- NASA scientist who is one of the world’s leading promoters of the theory that human industrial activity causes global warming
- States that “if we do not rapidly slow fossil-fuel emissions over the next few decades … one ecological collapse will lead to another”
- Calls for taxes to be placed on carbon emissions
- Characterizes coal-fired power plants as “factories of death”
Born on March 29, 1941 in Denison, Iowa, James Hansen earned a B.A. in physics and mathematics in 1963, an M.S. in astronomy in 1965, and a Ph.D. in physics in 1967—all at the University of Iowa. In 1967 he took a job with NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), which monitors temperature fluctuations at thousands of sites worldwide. Hansen became director of GISS in 1981 and has held that position ever since. He is also an adjunct professor in Columbia University’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and is widely regarded as the world’s leading promoter of the theory that human industrial activity—particularly the burning of fossil fuels and the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere—is the chief catalyst of a potentially catastrophic global-warming trend. Hansen first predicted such climatic changes in a 1981 article which he co-authored with a team of GISS scientists in the journal Science.
In a June 23, 1988 speech that was a seminal event in the movement to focus public attention on global warming, Hansen addressed the U.S. Congress and warned that unless the burning of fossil fuels were to be curtailed quickly and dramatically, the natural world suffer irreparable harm.
In 1988 as well, a Washington Post reporter asked Hansen what a warming Earth would look like two to four decades down the road. Hansen replied that New York City’s “West Side Highway [which runs along the Hudson River] will be under water.” He also predicted that global warming would cause crime in New York to rise dramatically, because “you know what happens to crime when the heat goes up.”
Soon after receiving a $250,000 award from Teresa Heinz Kerry‘s Heinz Family Foundation, Hansen, in a move considered highly unusual for a NASA scientist, endorsed the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004. He thereafter served as the primary climate advisor for Al Gore‘s 2006 documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth.
In Hansen’s calculus, coal is “the dirtiest fuel” in terms of the “greenhouse gas” emissions for which it is responsible. As such, he considers coal “the single greatest threat to civilization and all life on our planet,” and has called for a moratorium on the construction of any new coal-fired power plants. According to Hansen: “the trains carrying coal to power plants are death trains”; “coal-fired power plants are factories of death”; and “if we cannot stop the building of more coal-fired power plants, those coal trains will be death trains—no less gruesome than if they were boxcars headed to crematoria, loaded with uncountable irreplaceable species.”
Warning further that “our planet is in peril,” Hansen asserts that “if we do not rapidly slow fossil-fuel emissions over the next few decades,” “[o]ne ecological collapse will lead to another.” In particular, he predicts the mass “extermination of species” and the ultimate disappearance of all the earth’s ice, resulting in a “sea level 75 meters higher.”
On the twentieth anniversary of his 1988 speech to Congress, Hansen returned to Capitol Hill to demand that the chief executives of large fossil-fuel companies be put on trial for “high crimes against humanity and nature.”
In a December 29, 2008 letter addressed to Barack and Michelle Obama, Hansen urged the president-elect to impose, on carbon emissions, a tax that would not only “affect all products and activities that use fossil fuels,” but would also, in the process, help redistribute wealth by “aiding the disadvantaged.” Hansen explained that while such a tax would “increase energy prices,” low- and middle-income people would “come out ahead” because their carbon footprints would generally be small enough to warrant little or no tax liability, whereas, by contrast, wealthy people “with large cars and a big house” would pay “much higher” taxes. The revenues from such taxes, said Hansen, should be “deposited monthly” into individual Americans’ “bank accounts” as dividends that would disproportionately help low earners.
After the 2009 eruption of the so-called “Climategate” scandal—wherein many leading American and British climatologists had intentionally manipulated scientific evidence in order to “prove” that anthropogenic global warming was indeed a grave threat—Hansen remained resolute in claiming that “[t]he evidence for human-made climate change is overwhelming.” Chris Horner, author of Red Hot Lies: How Global Warming Alarmists Use Threats, Fraud, and Deception to Keep You Misinformed, asserts that Hansen himself doctored temperature data on two occasions—in 2001 and 2007—in attempts to show an impending climate catastrophe.
After the House of Representatives in 2009 passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act, commonly known as a cap-and-trade bill, Hansen complained that the legislation (which ultimately died in the Senate) would not lead to sufficient reductions in fossil-fuel use, and he derided the bill as “less than worthless.” Hansen advocated instead a mandatory flat-rate global tax on the production and consumption of fossil fuels.
In early 2012, Hansen called global warming a “great moral issue” on a par with slavery.
In an April 2013 Op-Ed, Hansen condemned the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, lamenting that a final review by “the State Department gave the president [Obama] cover to open a big spigot that will hitch our country to one of the dirtiest fuels on Earth for 40 years or more”—and thereby exacerbate the problem of climate change. Wrote Hansen:
“The science on climate change has been in for a quarter of a century. There are no more mixed messages, just catastrophe after catastrophe. The president stands at a fork in the road: Rejecting the pipeline will show the world we are serious and determined to be on the right side of history. Approving it will signal we are too entrenched with business-as-usual to do what’s right by the people, planet and future generations.”
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