—Dr. James Hansen, former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies
Too often critics of climate change and global warming attack science they don’t understand. Usually they reveal their ignorance easily because they often refer to information they heard from someone who heard it from someone else.
And then there are critics of the messengers about climate change. As one example, Al Gore is criticized for being a former politician, and the argument is made that the real reason behind his efforts is so he can promote a socialist agenda.
Sometimes the scientists who try to pass on the facts about climate change are criticized because they aren’t really climate scientists. David Suzuki is a biologist and Bill Nye is an engineer, but they’re both excellent science educators and communicators, but it seems nothing will satisfy the skeptics and deniers. Wouldn’t it be great if we had a real climatologist who was also effective at getting his message across?
Say hello to Dr. James Hansen. He first studied planetary models in order to understand Venus’s atmosphere but was able to start looking at how the information he learned could apply to our own planet. He has been the director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies since 1981, and it was in 1988 that he first started to talk to the US congress about global warming and climate change, trying to encourage political action to avert disaster in the future.
A TED talk by Dr. Hansen explains his journey from climatologist to advocate for finding solutions to global warming. If you have 18 spare minutes I’d strongly recommend you watch this incredible lecture. He briefly summarizes how he became a climatologist working for NASA, and then moves on to share what he’s learned about our planet, and why he thinks it’s so crucial that we act on what the science has taught us as quickly as possible. He’s very emphatic in his message. As he puts it, “Imagine a giant asteroid on a direct collision course with Earth. That is the equivalent of what we face now [with climate change], yet we dither.”
When someone who understands the science and has made the study of climate change his life’s work, it seems self-evident to me that we should listen to him. Yes, there are scientists out there who make arguments against global warming being real, or that it’s not our fault but simply part of some larger natural cycle, but those scientists don’t have the credentials that Dr. Hansen does, nor do they have the body of evidence he has to support their fringe opinions. And yes, there are non-climatologists who try to pass on this message who are criticized because they’re non-climatologists, but they’re simply using their outstanding communication skills to educate the audience and let more people here this information. (You might be surprised to know that not every climatologist is an excellent public speaker.)
We’re all part of this planet, and we need to stop treating it like it’s a commodity. Rather, we need to think of our species as being just one part of a much larger ecosystem. Every disruption we cause leads to consequences, some of which are immediate—such as oil spills—but others may take decades or even centuries to properly understand. Climate change is one very important example. (I don’t expect James Watt who helped perfect the steam engine had any clue where the path to industrialization would take us.)
If we can achieve a more proper perspective given what we now know, then maybe we’ll be able to accomplish some real headway in the fight against climate change someday. With Dr. Hansen’s important message available for us to listen to, I certainly hope so.