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.

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 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 »

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.

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.

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).

Continue reading »

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