It is no coincidence that Dr. James Hansen—director of NASA’s Goddard Institute, adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, and the world’s leading climate scientist—has chosen to speak at Lexington’s Cary Hall on June 1. Just as Paul Revere rode through Lexington en route to Concord to warn citizens that something of great consequence was about to happen and that they should prepare to take action, Hansen will be calling upon his fellow citizens to take immediate action with regard to global warming “if we wish to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed.”
In a recent letter to Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons, Hansen made a plea to the Governor to take a leadership role regarding fossil fuel proliferation in that state, explaining that we have already passed the threshold of having atmospheric carbon dioxide levels that we can allow to exist for the long-term. As he put it, “Mother Nature is wagging her finger at us, saying, ‘Now you have gone too far!’”
Hansen has been sounding the global-warming alarm, as well as putting forth actions needed to tackle the problem, for nearly three decades. In 1981 he and a team of scientists at Goddard reached the conclusion that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would lead to global warming sooner than previously predicted—that, in fact, changes were already taking place. And while getting policy makers to listen, let alone act, was an uphill battle to begin with, government efforts to muzzle and even undermine science became an art form under the Bush Administration. Government officials worked hard to keep Hansen on a short leash, editing his public statements and interviews. This frustration came to a head when Hansen spoke out on 60 Minutes, noting government efforts to suppress his assertions that 2005 was the warmest year on record.
The good news is that the chilling story of how high-level NASA political appointees tried to control scientists’ conversations with the media, especially about climate science and global warming, has now been told, with Hansen’s blessings, by local author Dr. Mark Bowen (Thin Ice: Unlocking the Secrets of Climate in the World’s Highest Mountains, 2005). On June 1, Bowen will introduce Hansen and provide us with insight into the machinations of writing his newly released book, Censoring Science: Inside the Political Attack on Dr. James Hansen and the Truth of Global Warming. With his firm grip on climate science and a flair for exposing what amounts to a national embarrassment, Bowen reveals the underbelly of a misguided government effort to play up the uncertainties and minimize the looming threat of global warming. Aside from the censorship shenanigans, Bowen also tells the story of Hansen’s career, explains his science clearly in lay terms, and maps out his proposed solutions.
Hansen is no longer a voice crying in the wilderness. Skeptics aside, the world has begun to listen to him and the long list of other scientists urging us to get with the program. As Al Gore puts it, “When the history of the climate crisis is written, Hansen will be seen as the scientist with the most powerful and consistent voice calling for intelligent action to preserve our planet’s environment.” But listening and taking the dramatic, challenging, and (yes) revolutionary steps needed to mitigate the effects of climate change are two different things—we are still not acting.
“The implications are profound,” says Hansen, “and the only resolution is for humans to move to a fundamentally different energy pathway within a decade. Otherwise, it will be too late for one-third of the world’s animal and plant species and millions of the most vulnerable members of our own species.
“We may be able to preserve the remarkable planet on which civilization developed,” Hansen continues, “but it will not be easy: special interests are resistant to change and have inordinate power in our governments, especially in the United States. Understanding the nature and causes of climate change is essential to crafting solutions to our current crisis.” (State of the Wild -2008-2009, “Tipping Point: Perspective of a Climatologist”)
The Lexington Global Warming Action Coalition (GWAC) is distinctly honored to present James Hansen and Mark Bowen on June 1 at 7:30 pm at Cary Hall, 1605 Massachusetts Ave. in Lexington. Admission is $5. For more information, go to www.LexGWAC.org.