Where do our nation’s best and brightest meteorologists work? According to the American Meteorological Society (AMS), the answer is NASA. And Dr. James E. Hansen, the director of the NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS) in New York, is one of the best.
This year, Hansen received the Carl-Gustaf Rossby Research Medal from the A.M.S. for his outstanding contributions to the understanding of the structure and behavior of the atmosphere. The award, the highest honor the A.M.S. can bestow, is named after Carl-Gustaf Rossby who was one of the pioneers of research on the dynamics and thermodynamics of the atmosphere. The A.M.S. awarded Hansen specifically for his “contributions to climate modeling, understanding climate change forcings and sensitivity” and his ability to communicate his findings in a tangible way to the public.
Hansen’s activism, including a recent testimony before House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, is largely responsible for the increasing awareness of the American public about global warming.
"The debate about global change is often emotional and controversial, and Jim has had the courage to stand up and say what others did not want to hear,” said Franco Einaudi, director of the Earth Sciences Division at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. “His success is due in part to his personality, in part to his scientific achievements, and in part to his refusing to sit on the sidelines of the debate."
Part of not sitting on the sidelines meant arousing the ire of the last administration. In a lecture in December of 2005, Dr. Hansen stated that significant cuts could be made to reduce global warming emissions with current technology and that the United States should be a global leader on such efforts.
Shortly thereafter, Dr. Hansen received calls from NASA headquarters officials through NASA public affairs warning him of the consequences of his actions – in defying the Bush Administration, not in trying to save the planet. He was put under restrictions, requiring his lectures to be reviewed ahead of time and allowing his supervisors to substitute themselves for him in scheduled media interviews.
In an interview with the New York Times, Dr. Hansen said he did not regret the criticisms he has faced for stepping into the policy fight as a scientist.
“I only regret that we haven’t gotten the story across as well as it needs to be,” he said. “And I think we’re running out of time.”
Dr. Hansen began his career at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in 1967 as a researcher, focusing on the effects of human actions on the environment. His first big splash in the political arena was at a Senate Energy Committee hearing in 1988. There, he testified that carbon dioxide and greenhouses gasses, primarily from burning fossil fuels, were perceptibly affecting the earth’s atmosphere.
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