NASA’s Dr. James Hansen accepted the prestigious Edinburgh Medal yesterday for his contributions to the field of climate science. In his medal address, the 24th Edinburgh Medal Recipient emphasized that climate change is a moral issue of unprecedented scope. Dr. Hansen made the case for young people and future generations by reminding the audience that as we benefit from fossil fuel use today, our youth and future generations will be burdened with the consequences of our decisions. Furthermore, people in less developed countries, who are least able to adapt to a changing climate will be affected the most.
“The situation we’re creating for young people and future generations is that we’re handing them a climate system which is potentially out of their control, ” Hansen said in an interview with the Guardian. “We’re in an emergency: you can see what’s on the horizon over the next few decades with the effects it will have on ecosystems, sea level and species extinction.”
Dr. Hansen (Ph.D., Physics, University of Iowa) is a climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. His work at GISS includes the development and application of global numeric models to aid in understanding climate trends. In a 2011 publication, Dr. Hansen asserts that “rapid reduction of fossil fuel emissions is required for humanity to succeed in preserving a planet resembling the one on which civilization developed” and current goals to limit human-made warning are a prescription for disaster.*
James Hansen is well known for his 1988 testimony to a Congressional Committee where he predicted the dangers of global warming and climate change. In 2007, Dr. Hansen testified to a House of Representatives committee about political interference with government climate change science. And 20 years after his first congressional testimony, Dr. Hansen returned to Congress, this time calling for the chief execs of fossil fuel companies to be held responsible for their role in corrupting global warming science in the same way that tobacco companies lied about the risks of smoking.
Dr. Hansen’s work is not without controversy. In the on-going debate between scientists like Hansen who believe climate change has a large human-made component and scientists who believe that there is no man-made connection, a group of Hansen’s co-workers at NASA have gone on record to voice their opposition. In a letter to NASA administrator Charles Bolden, Jr., 49 former NASA astronauts and scientists urge NASA to refrain from advocating for man-made CO2 as a major cause of climate change and, instead, make “an objective assessment of all available scientific data prior to making decisions or public statements.” See the full text of the letter here.
This is not the first time NASA’s James Hansen has faced opposition. There seems to be a long history of attempts to muzzle Dr. Hansen. Recent examples: In 2006, Dr. Hansen told 60 Minutes that the White House edited press releases to make global warming seem less threatening. In 2007, Dr. Hansen testified to a House of Representatives committee about political interference with government climate change science. In 2009 and 2010, Hansen was arrested with other activists during protests against mountaintop removal for coal mining. And in 2011, Hansen was arrested during a White House demonstration opposing the Keystone pipeline extension.
You can read more about about the Edinburgh Medal and Dr. Hansen’s medal address on the Edinburgh International Science Festival website.
*Hansen, J.E., and Mki. Sato, 2011: Paleoclimate implications for human-made climate change. In Climate Change: Inferences from Paleoclimate and Regional Aspects. A. Berger, F. Mesinger, and D. Šija?ki, Eds. Springer, in press.