On Wednesday, March 8, Dr. Jim Hansen, an atmospheric physicist turned activist, spoke to a concert hall packed with students, professors, and community members.
Hansen was born into a tenant-farming family in Denison, Iowa, and completed his B.A., M.S., and Ph.D. at the University of Iowa in the 1960s. He began his career researching the atmosphere of Venus, but soon turned his attention to Earth’s atmosphere. He has contributed much to the fields of climate modeling and atmospheric aerosols and trace gas research. From 1981 to 2013, Hansen lead the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. He is now the director of the Columbia University Earth Institute’s Program on Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions.
Hansen, who has been arrested five times, is a vocal advocate for climate action (see his TED talk, “Why I must speak out about climate change”). He blazed trails for scientist-activists when he testified before a congressional committee in 1988 about the reality of climate change. He was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2006.
Hansen’s talk, entitled “Global Climate Change: How Can Young People Take Charge of Their Future?,” began with an overview of the causes and effects of climate change. He highlighted the massive injustices—intergenerational, international, and interspecies—of climate change. He pinned the blame for climate change on countries where per capita, rather than total, greenhouse gas emissions have historically been highest.
Hansen spoke about the need, as he sees it, for the birth of a third American political party (perhaps called the “American Revolutionary Party”), that would be independent of donations from special interest. He advocated for market-based methods of emissions reductions. Specifically, he called for a carbon fee to be collected from fossil fuel companies at the domestic site of extraction or the port of entry, generating dividends to be paid out equally to all American citizens. This solution would effectively raise the price of products with high fossil fuel content, while stimulating the economy through paybacks to the American people. He emphasized many times throughout his talk the need for the US, because of its revolutionary political history and potential for innovation, to “lead” on issues of sustainability.
Hansen concluded his talk with a statement to young people: “Sorry to leave you with such a friggin’ mess.”
– Sophia Schmidt ‘17