I say elect Hanson as President... At least he cares about the country
before his own, which is a major qualification... If the people of America
can't see that it's the ones that have the guts to stand up and tell the
truth regardless of being threatened with loss of job or career, and can't
find it in their hearts to support those with high ideals, then
unfortunately they have set themselves up to learn the hard way what freedom
of speech really means. Movie theaters should start bringing all the old
WWII movies out.
]On Behalf Of Light Eye
Sent: Wednesday, March 01, 2006 11:07 AM
Subject: [Astrosciences] Too Hot To Handle
Love and Light.
Too hot to handle
Recent efforts to censor Jim Hansen, NASA's top climate scientist, are
only the latest. As his message grows more urgent, we ignore him at our
By Bill McKibben | February 5, 2006
JIM HANSEN, the director of NASA'S Goddard Institute for Space Studies, is
a dangerous man. Not a brash man or a rebel-I remember interviewing him many
years ago, and when I asked him what he did to relax, he replied, ''mow my
lawn." He's spent his whole career on the NASA payroll, but never looked up
at the beckoning stars, at least professionally. Instead, from a floor of
offices above Tom's Diner, of ''Seinfeld" fame, on New York's Upper West
Side, he's fixed an unwavering gaze on our home planet and the narrow
envelope of atmosphere that surrounds it.
It's in that process that he's acquired the data, including one of the
most comprehensive and accurate temperature records for the entire globe,
that makes him so unsafe-data he's repeatedly tried to spread to the world,
but always against resistance, mostly from politicians but also from
The latest dust-up came last week, when The New York Times reported that
the public affairs staff at NASA was trying to censor Hansen's contacts with
journalists-not to mention postings on his website, his lectures, and his
future papers-after he told the American Geophysical Union, in a speech on
Dec. 6, that 2005 had been the warmest year on record. Not that they acted
out of any untoward motive, NASA officials insist, just to make sure that he
Hansen has had to deliver unpopular news before, and he's always
persisted-and this time, as usual, he managed to turn the gag order into a
megaphone. In fact, if you follow the thread of the controversies that have
marked Hansen's career, you can understand how the idea of global warming
first came to light, how it's been resisted, and why we seem now to be
entering into the most dangerous era of all, when theory turns ever more
quickly into reality.
. . .
In the late 1970s, global warming was something that very few scientists
thought about and almost no politicians took seriously. Hansen, however,
then a newly minted PhD arriving in New York from the Midwest, had begun to
build his first global climate model, an immensely complex computer
simulation of the planet's climate that allows its user to, say, add a layer
of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and see what happens. What happens, as
he put it in a paper in Science, is that the temperature goes up, a lot: He
predicted that ''the continuing increase in fossil fuel use would lead to
about 4.5-degree Fahrenheit global warming by the end of the twenty-first
The incoming Reagan administration, unfortunately, did not want to hear
that-and so they cut his funding to the bone, forcing him to lay off most of
his NASA staff. Still, he'd raised the issue, gotten it on the front pages
of the papers for the first time, and-since he had the best model of the
world's climate anywhere-he eventually got a new round of funding.
The next time he had something to say, he didn't choose a scientific
journal. It was June 1988, and the country was unusually hot-the Mississippi
River was so dry that barges were unable to navigate the shallow waters. A
congressional committee asked him to testify, and he did. In his allotted 15
minutes, in his usual mild voice, he predicted that 1988 would set a new
global temperature record, and indeed that he was ''99 percent confident"
that it was due to the greenhouse effect. As he left the hearing, he told
reporters: ''It's time to stop waffling so much and say that the greenhouse
effect is here and is affecting our climate now."
That sound bite rankled the Republican administration (which tried to edit
his further testimony, with about as much success as NASA had last week) but
it also angered his scientific peers. He'd broken the scientific code,
talked in real-world terms, ''gone beyond the data." Daggers were drawn, and
they were used. Mark Bowen, in his fine recent history of climate science,
''Thin Ice" (2005), describes the next meeting of the world's climatologists
as a ''get-Hansen session." Scientists, accustomed to publishing in
peer-reviewed journals, speak in nuances and caveats. To say ''I'm 99
percent certain" goes against the academic grain.
Hansen, of course, understood this. He's spent his whole career in
academic conferences and scientific meetings. But he also knew that the rest
of the world-the audience that needed to understand our predicament-doesn't
speak that way.
The professional criticism stung him, but it had clearly been worth it.
Every newspaper and every newsmagazine published long reports on the
subject-within a week, ''greenhouse effect" had gone from a scientific term
to a media buzzword. By year's end Time had named ''our endangered earth"
its ''planet of the year," and the elder George Bush, running for president,
was promising to ''fight the greenhouse effect with the White House
effect"-an applause line, unfortunately, which didn't lead to much in the
way of policy. More importantly, the fear Hansen sparked led to almost
bottomless federal research budgets for his fellow scientists, and by 1995
they had concluded he was correct: The planet, said the world's foremost
body of climatologists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, was
heating up and people were the cause.
In the rest of the developed world, that was enough to get policy makers
working on projects like the Kyoto Treaty. But here, where all the crucial
science had been done, the prospect of grappling with our fossil fuel
addiction was simply too daunting for either the Clinton administration,
which at least recognized the problem, or the George W. Bush White House,
which turned its back. When one Environmental Protection Agency document
dared to mention the possibility of a warming planet, Bush dismissed it as a
product of ''the bureaucrats."
. . .
And so we go on burning ever more fossil fuel, and the earth keeps getting
warmer-as Hansen's monthly monitoring of 10,000 temperature gauges around
the planet makes depressingly clear.
But the new high temperature record isn't the real reason Hansen is so
agitated right now, nor the reason the Bush administration would like to
silence him. Instead, it's the messages about future change that his
computer climate models keep spitting out.
Those models reveal a miserable situation at present, but a dire one in
the years ahead. In his December speech to the Geophysical Union, he noted
that carbon dioxide emissions are ''now surging well above" the point where
damage to the planet might be limited. Speaking to a reporter from The
Washington Post, he put it bluntly: Having raised the earth's temperature 1
degree Fahrenheit in the last three decades, we're facing another increase
of 4 degrees over the next century. That would ''imply changes that
constitute practically a different planet." The technical terms for those
changes include drought, famine, pestilence, and flood.
''It's not something we can adapt to," he continued. ''We can't let it go
on another 10 years like this."
And that's what makes him so dangerous now. He's not just saying that the
world is warming. He's not just saying we're the cause. He's saying: We have
to stop it now. Not wait a few decades while Exxon Mobil keeps making record
profits. Not wait a few decades until there's some painless new technology
like hydrogen cars that lets us drive blithely into the future. Not even
wait a few years until the current administration can cut and run from
The president, just this week, said that we've become ''addicted to oil,"
which is a little as though Abe Lincoln suddenly noticed the South had
slaves. Bush's package of fixes-a little money for nuclear, for clean coal,
for wind power-goes in the right direction, but so slowly as to be a
gesture, not a policy. If we want to keep a semblance of the planet we were
born on to, we have to act decisively, expensively, quickly, and now.
You can argue with Hansen if you want. But you better bring a pretty big
data set with you. He's been right so far.
Bill McKibben, a scholar in residence at Middlebury College, is the author
of ''The End of Nature" and eight other books on environmental topics.
© Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.
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