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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

20 Years of Urgency

Air Date: Week of

James Hansen (Courtesy of NASA)

NASA scientist James Hansen marked the 20th anniversary of his testimony before Congress in which he declared human-caused global warming a threat to the planet by restating his concerns before Congress.


GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts – it’s Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman, in for Steve Curwood.

According to a new report by the Federal Energy Information Administration, the world’s demand for energy will increase by 50 percent over the next two decades. Most will come from coal, gas and oil. Ironically, the study was released precisely 20 years to the day that NASA scientist James Hansen testified before congress that global warming - caused by the burning of fossil fuels - was a threat to the planet.

June 23, 1988 was a sweltering day in Washington - the hottest on record - and Dr. Hansen certainly took some heat for his public position. He was lambasted by climate change deniers and nearly lost his government job.

This past week, to commemorate that anniversary, Dr. Hansen was invited to testify before a House Special Committee on Global Warming and at a National Press Club luncheon in his honor he was toasted by former Colorado Senator Tim Wirth.

WIRTH: Jim Hansen is a hero of science, a hero of our planet, and our honored guest today. So please join me in welcoming Dr. James Hansen.


GELLERMAN: But in the 20 years since Hansen first warned lawmakers of human caused climate change, Congress hasn’t passed any law mandating cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Dr. James Hansen:

James Hansen (Courtesy of NASA)

HANSEN: Actually it’s not a time to celebrate. Although this issue has become popular, the fact of the matter is that emissions are continuing basically unfettered.

GELLERMAN: Since Hansen’s 1988 testimony 21 new coal-fired power plants have been built in the US, and our emissions of carbon dioxide have climbed 18 percent. Hansen blames energy company executives for inaction:

HANSEN: It’s largely because of fossil fuels special interests who have supported what I would call misinformation. In my opinion I say if they don’t change their tactics that they’re guilty of crimes against humanity and nature.

GELLERMAN: Time is not on our side warns James Hansen. Back in 1988, when he first testified, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 350 parts per million. He calls that, “a tipping point” for the planet.

HANSEN: I can say with a very high degree of confidence - I would say that more than 99.9 percent certain - that the safe level of CO2 is no more than 350 ppm - the long-term safe level. And we have already passed that level.



James Hansen’s website


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