Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Eli Appreciates James Hansen

James Hansen retired today as Director of the Goddard Institute for Space Science.  Justin Gillis summarizes the political and policy nexus that motivated Hansen to retire.  This was Hansen's decision impelled by his concern for the future.

There have been many descriptions of Hansen's contributions to climate science, some of them even at Rabett Run, but Eli would like to point to yet another facet of a remarkable career:  GISS.

GISS was founded in 1961 to accommodate Robert Jastrow who did not want to move down to DC to join NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.  The emphasis as shown by their publications was on space studies and planetary science.  The world is a small place, at least at certain levels, and Jastrow, together with Fred Seitz and William Nierenberg founded the Marshall Institute, which starting from when it was founded led a push back against climate science. 

Jastrow was (Eli hears) forced to resign in 1981, running afoul of civil service rules, at which point Hansen, who had come to GISS in 1967 as a post doc, became director.  By that time Jim Hansen's interests had shifted away from the morning star, Venus, to the most important planet, the Earth, and he changed the emphasis at GISS and assembling a great team.  Eli has often wondered about how the relationship between Jastrow and Hansen shaped the denial of the Marshall three about human driven climate change.  It is also fitting that Hansen has won the Nierenberg Prize for science in the public interest.

NASA by nature is a funny beast.  As is the case for most federal laboratories, it has more contractors than civil servants.  GISS is exceptional, only ~20% of the staff is civil service.  That means that a budget has to be raised each year to fund them.  The total staff including civil servants today is about 140.   Ones that the bunnies are most familiar with include Andy Lacis, David Rind, Drew Shindell, Gavin Schmidt, and Hansen's close collaborators Makiko Sato and Reto Ruedy. 

Because Hansen is not a gifted orator, his delivery being kind of Iowa flat, he is easy to underestimate but his appointment as Director of GISS at a relatively early age, his negotiation of the NASA shark tank over thirty years, the way in which he destroyed the 2005 attempt to muzzle him, are testimony to his mastery.   Further, Hansen has displayed a rare ability to capture political and press attention for the issue of climate change starting with congressional testimony in the 1980s and continuing today with his use of non-violent protests to mobilize opposition to the Keystone Pipeline.  Hansen has always been three steps ahead of his detractors. 

Two short stories capture Hansen's style.  When Steve McIntyre started to download the entire GISSTemp data base, in a convincing imitation of a DOS attach which locked others out and was in turn dumped by the webmaster, McIntyre raised an almighty whine.  Hansen's reaction?
There are some desperate characters trying to make a mountain out of a mole hill.
Do we want to lower ourselves to debating with a court jester? Of course that's what he wants.

I don't have a strong preference as long as it is not taking a significant amount of my time.

I have not read the stuff you are referring to [McIntyre's whinge to Town Hall], but as I recall, as soon as I was told about the matter, I said that he was welcome to the data
The second may be apocryphal.  When told that a colleague after much work and study had concluded that, yes, Hansen was right and climate change was a major problem, Hansen, as Eli recalls replied something like "That's good, but what is he going to do about it?"

And that is the question that James Hansen answered today.


kT said...

kT doesn't appreciate Eli Kintisch.

Only a complete idiot and a moron would quote Morano in this matter.

willard said...

The Auditor appreciated the "jester" remark:

> Better A Jester than Adjuster

Anonymous said...

His outspoken opposition to cap and trade really pissed me off. A few words of grudging acceptance on the issue would have been worth more than all the Keystone drama put together.

Best of luck to him.


KAP said...

It might be worthwhile noting that what is perhaps Hansen's final published paper while under GISS employ recently appeared in Environmental Science & Technology, in which he computes that nuclear power has prevented 1.8 million deaths since 1971.

kT said...

I guess you'll have to subtract several hundred thousand horrible deaths from that number related to two cities that were destroyed.

What is the death handicap for real actual instantaneous vaporization, horrible burns and slow painful death, compared to say, hypothetical lives saved? Three to one? Four?

There are things that Mr. Hansen knows and does well, and things where he is entirely out of league.

Anonymous said...

Jim Hansen answered the question "what are you going to do about it" long ago " and answers it every time he speaks out against the Keystone pipeline.

Perhaps it is time others -- like Obama -- answered it.

Hansen is right (Keystone XL: The pipeline to disaster)

"The president stands at a fork in the road: Rejecting the pipeline will show the world we are serious and determined to be on the right side of history. Approving it will signal we are too entrenched with business-as-usual to do what's right by the people, planet and future generations.

"All of President Obama's achievements will fade if he doesn't act swiftly and decisively on climate change. Rejecting Keystone is the first step."

Hansen is a no BS kind of guy, who in that piece also dispenses with all the "rationales" for why Obama's decision "makes no difference".

The latter are basically BS excuses meant to provide political "cover" (just like the EIS).

The excuses might convince his supporters, but I suspect that future generations will not look kindly on them -- and on him -- especially given that it is so easy for the Obama to do right by future generations in the case of Keystone.


Anonymous said...

Hansen's concerns about cap and trade (particularly about the mammoth very opaque bill that was proposed) were actually well-founded.

But his opposition had little impact on the rejection by the Senate, at any rate.

The problem is not the scientists.

It's the politicians.

President Obama had far more potential influence than Hansen or any other scientist could even imagine having in their wildest dreams, but Obama, who actually could have made a difference, instead chose to effectively sit on the sidelines.

And is STILL sitting on the sidelines.

Good at getting elected, though.

And talking (Obama’s Climate Hypocrisy: We Need People In DC ‘Willing To Speak Truth To Power … To Take Some Risks Politically’ )


Anonymous said...

Jim Hansen is a true hero.

History will remember him infinitely more kindly than anyone on the delaying side of the matter, where the latter are remembered at all. If only there were more like him.

If only Obama or Gillard had his courage, understanding and vision.

Bernard J.

Anonymous said...

kT wrote:

What is the death handicap for real actual instantaneous vaporization, horrible burns and slow painful death, compared to say, hypothetical lives saved? Three to one? Four?

His paper was on nuclear power, not nuclear weapons.

yea-mon, for whom OpenID is not working here...