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

350 in 360°

Just for fun, you might want to check out this 360° panoramic photo of Jim Hansen, myself, and the 600+ people who showed up for our appearance in Lexington, Massachusetts, on June 1, all showing our support for Bill McKibben’s new organization 350.org. (That’s my voice at the beginning, saying that Jim is definitely one of my heroes, even though he’s a Yankees fan.)

By clicking the mouse and moving your cursor around, you can scan the whole room.

Daily Kos features a wonderful diary about this event by a “Kossack” who attended. It was also covered by New England Cable News, and the Lexington Global Warming Action Coalition has produced a video. CSPAN was there filming for Book TV, but I don’t think they’ve produced anything yet.

20th Anniversary of Hansen’s Legendary Senate Testimony

This coming Monday, June 23, 2008, will mark the twentieth anniversary of Jim Hansen’s course-altering testimony to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. (I give some of the back story to that moment in Chapter 9 of Censoring Science.) The Worldwatch Institute will duly recognize Jim’s pioneering contributions with a luncheon at Washington’s National Press Club Ballroom that day, and he will also be testifying to Congressman Edward Markey’s Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. (In keeping with his usual breakneck pace, Jim happens to be in Germany at the moment, meeting with the Minister of the Environment — another front in his effort to convince government leaders around the globe to do what they can to stop the building of old-fashioned coal-fired power plants.) I highly recommend the interview with Jim that appears on the Worldwatch Web site, as a good snapshot of his current thinking.

NASA Office of Inspector General finally releases report

Lo and behold, only two-and-a-half years after the fact, the NASA Office of Inspector General has released a report on the campaign of censorship that took place at the space agency from at least 2003 through early 2006, when Jim Hansen took it public and brought it swiftly to an end. Is it surprising that it took an entire government office, comprising many people and holding the authority to obtain documents and interview government employees — not to mention its rather large budget — twice as long to publish its report as it took me, working alone a few states away, to write and publish a book (Censoring Science) on the same subject? Not to me – although I am gratified that the OIG corroborates many of my findings and adds new, important details about what was arguably the most bare-knuckled of the many censorship incidents at NASA, which was directed at Jim specifically and began with a phone call late on the day of December 15, 2005.

Today, I will talk mostly about the big picture of this report. In coming days, I might like to look more closely at some of the details.

As Andy Revkin of the New York Times reported today on his blog, Dot Earth, I am pleasantly surprised at the quality of the report. (Andy’s article for the print edition of the Times is here. This page also includes a convenient box of links to the series of articles he wrote on this subject in 2006.) But let’s not get carried away: as I wrote on pages 180-81 of the book, one’s expectations would tend to be low. Robert Cobb, the Inspector General, has a long history of protecting the higher-ups at NASA and was even at one time (oxymoronically) ethics advisor to Alberto Gonzales, George W. Bush’s disgraced ex-attorney general. So I expected a complete white-wash. This one is only partial.

As the drama unfolded in the early months of 2006, NASA administrator Michael Griffin and his senior staff managed to direct attention away from themselves by scapegoating an admittedly overzealous bit player, 24-year-old George Deutsch. The commendable thing about yesterday’s OIG report is that it correctly implicates senior NASA officials in the censorship effort and demonstrates that Deutsch was indeed a bit player. The report fingers the main perpetrators inside the agency – all political appointees – accurately and by name: David Mould, who is still NASA’s Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs (the head of public affairs for the entire agency); Mould’s former Deputy AA, Dean Acosta; and Mould’s predecessor, Glenn Mahone. The latter two have left the agency – both under duress.

But what the report leaves out is any connection between these three individuals (bit players as well when you come down to it – and our new scapegoats) and those who directed the censorship from within the White House – mainly from the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Furthermore, CEQ communicated regularly on this issue with the office of Vice President Dick Cheney (Censoring Science, p. 114).

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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

Netroots Nation 2008!

My friend Darksyde over at Daily Kos has just announced the panel he has put together for Netroots Nation 2008 (formerly YearlyKos), an annual gathering of the progressive blogging community that will take place in Austin, Texas, this July. The tentative title of the panel is “Restructuring U.S. Science Policy,” and I am thrilled and honored to have been invited to participate. In fact, the whole convention looks exciting to me, so I’m planning to be there the whole time. In this, hopefully, course-changing election year, this vibrant grassroots flowering may help tilt the balance in this country back toward true democracy again. Worth a try anyway. Lots of good creative energy down there. Check out the video on the home page, and I think you’ll agree.

Speaking of democracy, on June 1, Jim Hansen and I will be appearing together at an event sponsored by the Lexington Global Warming Action Coalition in none other than Lexington, Massachusetts, a few hundred yards from the spot where the first shot of the Revolutionary War was fired. I suspect democracy may be a theme there as well …

(I try to keep an up-to-date list of appearances by Jim and myself in the “appearances” category of this blog, which you will find in the column to the right, or here.)

“Fair and Balanced” on Democracy Now! – Part I

Two weeks ago, now (an eternity in the blogosphere, God knows) Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez interviewed Jim Hansen and myself on their independent news program, Democracy Now!

This particular outlet is probably about as far from Fox News as you can get. “Pioneering the largest public media collaboration in the U.S., Democracy Now! is broadcast on Pacifica, NPR, community, and college radio stations; on public access, PBS, satellite television … ; and on the internet. DN!’s podcast is one of the most popular on the web,” claims their Web site. However, the old (and questionable) Fox News adage about “fair and balanced” reporting springs to mind as I think back on two aspects of the interview, one salutary and the other somewhat less so.

Jim, Amy, and Juan sat around a table in Democracy Now!’s New York studio, while I was wired in from a studio in Watertown, Massachusetts, near my home. Just before we went live, as the sole proprietor of this small establishment was framing me in his camera, he told me to get ready for a good conversation: “This isn’t sound bite news.”

Indeed, Goodman and Gonzalez proceeded to conduct one of the best interviews in my experience, for the simple reason that they listened. When they asked a question, they would sit back and give Jim or myself pretty much all the time we needed in order to respond. I don’t think they once interrupted.

The first pleasant surprise occurred even before the interview began, when Gonzalez’s voice piped up in my earpiece actually asking me if there was anything I wanted to cover that day. There was:

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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”.

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Appearances Update: Fresh Air and Fighting Coal in Iowa

As the year kicked off and most of the country dove straight into the Presidential primaries, Jim and I continued our mostly separate and occasionally joint effort to bring global warming into the discussion.

On Tuesday, January 8, we were interviewed together by Terry Gross, on NPR’s Fresh Air.

Jim has a full week in front of him (which is not unusual). On Tuesday, the 15th, he and Dr. Ed Weiler, Director of Goddard Space Flight Center, which is the parent organization of Jim’s Institute, the Goddard Institute of Space Studies, will be interviewed by Miles O’Brien of CNN, largely about the events related in my book, Censoring Science. Not sure exactly when Miles’s show will air, but I’ll update my Recent and Upcoming Appearances posting when I find out.

Then Jim takes his message to his home state of Iowa. He will speak in a few different places around the state during the course of the week and conclude by testifying on Friday morning, January 18, to the State of Iowa Utilities Board, against a proposed coal-fired power plant in Marshalltown. As usual, he will testify as a private citizen, using his vacation time from NASA to make this trip.

 Meanwhile, I will appear on a few more radio shows.

You can always keep abreast of both of our rapidly-evolving schedules by clicking on “appearances” in the column to the right, just below “categories”.



RealClimate selects Thin Ice as a top book of 2007

Surprisingly,  since the book was originally published in 2005, Gavin Schmidt at RealClimate has selected Thin Ice as one of the more interesting books to have crossed his desk in 2007. Gratifying as well, since it indicates that the book remains relevant to a team of people who truly understand climate science and the global warming issue.

Gavin alludes to the important role that Jim Hansen plays in Thin Ice. In fact, outside of the folks in Lonnie Thompson’s group, Jim is probably the most important scientist in that story: while Lonnie and his gang were going into the high mountains to retrieve some of the most convincing evidence there is that the Earth is getting warmer, Jim was explaining why. This sparked my interest and was part of the reason I approached him in early 2006 to ask if he would like to collaborate on the book that eventually became Censoring Science.



21 December 2007

Books ’07

Filed under: Communicating Climate Climate Science- gavin @ 1:33 AM

We have a minor tradition of doing a climate-related book review in the lead up to the holidays and this year shouldn’t be an exception. So here is a round-up of a number of new books that have crossed our desks, some of which might be interesting to readers here. …

“Thin Ice” by Mark Bowen gets a big thumbs up as well. It is more or less a biography of Lonnie Thompson, but as I said in my review in BAMS, it is by no means limited to Thompson’s work. Much of the book focuses on various important figures in the history of the science of climate: Arrhenius, Tyndall, and Keeling among them. And while paleoclimatology takes the main stage, one could read this book alone for a very clear lay-persons understanding of the physics of the greenhouse effect, or for insight into the mind of the brilliant and provocative James Hansen, or the story or Roger Revelle and David Keeling’s measurements of carbon dioxide concentrations. It is notable that Bowen has a PhD from MIT, so is no newcomer to science. …

Happy holidays!