Ben Powless
NASA Climate Scientist James Hansen was arrested on August 29, 2011, at an anti-Keystone XL rally.

Veteran NASA Climate Scientist James Hansen Leaves Government to Fight Climate Change and Keystone XL

April 03, 2013

The Keystone XL pipeline is in James Hansen’s sights as the famed climate scientist retires from NASA, where he has worked for more than 40 years, in order to spread the message about climate change full-time.

The veteran scientist, who has been arrested at least four times at rallies against the Keystone XL oil pipeline project, will step down this week, NASA said in a statement on April 1. For the past 46 years Hansen has worked at the agency’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York City, from which perch he has spread the word about the changing climate and its effect on future generations. He has headed the institute since 1981. 

“His departure … will deprive federally sponsored climate research of its best-known public figure,” The New York Times reported, but added, “At 72, he said, he feels a moral obligation to step up his activism in his remaining years.”

He has already done plenty during his years at NASA, including testifying before Congress and predicting many of the changes that are taking place today. In fact, as The Washington Post reports, he was among the first to warn Congress, back in 1988, that greenhouse gases threatened to cook the Earth, in testimony that “was one of the first and clearest public statements on global warming.” 

“It is time to stop waffling so much and say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here,” he told Congress then, according to The Washington Post. He also predicted ice melt, cautioned that the risks of sea-level rise were being underestimated by science, and said that the international community is not adequately addressing climate change. Most recently he has been extremely outspoken against further development in the Alberta oil sands of Canada, particularly the Keystone XL pipeline that is under review by the U.S. government and opposed by many tribes. 

To do this he “plans to take a more active role in lawsuits challenging the federal and state governments” for not issuing stricter emissions standards and for the governments’ support of extracting sludgy bituminous crude from the Alberta oil sands in Canada, The New York Times said. 

“If we burn even a substantial fraction of the fossil fuels, we guarantee there’s going to be unstoppable changes,” Hansen told The New York Times, warning of a tipping point for Earth. “We’re going to leave a situation for young people and future generations that they may have no way to deal with.”

Below, a talk Hansen gave in 2011 outlining his fears about the climate and how humans are decimating the environment that sustains us.