James Hansen

Climate Activist

U.S. Mission / Eric Bridiers

In the fight for justice there is a group of justice warriors that are so often ignored. They are the people who are not only fighting for a better world today, but fighting to ensure that we and our coming generations have a stable environment in the future. These forgotten heroes, the climate activists, are tackling governments, corporations and deniers.
These people have devoted their lives questioning and challenging our governments on their negligence and inaction, which has caused our planet to go down a road of perpetual damage. They are not only fighting for our existence, but that of our future generations.
One such man is James Hansen, an Iowan man who lead NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies for 46 years and is known as the ‘father of climate change’.
In 1988 James Hansen became the first scientist to offer ‘unassailable evidence that burning fossil fuels is heating up the planet’ in a testimony to Congress. Considered a controversial statement at the time and in the years to follow, Hansen was faced with what he calls restrictions on his words by both the Bush administration and NASA.
Hansen could’ve chosen to remain quiet in order to preserve his post at NASA, however he understood that ‘global warming is one of the most serious problems that we as a society and as a species face’. He also acknowledged the responsibility he had to speak truth to power, therefore in 2006 Hansen appeared on 60 minutes stating that Bush administration had edited climate-related press releases reported by Federal Agencies to make global warming seem less threatening. He also exposed how NASA had tried to silence him by controlling who he can be interviewed by and what they ask. Although NASA was forced to end this censorship, Hansen noted in his 2012 TED talk that soon after this ordeal, NASA removed the first line of it’s mission statement “To understand and protect the home planet,” as he was using this phrase to justify his speak outs.
Hansen did not only speak out against the governments inaction in addressing the increasing danger of greenhouse gases, he also actively took to the streets to protest policies and mining procedures. The scarcity of having a leading NASA scientist protesting out the front of the White House created media controversy as scientists weren’t expected or ever publicly seen to have such an “activist” drive. But more importantly, his active stance woke many ordinary people up to the imminent danger climate change poses to our existence and inspired many people to also join the fight in raising the issue of greenhouse gases and hold our leaders accountable for any inaction regarding it.
Jeff Goodell, of Rolling Stones interviewed Hansen in which he writes, “When I ran into him at an anti-coal rally in Washington, D.C., in 2009, he was wearing a trench coat and a floppy boater hat. I asked him, “Are you ready to get arrested?” He looked a bit uneasy, but then smiled and said, “If that’s what it takes.”
Indeed, he meant those words, as James was arrested several times during protests. In June 2009 he was arrested along with 30 other activist as they protested against a mountain top mining removal in West Virginia. In 2011 and 2013 he was arrested in front of the White House gates as he protested the highly contested Keystone Pipeline project that would ‘seal the country’s dependence on “dirty fuels,” adding to the emissions of greenhouse gases and the warming of the planet. It would also disrupt various ecosystems as it would slice through critical habitats’.
In April 2013 James Hansen left NASA with the aim of stepping up legal action against the government, something he was restricted to do as a government employee. One such landmark case that is still on-going is a lawsuit where twenty one youth are looking to sue the Government over Climate Change. Hansen is serving as the scientific advisor. The suit states, ‘By failing to take action against global warming, the federal government has violated its legal obligation to protect the atmosphere as a resource that belongs to everyone’.
James Hansen has won many awards, in 2016 he was listed in ‘Time Magazines 100 most influential people’. He has also received ‘American Association for the Advancement of Science’ Award for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility, for his ‘courageous and steadfast advocacy in support of scientists’ responsibilities to communicate their scientific opinions and findings openly and honestly on matters of public importance’.
But his greatest achievement that cannot be materialised is that he provided the knowledge and the manner in which to fight for climate justice. With staunch conviction, and an unwavering drive to expose the true corporate interests for the public to see. He taught the next generation the importance of direct action and dispelled the myth that political activism is restricted to certain individuals. Anyone with a conscience and desire for a prosperous and more just world has an obligation to ensure that action is taken when our environment is abused by governments and corporations for monetary gain at the expense of our future.
People say that some heroes of justice use action, while others use the power of their pen to educate the masses. However, Hansen has and continues to prove that one is not restricted to either one, both forms of struggle can be fought at the same time

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