NASA's chief climate scientist, James Hansen, has been warning Congress about the dangers of climate change for 20 years. The U.S. government still isn't responding, so Hansen is taking his call for action to the streets, first in Washington, D.C., and now in the UK.
Protests and civil disobedience may be the only way to force action on climate change, with corporate lobbyists undermining the democratic process and politicians ignoring the scientists and the citizens, Hansen told the Guardian newspaper today.
"What is frustrating people, me included, is that democratic action affects elections, but what we get then from political leaders is greenwash.
"The democratic process is supposed to be one person one vote, but it turns out that money is talking louder than the votes. So, I'm not surprised that people are getting frustrated. I think that peaceful demonstration is not out of order, because we're running out of time."
Hansen, in the UK for tomorrow's protest at the headquarters of energy giant E.ON, is calling for a worldwide moratorium on greenhouse gas-producing coal-fired power plants. He made the same appeal earlier this month in Washington when he urged hundreds of people to join him in a rally for climate action at the Capitol Power Plant, a coal-fired plant that powers Capitol Hill.
In the video above, Hansen explains his motivations during that March 2 rally:
"There are people in the policy arena who would rather not hear this, so somebody has to do it. ... We have to draw attention to make it clear that we want the actions that actually solve the problem."
Right-wingers have been making a lot of noise about the director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies calling for civil disobedience. But Hansen says he isn't protesting as a NASA official, he is protesting as a citizen who sees a serious problem being ignored by the people in power.
As he explains in the video, when asked if it was appropriate for him to be engaging in civil disobedience given his employment as a government scientist:
"I haven't given up my rights as a U.S. citizen, and freedom of speech of is one of them."
Scientists around the globe have increasingly been speaking publicly in harsh but realistic terms about the dangers of climate change for the same reasons Hansen cites: Their governments aren't listening and their populations are in denial.
That was a concern expressed by several scientists at an emergency conference in Copenhagen last week that was called to update the increasingly disturbing evidence that climate change is happening faster than thought. French glaciologist Claude Lorius summed their concerns up for AFP: "I fear that society is not up to the challenge of a crisis like this."
The world's governments are working toward a climate deal next December in Copenhagen, this time with a U.S. president who wants to help lead the way. But Hansen isn't optimistic that they will sign an agreement that is strong enough. He told the Guardian that the "cap-and-trade with offsets and escape hatches" approach is "guaranteed to fail in terms of getting the required rapid reduction in emissions."
In the United States, the Obama administration, not yet two months old, is already setting out a framework to begin reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, the administration's intentions for the Copenhagen deal aren't yet clear, and that worries Hansen.
- "If they are going to support cap-and-trade, then unfortunately I think that will be another case of greenwash. It's going to take stronger action than that."