James E. Hansen, the climate scientist who issued the clearest warning of the 20th century about the dangers of global warming, will retire from NASA this week, giving himself more freedom to pursue political and legal efforts to limit greenhouse gases.
His departure, after a 46-year career at the space agency’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan, will deprive federally sponsored climate research of its best-known public figure.
At the same time, retirement will allow Dr. Hansen to press his cause in court. He plans to take a more active role in lawsuits challenging the federal and state governments over their failure to limit emissions, for instance, as well as in fighting the development in Canada of a particularly dirty form of oil extracted from tar sands.
“As a government employee, you can’t testify against the government,” he said in an interview.
Dr. Hansen had already become an activist in recent years, taking vacation time from NASA to appear at climate protests and allowing himself to be arrested or cited a half-dozen times.
But those activities, going well beyond the usual role of government scientists, had raised eyebrows at NASA headquarters in Washington. “It was becoming clear that there were people in NASA who would be much happier if the ‘sideshow’ would exit,” Dr. Hansen said in an e-mail.
At 72, he said, he feels a moral obligation to step up his activism in his remaining years.
Hansen is frequently the target of sceptics in their attempts to destroy the reputation of scientists: he’d have to be a close second to Al Gore in their pantheon of cartoon villains.
I’ll be writing a longer post on this, however I will say this: Hansen is this generations Carl Sagan.
For some time people have bemoaned the fact we don’t have science communicator to rival Sagan. I beg to differ. For decades, Hansen has been outspoken in his attempts to alert humanity to the risk climate change poses. He has done so in talks, books, interviews and on the internet in the midst of what is perhaps one of the most difficult public debates of the last 50 years.
If you’ve not read his more recent book Storms of my grandchildren, do so:
Note: I will be closely monitoring comments that cross the line into ad hom attacks.