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"Stabilizing climate is a moral issue, a matter of
James Hansen is one of the world's most prominent and
influential climate scientists, chief climate scientist
at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York,
and adjunct professor
at the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia
The main area of GISS' scientific research is
the prediction of atmospheric and climate change during the 21st
Century, combining analysis of global datasets with modelling of
atmospheric, land surface, and oceanic processes. Hansen has led
GISS since 1981.
He was educated
at the University of Iowa, where he obtained a BA in physics and
mathematics, an MSc in astronomy and in 1967 a PhD in Physics
cloud formation on Venus. After university, he went directly to
work at GISS.
Hansen's main research
area is the development of global climate models which simulate
current climate patterns and create projections of human impacts on
future climate. He has published
more than 140 peer-reviewed papers on climate science.
Raising awareness of climate change
Hansen was one of the first climate scientists to warn about the
dangers of global warming. In testimony given to the US Congress in
1988 he said: "It
was 99 percent certain that the warming trend was not a natural
variation but was caused by a buildup of carbon dioxide and other
artificial gases in the atmosphere."
He also provided three computer model projections of global
temperatures based on varying future levels of C02 emissions.
Hansen's scenario A overestimated temperature rise. However, there
is disagreement among scientists as to whether
scenario B or
scenario C forecasted temperature rises more accurately.
Hansen's testimony has been regarded as pivotal in bringing
climate change to the world's attention. Shortly afterwards Hansen
chose to stop working through the
media, stating: "I don't consider myself a communicator, I'm a
scientist… I think that's what I do best."
Hansen returned to advocacy on climate issues in 2004,
driven by his belief that "there was a gap between what was
understood by the relevant scientific community, and what was known
by the public - people who need to know". Since then Hansen has
been a vocal advocate for urgent action on climate change, which he
describes as an 'emergency'.
In 2006 Hansen claimed the
Bush administration had tried to prevent him speaking about the
necessity of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Hansen is a vocal opponent of the continued use of coal as a
fuel, and has called for the USA to abolish
the practice of 'mountaintop-removal' for coal mining. He has
written to world leaders to ask them to place a moratorium on
new coal-fired power plants. He claims that "coal is the single
greatest threat to civilization and all life on our
He has been
arrested twice while taking part in civil disobedience against
the continued use of
coal as a fuel. In 2011, he appeared as a witness at the trial
of 20 environmental activists who intended to shut down a coal
power plant at Ratcliffe-on-Soar, having
previously appeared as an expert witness in the trial of six
Greenpeace campaigners who were acquitted of similar charges.
Hansen defended the action as
understandable, saying: "The fact that we continue to burn more
coal and build more coal plants shows governments are not telling
essay on his activism he wrote:
"To the young people I say: stand up for
your rights - demand that the government be honest and address the
consequences of their policies… I look forward to standing with
young people and their supporters, helping them develop their case,
as they demand their proper due and fight for nature and their
future. I guess that makes me an activist."
Hansen has been
criticised for his advocacy and campaigning activities, and his
relevance has been questioned. Joe Romm, author of the Climate Progress blog has
Hansen's campaigning that: "The right wing loves what he's
doing". He has been accused of having close relationships with the
Democratic party. However, in a statement
of political inclinations he declared "I do not have close
political ties to a political party."
Hansen advocates a carbon tax and has opposed the introduction
of 'cap and trade' systems in the USA.
In 1996 Hansen was elected as a
member of the US National Academy of Sciences. He has received
for his work, including the John Heinz Environment Award, the Roger
Revelle Medal from the American Geophysical Union (AGU) and the
Carl-Gustaf Rossby Research Medal from the American Meteorological
Society. In 2010, together with Bob
Watson, Hansen was awarded the Blue
Planet Prize, an international environment award dubbed the
'Japanese Nobel Prize'.
In 2009 Hansen published his first book, Storms of My
Please note - This material was last updated on 3/7/11
and has since been archived.