Jim’s Thoughts on the 20th Anniversary

Jim testified yesterday to the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. I am aware of one interesting back story involving one of the more brazen of his statements:  that in his opinion, CEOs of certain fossil fuel companies, for instance ExxonMobil and Peabody Coal, should be tried for “high crimes against humanity and nature,” but it seems best at this point to let Jim’s words speak for themselves.


 Global Warming Twenty Years Later: Tipping Points Near

James Hansen [1]

My presentation today is exactly 20 years after my 23 June 1988 testimony to Congress, which alerted the public that global warming was underway.  There are striking similarities between then and now, but one big difference.

Again a wide gap has developed between what is understood about global warming by the relevant scientific community and what is known by policymakers and the public. Now, as then, frank assessment of scientific data yields conclusions that are shocking to the body politic.  Now, as then, I can assert that these conclusions have a certainty exceeding 99 percent.

The difference is that now we have used up all slack in the schedule for actions needed to defuse the global warming time bomb.  The next President and Congress must define a course next year in which the United States exerts leadership commensurate with our responsibility for the present dangerous situation.

Otherwise it will become impractical to constrain atmospheric carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas produced in burning fossil fuels, to a level that prevents the climate system from passing tipping points that lead to disastrous climate changes that spiral dynamically out of humanity’s control.

Changes needed to preserve creation, the planet on which civilization developed, are clear.  But the changes have been blocked by special interests, focused on short-term profits, who hold sway in Washington and other capitals.

I argue that a path yielding energy independence and a healthier environment is, barely, still possible.  It requires a transformative change of direction in Washington in the next year.

On 23 June 1988 I testified to a hearing, chaired by Senator Tim Wirth of Colorado, that the Earth had entered a long-term warming trend and that human-made greenhouse gases almost surely were responsible.  I noted that global warming enhanced both extremes of the water cycle, meaning stronger droughts and forest fires, on the one hand, but also heavier rains and floods.

 My testimony two decades ago was greeted with skepticism.  But while skepticism is the lifeblood of science, it can confuse the public.  As scientists examine a topic from all perspectives, it may appear that nothing is known with confidence.  But from such broad open-minded study of all data, valid conclusions can be drawn.

My conclusions in 1988 were built on a wide range of inputs from basic physics, planetary studies, observations of on-going changes, and climate models.  The evidence was strong enough that I could say it was time to “stop waffling”.  I was sure that time would bring the scientific community to a similar consensus, as it has. Continue reading

Hansen and Bowen to speak in the cradle of American Liberty

Hello all,

 Just letting you know — a little bit late in the day, I know — that the Lexington Global Warming Action Coalition (affectionately known as LGWAC) is sponsoring an appearance by Jim Hansen and myself, tomorrow night, Sunday, June 1, at Cary Hall in Lexington, Massachusetts. It starts at 7:30, but there’s been a lot of publicity, so you might want to get there early — especially considering the Celtics’ victory last night, which means we won’t be competing with a Game 7!

 Here’s the e-mail that Jim sent out to his list the other day, under the title “Dear Governor Greenwash”: Continue reading

Gretchen, Do Not E-mail Me on This!

Here’s an essay that Jim posted on his Columbia Web site on January 25th. He notified his list of the posting in an e-mail entitled “Gretchen Don’t E-mail Me On This!”, which is close enough to the title of one of the chapters of my book, Censoring Science, to which he refers.

The Shadow on American Democracy

I just did an interview with CNN (Miles O’Brien) re “censoring science”. The point I emphasized is that overreaching by the Executive Branch, trying to make government science submit to political command and control, is a threat to our democracy, and, as a result, a threat to the planet. The scary part about this story is that seeds have been sown, and a playbook has been codified (although not written!), that will make the situation much worse unless the American public recognizes the problem and makes an issue of it. This is a bi-partisan problem – and neither party is trying to fix it. It is remarkable how wimpish Congress has become in accepting subjugation to the Executive Branch, contrary to designs and intents of our Founding Fathers

Congressional testimony. Do you know that before a government scientist testifies to Congress his/her testimony is typically reviewed and edited by the White House Office of Management and Budget? When I asked for a justification, I was told that a government scientist’s testimony “needs to be consistent with the President’s budget”.

Continue reading

Boston Globe Op-ed: The wrong choice for Massachusetts

The wrong choice for Massachusetts
By James Hansen, January 2, 2008

THE EARTH is close to passing climate change “tipping points.” Greenhouse gases released in burning fossil fuels are nearing a level that will set in motion dangerous effects, many irreversible, including extermination of countless species, ice sheet disintegration and sea-level rise, and intensified regional climate extremes.

As a society we face a stark choice. Move on to the next phase of the industrial revolution, preserving and restoring wonders of the natural world, while maintaining and expanding benefits of advanced technology. Or ignore the problem, sentencing humanity and other creatures to struggle on an increasingly desolate planet. Massachusetts is on the cusp of making this choice, and, barring citizen objections, is in danger of making the wrong choice on two counts.

Energy legislation in the state Senate would reshape rules designed to encourage renewable energies, modifying them to encourage energy generation from coal. A proposed amendment to the “Green Communities Act” – in most respects a good piece of legislation – provides incentives for coal gasification technologies without requiring carbon capture and sequestration. If passed, Massachusetts would be promoting projects that increase greenhouse gas emissions, just when we need to reduce emissions!

Meanwhile, the Department of Environmental Protection granted draft approval and is poised to grant final approval to a project extending the life of an 80-year-old coal plant with coal gasification that would not capture and sequester carbon dioxide emissions. Prolonging the life of NRG Energy’s coal-fired power plant in Somerset would be a tragic mistake. This plant was scheduled to shut down in January of 2010 or to “repower” as a new cleaner plant. NRG now proposes to do neither. Instead, it wants to retain its dependence on dirty fuel, converting the plant’s boiler to “plasma gasification” of coal.

NRG and state officials have resisted a comprehensive environmental review, demanded by environmental groups like the Conservation Law Foundation, which would compare the greenhouse gases that NRG’s proposal is expected to emit over its extended lifetime with other scenarios, including a complete shutdown. The Somerset project should not be rushed through without full environmental review.

If the wonders of nature, our coastlines, and our social and economic well being are to be preserved, our society must begin phasing out coal use until and unless the carbon dioxide emissions are captured and stored. Continuing to build coal-fired power plants without carbon capture will lock in future climate disasters for our children and grandchildren.

The people of Massachusetts took great risk, for the sake of themselves and their progeny, when they drew a line with the British at Lexington and Concord. It is time for a line to be drawn with the powerful special interests, who reap profits from our fossil-fuel addiction.

Changing the course dictated by fossil-fuel interests will not be easy. It requires leadership to define a path with increased support for energy efficiency and clean-energy sources. But this is what citizens must demand, as they tell their government to say no to coal.

The alternative is to shrink from personal responsibility and allow the pleadings and misinformation of special interests, driven by motives of short-term profit, to determine government actions.

But is that a picture of our generation we dare leave for our children, a picture of timidity in the face of special-interest greed?

We live in a democracy. Policies represent our collective will. We cannot blame others. If we allow the planet to pass tipping points, to set in motion irreversible changes to the detriment of nature and humanity, it will be hard to explain our role to future generations.

Today, the citizens of Massachusetts have two opportunities to change this course: first, by contacting legislators and demanding rejection of attempts to subsidize coal through legislation that mistakenly treats coal gasification as a “clean energy” technology; second, by demanding that NRG Energy be held to its original commitment to shut down or repower as a truly new and clean plant.

This is an opportunity for citizens of Massachusetts to exercise leadership again, taking bold actions to oppose entrenched special interests and helping initiate change that is essential if we are to retain a hospitable climate and a prosperous future for our children.

James Hansen is director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. This column is his personal opinion.

© Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company