It was 20 years ago today that NASA climate scientist James Hansen warned a purposely sweltering Senate hearing room that rising temperatures were due to a "greenhouse effect" caused by the buildup of carbon dioxide and other pollutants in the atmosphere. Environment reporter Andrew Revkin set the table for Hansen's valedictory appearanceon Capitol Hill in a large article in Monday's paper, "Years Later, Climatologist Renews His Call for Action."
But another paper, the U.K. Guardian, would get some genuine, and deeply disturbing, news aboutHansen. In an interview he granted to Ed Pilkington of the U.K. Guardian newspaper, Hansen, sounding more Stalinist than scientist,called for certain oil executives to be put on trial for "high crimes against humanity" for their denial of global warming.
James Hansen, one of the world's leading climate scientists, will today call for the chief executives of large fossil fuel companies to be put on trial for high crimes against humanity and nature, accusing them of actively spreading doubt about global warming in the same way that tobacco companies blurred the links between smoking and cancer.
Speaking before Congress again, he will accuse the chief executive officers of companies such as ExxonMobil and Peabody Energy of being fully aware of the disinformation about climate change they are spreading.
In an interview with the Guardian he said: "When you are in that kind of position, as the CEO of one the primary players who have been putting out misinformation even via organisations that affect what gets into school textbooks, then I think that's a crime."
On Monday night, Revkin posted a review of Hansen's testimony, "Are Big Oil and Big Coal Climate Criminals?" to his fairly obscure nytimes.com blog Dot Earth, referring to Hansen's call for criminal trials merely as "strong words."
There were no climate-science bombshells from James E. Hansen today on his trip to Capitol Hill at the invitation of some House Democrats, who wanted to commemorate his momentous global warming testimony 20 years earlier. On that front, he said everything he has been saying for years: unabated warming would erode the ice sheets, flood coastal cities and drive many species into extinction.
But there was a much discussed recommendation in both his oral presentation and a written statement he prepared beforehand: that the heads of oil and coal companies who knowingly delayed action on curbing greenhouse gas emissions were committing a crime. "These CEO's, these captains of industry," he said in the briefing, "in my opinion, if they don't change their tactics they're guilty of crimes against humanity and nature." He made the point more strongly in a written statement summarizing his talk (posted below).
He has used strong words and imagery before to drive home points, including comparing cordons of coal cars heading to power plants to the death trains of the Holocaust (because of the mass extinctions foreseen by many biologists should warming go unabated).
Dr. Hansen's allegations of criminality were already reverberating on the Web earlier in the day after Rush Limbaugh and other conservative commentators circulated excerpts from a story in the Guardian newspaper of Britain quoting Dr. Hansen on this point.
Revkin quoted Hansen's statement:
CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of long-term consequences of continued business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.
Conviction of ExxonMobil and Peabody Coal CEOs will be no consolation, if we pass on a runaway climate to our children. Humanity would be impoverished by ravages of continually shifting shorelines and intensification of regional climate extremes. Loss of countless species would leave a more desolate planet.
That's all online at nytimes.com. After devoting so much space setting the table for Hansen on Monday, how did the Times handle his actual testimony and disturbing comments in its Tuesday print edition? By totally ignoring them.