One of the most well-respected climatologists in the world, James Hansen was pissed off about global warming way before it was cool to be 'green' — like, 1988. He's such a baddass that in 2006 he took on his employer, NASA, and the Bush Administration, publicly accusing them of supressing his research, which provided damning evidence that humans were causing global warming. But he's far from finished. Today marks the 20th anniversary of his climate crusading, and in a speech before Congress today he's planning to ask lawmakers to send the CEOs of oil companies to jail for spreading lies about climate change.
Al Gore may be the #1 movie star of the neo-green, anti-global warming set, but Hansen's the guy with the scientific chops — so when he talks, Congress listens. Sort of. More like they listen in the 'let's call a hearing, we're somewhat concerned' way, rather than the 'holy shit we'd better do something' way.
Now Hansen's got another shot at a hearing, and he wants the heads of big oil companies behind bars for what he sees as their purposeful attempts to trick the world into thinking that global warming is no big deal:
Speaking before Congress again, he will accuse the chief executive officers of companies such as ExxonMobil and Peabody Energy of being fully aware of the disinformation about climate change they are spreading.
He is also considering personally targeting members of Congress who have a poor track record on climate change in the coming November elections. He will campaign to have several of them unseated. 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. At a time when most scientists were still hesitant to speak out, he said the evidence of the greenhouse gas effect was 99% certain, adding "it is time to stop waffling".
He will tell the House select committee on energy independence and global warming this afternoon that he is now 99% certain that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has already risen beyond the safe level.
The current concentration is 385 parts per million and is rising by 2ppm a year. Hansen, who heads NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, says 2009 will be a crucial year, with a new US president and talks on how to follow the Kyoto agreement.
He wants to see a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants, coupled with the creation of a huge grid of low-loss electric power lines buried under ground and spread across America, in order to give wind and solar power a chance of competing. "The new US president would have to take the initiative analogous to Kennedy's decision to go to the moon."
His sharpest words are reserved for the special interests he blames for public confusion about the nature of the global warming threat. "The problem is not political will, it's the alligator shoes - the lobbyists. It's the fact that money talks in Washington, and that democracy is not working the way it's intended to work."
Anyone who's willing to speak truth to power is OK in my book, but one hopes Dr. Hansen isn't committing political suicide here. Going before Congress with plans to strip out lobbyists' influence and jail the leaders of some of the most profitable companies in America? Noble, but not likely. And maybe you don't want to mention the part about trying to have members of Congress unseated? Telling people 'listen to me or I'm going to have you fired' isn't really a good idea unless you're their boss.