Published on Tuesday, December 14, 2010 by The Guardian/UK
Ratcliffe Coal Trial
Nasa's top climate scientist Jim Hansen told a jury at the trial of 20 environmental activists that he had begun speaking out about climate change again in the past five years because of his grandchildren.
James Hansen, whose speech to Congress in 1988 is seen as pivotal in first bringing climate change to the world’s attention. Photograph
"I did not want them to say
The activists were found guilty of conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass by the court today, and could now face suspended prison sentences.
Hansen had flown overnight from his home in the
During his two-hour testimony and cross-examination, Ed Rees QC, for the defence, stopped him repeatedly to ask him to explain the technical terms he was using. But the message he delivered was the clearest – and starkest – crash course in climate change the jury, the judge and members of the public in the gallery are ever likely to get.
Hansen, whose speech to Congress in 1988 is seen as pivotal in first bringing climate change to the world's attention, is well-versed in speaking out against the coal industry.
The day after last Monday's trial, he flew to
In his witness statement submitted for last week's case, he argues that if the burning of coal continues to grow at its current rate, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will rise to between 500 and 600 parts per million. This is way above the current level – of about 389ppm – and the maximum level considered safe by an increasing number of scientists of 350ppm.
The Guardian interviewed Hansen at his hotel in
"What I realised is that the most important thing is
He is hopeful that
But he is scathing about discussions at the UN climate talks in Copenhagen  last year and Cancún, which reaches its climax today , over agreeing emissions targets, based on a cap-and-trade system. "Cap-and-trade with offsets will not work. Because by definition they are trying to trick you. By saying you can put a cap on but it's not going to make energy much more expensive – if it doesn't make energy much more expensive it's not going to be effective."
He is less positive about his own country. He points to the legal battle in the
Hansen is also critical of how the media often gives climate change sceptics prominence to ensure a "balanced" debate even though they are unrepresentative of the mainstream scientific community. Such media distortion of the argument – and powerful lobbying – means that in democracies "the public is misinformed". Asked if it was more a case of the public not wanting to believe the frightening realities of climate change, he adds
© 2010 Guardian News and Media Limited
URL to article
Donations can be sent to the
"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs