Top NASA Scientist: “We've reached a Crisis”

CPS.MVI42.070408071004.photo00.quicklook.default-245x180Yesterday we saw that past Nobel chemistry winner Mario J. Molina come out and publically warn against the dangers of climate change. Today, NASA’s top climate scientist has come out to warn the same thing.

You’d think there was something wrong.

“We’ve already reached the dangerous level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” James Hansen, 67, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, told AFP, referring to the 385 parts per million “tipping point” that many fear cannot be reversed. “But there are ways to solve the problem.”

Hansen is also currently an adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University.

Hansen has submitted a paper to Science magazine, where he calls for the phasing out of all coal-fired plants by 2030, taxing their emissions until that point, and banning the building of any new plants unless they are specifically designed to trap and segregate the carbon dioxide they emit.

It’s an ambitious plan, and one that is going to be laughed right out of the public spotlight. But maybe that is what we need. Like the stories told of horse dealers who push for a hard deal on a horse they don’t want, so that they can get an easy deal on the horse they do want. Maybe Hansen is just setting his sights so high that we’ll at least reach a measure of success.

In 2006, Time Magazine named Hansen as one of the world’s 100 most influential people, and was also called before the US Congress last year where he said that “interference with communication of science to the public has been greater during the current administration than at any time in my career.”

Hansen believes that the fossil fuel industries are trying to hide the extent of the problem from the public, in a move which is eerily similar to that of tobacco companies several decades ago. “The problem is that 90 percent of energy is fossil fuels. And that is such a huge business, it has permeated our government,” he maintained. “What’s become clear to me in the past several years is that both the executive branch and the legislative branch are strongly influenced by special fossil fuel interests,” he added.

“The industry is misleading the public and policy makers about the cause of climate change. And that is analogous to what the cigarette manufacturers did. They knew smoking caused cancer, but they hired scientists who said that was not the case.”

To take this stand has taken courage, for Hansen openly acknowledges that he has stepped outside of the boundaries normally surrounding scientists. Instead of sticking to research, he has stepped in to public policy advocacy. But he does so because “in this particular situation we’ve reached a crisis.”
The policy makers, “the people who need to know are ignorant of the actual status of the matter, and the gravity of the matter, and most important, the urgency of the matter,” he charged.

“It’s analogous to an engineer who sees that there’s a flaw in the space shuttle before it is to be launched. You don’t have any choice. You have to say something. That’s really all that I’m doing,” he added.

Other stories concerning Hansen’s comments can be found at The Guardian, Grist, The Age and Business Green. Also check out Friends of Ethiopia for their take on it.

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