar sands.
“As a government employee, you can’t testify against the government,” he said in an interview. …
At 72, he said, he feels a moral obligation to step up his activism in his remaining years.
“If we burn even a substantial fraction of the fossil fuels, we guarantee there’s going to be unstoppable changes” in the climate of the earth, he said. “We’re going to leave a situation for young people and future generations that they may have no way to deal with.” …
Dr. Hansen says he senses the beginnings of a mass movement on climate change, led by young people. Once he finishes his final papers as a NASA employee, he intends to give it his full support.
“At my age,” he said, “I am not worried about having an arrest record.”
This morning, 48 environmental, civil rights, and community leaders from across the country joined together for a historic display of civil disobedience at the White House where they demanded that President Obama deny the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and address the climate crisis. James Hansen, Professor, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University, was among the protestors. How long before we see some of his colleagues in the climate science community daring to take such committed citizen action?
“President Obama speaks of a ‘planet in peril,’ but he does not provide the leadership needed to change the world’s course. Our leaders must speak candidly to the public,” James Hansen writes in a powerful op-ed column in the New York Times today. “The science of the situation is clear — it’s time for the politics to follow.”
Hansen: Climate science and moral responsibility (April 2012)
Calling climate change an issue of intergenerational justice on a par with ending slavery, James Hansen will argue in his lecture on being awarded the Edinburgh Medal that current generations have an overriding moral duty to their children and grandchildren to take immediate action, the Guardian reported. Hansen et al.’s paper, “Scientific Case for Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change to Protect Young People and Nature,” is forthcoming in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “This situation raises profound moral issues as young people, future generations, and nature, with no possibility of protecting their future well-being, will bear the principal consequences of actions and inactions of today’s adults,” Hansen et al. conclude.
We joined climate scientist James Hansen and 141 other individuals on August 29 in getting arrested at a sit-in demonstration at the White House, calling on President Obama to block construction the proposed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline.
10/10/10 global warming rally at the White House (October 2010)
James Hansen and other speakers joined hundreds of demonstrators in Lafayette Park in Washington, DC, in calling on President Obama to speak out and take action with urgency on climate change. The rally was one of more than 7,000 350.org “global work party” actions in 188 countries held on October 10.
The one speaker whose name would be widely recognized beyond the movement was climate scientist James Hansen, who has already established an ongoing involvement with the mountaintop removal activist community. Speaking carefully chosen words from written notes (full text of his remarks), he said:
“The science is clear. Mountaintop removal destroys historic mountain ranges, poisons water supplies and pollutes the air with coal and rock dust. Mountaintop removal, providing only a small fraction of our energy, can and should be abolished. The time for half measures and caving in to polluting industries must end.”
I had a chance to speak briefly with Jim after his talk. I said that, whatever else might be done in creating a meaningful climate policy, I supported his approach of going directly at the coal problem with forthright and high-profile action. Go after mountaintop removal, coal mining, coal-fired power plants, the coal companies, and the elected officials who take their campaign contributions and carry water for them politically. There may be many ways to connect climate science conclusions to societal implications, and this is one of them – the sort of thing that may tend to get lost when national-level public interest advocates put so many of their eggs in the basket of working for incremental legislative reforms.
“The predominant moral issue of the 21st century, almost surely, will be climate change,” writes James Hansen of NASA on Huffington Post April 5. “So far Congress has been steamrolled by special interests….The president must get involved. He must explain the situation to the public and use his bully pulpit to persuade Congress to do what is right for the nation and future generations. He must explain that a rising carbon price is needed to phase out our fossil fuel addiction.”
And instead of “almost legitimizing denialists,” by failing to confront them aggressively and by the way he has ducked serious discussion of the threat of unchecked climate change, Hansen says: “The president should unequivocally support the climate science community, which is under politically orchestrated assault on the legitimacy of its scientific assessments.…Why face the difficult truth presented by the climate science? Why not use the president’s tack: just talk about the need for clean energy and energy independence? Because that approach leads to wrong policies…”
Amen to Hansen’s calling on President Obama to personally and actively take up the cause of climate science and to begin to speak in earnest about the threat posed by global climatic disruption. Those who have steered Obama in the tactical direction of talking about the need for a clean energy transformation as if this challenge could be addressed without recognizing that it is intertwined with climate science and the consequences of unchecked climate change have put things on the wrong track. It is time for Obama to chart a new course, one with greater intellectual integrity and the hope of a deeper, more lasting change in society.
Along with actress Daryl Hannah, 94-year old former US Congressman Ken Hechler, coal mining activist Judy Bonds, and dozens of others protesting mountaintop removal for coal mining, Dr. James Hansen was arrested this afternoon for trespassing onto the private property of Massey Energy Company in Coal River Valley, West Virginia.
Jim Hansen shortly before being arrested, reading a statement for Massey Energy Co.
Dr. James Hansen and his wife Anniek have written a personal letter to President-elect Barack Obama and our next first lady Michelle Obama, urging strong action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, citing “a profound disconnect between actions that policy circles are considering and what the science demands for preservation of the planet.” Regardless of whether the President-elect concurs with Hansen’s recommendations about energy policy, we would like to see the Hansens invited to the White House to brief the new President and First Lady soon after they take office. Meeting directly with leading scientists on climate change and its implications would send a strong signal that the page has been turned after eight years of denial and know-nothingness in the occupant of the Oval Office.
We’re still waiting.