James Hansen

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Background & History

James Hansen is the former head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. He is currently adjunct professor, Columbia University

James Hansen is considered to be “the world’s leading promoter” of the theory of man-made climate change. Formerly an employee of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Hansen has devoted much of his career to spreading the word about what he believes to be a human-induced climate crisis. Hansen believes this “crisis” can only end when carbon dioxide production (CO2) is significantly reduced or halted entirely.

Hansen was born in 1941 in Denison, Iowa, where he grew up and was educated. At the University of Iowa, Hansen earned a B.A. in physics and mathematics and an M.S. in astronomy. After earning a Ph.D. in physics in 1967, also from the University of Iowa, Hansen accepted a post at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), where he became notable for his work studying the climate. Hansen’s first significant work at GISS was published in a 1981 issue of Science, and it suggested climate change was occurring and was driven largely by human activity.

Hansen rose to national prominence in 1988, when he testified to Congress about the looming threat of manmade climate change. The Guardian states: “Hansen’s speech to Congress on June 23, 1988, is seen as a seminal moment in bringing the threat of global warming to the public’s attention.”

Hansen claimed Earth’s temperature was higher than it had ever been in the history of instrumental measurements, and that the so-called “greenhouse effect” was the cause. Hansen said increased warming caused by man’s use of fossil fuels would lead to extreme weather events and presented a danger to millions around the world.

The speech persuaded some legislators that Hansen’s position was correct, but he used some less-than-admirable tactics to accomplish his goal. For instance, in an interview with PBS’s Frontline, Hansen’s sponsoring senator, Timothy Wirth (D-CO), said he orchestrated the hearing to be held on what is historically the hottest day of the year in Washington, DC. Additionally, Wirth also admitted to tampering with the temperature in the building: “[We] went in the night before and opened all the windows, I will admit, right? So that the air conditioning wasn’t working inside the room,” Wirth said. The result was a sweltering hearing, full of people wiping sweat from their brows. Studies show this ploy may have had a significant effect on those listening.”

Controversies

Statements About Federal Censorship

Since his 1988 testimony before Congress, Hansen has been at the forefront of global warming alarmism, spending much of his time making controversial statements – many of which later required further explanations, clarifications, or apologies.

In February 2006, Hansen set off a wave of controversy when he alleged he was being censored by President George W. Bush’s administration. While speaking at an environment and science panel at New School University, Hansen stated, “It seems more like Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union than the United States.” This statement stood in contrast to the fact Hansen gave more than 1,400 interviews on the taxpayer’s dime. When controversy arose, Hansen said, “For the sake of the taxpayers, they should be availed of my expertise.”

In October 2007, Hansen again became the center of controversy when he used language reminiscent of the Holocaust to illustrate the threat of global warming. While testifying in front of the Iowa Utilities Board, Hansen said, “If we cannot stop the building of more coal-fired power plants, those coal trains will be death trains – no less gruesome than if they were boxcars headed to crematoria, loaded with uncountable irreplaceable species.”

Deputy National Director of the Anti-Defamation League Kenneth Jacobson denounced Hansen, saying, “People who use these kinds of arguments, as Hansen did, are trying to be deliberately provocative, knowing full well that the Holocaust is the epitome of evil in the world … To resort to this kind of argumentation it also makes you wonder about the confidence he has in his own argument.” Hansen quickly issued an apology, saying, “I regret that my words caused pain to some readers. I hope that they will accept my apology for having caused discomfort, an apology that is heartfelt.”

Kraig R. Naasz, president and CEO of the National Mining Association, also sent a public letter to Hansen critical of his Holocaust remarks. “The suggestion that coal utilization for electricity generation can be equated with the systematic extermination of European Jewry is both repellant and preposterous,” Naasz wrote. “I believe you owe the hard working men and women of both the coal mining and railroad industries an apology and respectfully request that you refrain from making such comments in the future.”

Hansen responded with a with a less-than-heartfelt letter back, writing, “There is nothing scientifically invalid about [my statement]. If this [statement] makes you uncomfortable, well, perhaps it should.”

Hansen raised eyebrows again in June 2008 when he suggested fossil fuel executives should be put on trial for crimes against humanity for their contribution to global warming in an op-ed published by The Guardian. Hansen wrote, “CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of long-term consequences of continual business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.”

In February 2009, The Guardian published an op-ed by Hansen titled “Coal-fired power stations are death factories. Close them.” The article is full of extreme statements. For instance, Hansen wrote, “[C]oal is the single greatest threat to civilization and all life on our planet.” He also referred to trains carrying coal as “death trains” and again called coal-powered plants, “factories of death.”

Hansen uttered one of his most-outlandish public statements on global warming in a lecture at the Edinburgh International Science Festival in April 2012, in which he compared the fight to combat climate change to ending slavery. The Guardian reported: “Averting the worst consequences of human-induced climate change is a ‘great moral issue’ on par with slavery, according to the leading NASA climate scientist Prof Jim Hansen.”

False Forecasts

One of Hansen’s more embarrassing false forecasts was his contribution to the advancement of global cooling theories in the 1970s. Science published a study in 1971 by S. Ichtiaque Rasool and Stephen H. Shneider titled “Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide and Aerosols: Effects of Large Increases on Global Climate.” The study used computer models to suggest pollution particles in the atmosphere would cause a cooling effect in global temperatures. Hansen played a role in this study, a fact not discovered until decades after publication. He had, in fact, developed the computer models that helped lead to the study’s conclusions.

Hansen responded to growing claims of his involvement by admitting his involvement: “It was a ‘Mie scattering’ code I had written to calculate light scattering by spherical particles. … I was glad to let Rasool and Schnieder use that program.”

Encouraging Civil Disobedience

Another bit of controversy occurred in the months prior to the 2004 U.S. presidential elections, summarized by Discover the Networks.org:

“Soon after receiving a $250,000 award from Teresa Heinz Kerry’s Heinz Family Foundation (a major funder of left-wing environmental causes), Hansen, in a move considered highly unusual for a NASA scientist, endorsed the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004. He thereafter served as the primary climate advisor for Al Gore’s 2006 documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth.”

In 2009, Hansen was involved in another controversy when he published a video that encouraged people to engage in civil disobedience to propel action against manmade global warming. At the time, Hansen was still on the government payroll.

Various reactions to the video were reported in an article by Fox News titled “NASA’s Chief Climate Scientist Stirs Controversy With Call for Civil Disobedience.” Dr. John Theon, a former supervisor of Hansen, said in response: “I’m not surprised … The fact that Jim Hansen has gone off the deep end here is sad because he’s a good fellow.”

Hansen has been the target of many claims of ethical and academic dishonesty, most prominently by author Christopher Horner, who accused Hansen of manipulating data. Horner said: “He’s providing ample cause to question his employment on the taxpayer dime. He’s clearly abused his platform provided to him by the taxpayer, principally by the way he’s been exposed of manipulating and revising data with the strange coincidence of him always found on the side of exaggerating the warming.”

Horner claims Hansen manipulated data on at least two occasions, once in 2001 and another time in 2007. Horner outlines the details in his 2008 book Red Hot Lies: How Global Warming Alarmist Use Threats, Fraud, and Deception to Keep you Misinformed.

In 2011, the public learned of another ethics controversy surrounding Hansen. Discover the Networks covers this in detail:

“In 2011 it was reported that Hansen, in violation of ethics laws that regulate government contracts, had failed to publicly disclose $1.6 million he had earned in outside income, apart from his GISS salary. This included money to cover the costs associated with Hansen’s own transportation to speaking engagements and awards ceremonies around the world; legal services that were provided to him free-of-charge; and gifts from various supporters. In 2006, for instance, the World Wildlife Fund gave Hansen an engraved Montres Rolex watchworth at least $8,000, which Hansen illegally failed to report as a “gift” on his SF 278 financial-disclosure form.”

In 2013, Hansen retired from NASA, saying he wanted more time and freedom to pursue his life’s work of spreading the word about man-caused global warming.

Quotes

-“But while skepticism is the lifeblood of science, it can confuse the public.”

-“CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of long-term consequences of continued business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.”

-“Coal is the single greatest threat to civilization and all life on earth.”

-“The trains carrying coal to power plants are death trains.”

-“Coal-fired power plants are factories of death.”