Communicating climate science is defined activism

Renowned climatologist and Head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies James Hansen recently wrote a short essay, explaining the path from developing scientific understanding, to improving civil implementation of that knowledge – or how he became ‘an activist’:

“[...] I was surprised by the question. I never considered myself an activist. I am a slow-paced taciturn scientist from the Midwest. Most of my relatives are pretty conservative. I can imagine attitudes at home toward ‘activists’.

I was about to protest the characterization – but I had been arrested, more than once. And I had testified in defence of others who had broken the law. Sure, we only meant to draw attention to problems of continued fossil fuel addiction. But weren’t there other ways to do that in a democracy? How had I been sucked into being an ‘activist’?

My grandchildren had a lot to do with it. It happened step-by-step. First, in 2004, I broke a 15-year self-imposed effort to stay out of the media. I gave a public lecture, backed by scientific papers, showing the need to slow greenhouse gas emissions – and I criticized the Bush administration for lack of appropriate policies. My grandchildren came into the talk only as props – holding 1-watt Christmas tree bulbs to help explain climate forcings.

Fourteen months later I gave another public talk – connecting the dots from global warming to policy implications to criticisms of the fossil fuel industry for promoting misinformation. This time my grandchildren provided rationalization for a talk likely to draw Administration ire: I explained that I did not want my children to look back and say ‘Opa understood what was happening, but he never made it clear’[...]”

Hansen’s work concludes the ‘safe’ limit for atmospheric CO2 lies at no more than 350 ppm. Hansen wrote his essay (full, PDF) for a recently published environmental photo book, titled ‘The Day After Tomorrow: Images of Our Earth in Crisis’.

[Your editors want to make it clear we never saw a movie with a similar title.]

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