Senator John Heinz

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The Heinz Awards

2001

James Hansen

Dr. James Hansen receives the Heinz Award in the Environment for his exemplary leadership in the critical and often contentious debate over the threat of global climate change.

The theory that industrial pollution continues to create an atmospheric "greenhouse effect" or warming has pitted scientist against scientist and politician against politician. In the eye of the storm that swirls around this issue is Dr. Hansen. He calmly pursues his research while scrupulously maintaining his scientific credibility and modifying his views as new data and techniques have become available, all the while acting as a messenger from the esoteric world of computer climate models to the public and policymakers alike.

It was Dr. Hansen who, in the sweltering, drought-scorched summer of 1988, went where few scientists were willing to go - before Congress, to explain just how serious the potential for global warming truly was. Dr. Hansen courageously testified that the time had come to recognize that the "greenhouse effect" was real and that new and cleaner sources of energy had to be found. Time has validated his position.

The director of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, Dr. Hansen has collected and analyzed global surface temperatures and studied the earth's atmosphere since the 1970s. The advocacy role he has undertaken has placed him squarely in the uncomfortable role of serving as lightening rod in the debate. He is respected among his peers for his creativity, his intellectual rigor and flexibility, and his dogged pursuit of this pressing global problem. Dr. Hansen's critics, however, claim that his findings and computer models are uncertain, contradictory and prone to induce hysteria.

Easier to document, however, is that the 1990s proved to be the warmest decade in a millennium and in the process, changed many minds about the seriousness of global warming. Dr. Hansen continues to direct his research in ways that contribute both to the body of knowledge of climate systems and to the broader implications of public policy.

The deliberate, soft-spoken Dr. Hansen has also recognized the need and the potential for researchers to influence science education. In 1994, with Carolyn Harris, he founded the Institute on Climate and Planets at the Goddard Institute in collaboration with local public high schools and colleges. Teachers and selected inner-city students, many of them minorities, are given the opportunity to join research groups at the Institute during their summer vacations. After the summer program, they continue their work on the Internet. Inspired by this work, teachers have developed courses that have been offered to schools across the country, with some 20 high schools and colleges now partnering with the Institute. The idea to assist in the teaching of science in many high schools and colleges, to involve students who might otherwise not have access to these complex issues, and most important, to attract minority students into science as a career, has become a model for how research institutes may reach out to high school and undergraduate students.

Dr. James Hansen's work has thrust him into the center of a scientifically polarized and politically charged debate. It is to his credit that he has navigated these treacherous waters admirably and we are fortunate to have him pointing the way when scientific complexities and political ramifications provide such a challenge.

Note: This profile is excerpted from the commemorative brochure published at the time of the awards' presentation.


UPDATES SINCE RECEIVING THE HEINZ AWARD

December 2012 - James Hansen is awarded the $10,000 2012 Stephen Schneider Award for Climate Science Communication, given by Climate One, an initiative of the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco. - Yale Climate Connections

June 2010 - James Hansen was award the 2010 Sophie Prize for his reputation as an outstanding scientist who has combined his research with political activism based on personal conviction. The Sophie Prize is awarded to one or several persons, or an organisation, which has created awareness of alternatives to modern-day development and/or initiated such alternatives in a pioneering or particularly inventive manner. The Sophie Prize is an annual environment and sustainable development prize (US$ 100,000). - The Sophie Prize

June 2010 - James Hansen was one of two prominent climate scientists - one from Great Britain (Bob Watson) and one from the United States (Dr. Hansen) - chosen as the recipients of the 2010 Blue Planet Prize, an international environmental award which is considered to be Japan's equivalent of the Nobel Prize, with a monetary equivalent of over $550,000 for each awardee. - Environmental News Service

December 2009 - Climate scientist James Hansen's conviction that a climate catastrophe is looming prompted him, at the age of 68, to write his first book. The title, Storms of My Grandchildren, refers to the ferocity of extreme weather events that will greet the next generation if the unmitigated use of fossil fuels continues. - Nature

April 2009 - James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and David Foster, executive director of the Blue Green Alliance, are the first recipients of the Peter A. A. Berle Environmental Integrity Award, established to recognize demonstrated courage and integrity in defense of the environment. - Audubon Society

August 2008 - James Hansen, internationally-known climate scientist, received a 29th Annual Common Wealth Award of Distinguished Service. This prestigious award recognizes individuals who advance and enrich society through their life's work. The Common Wealth Awards of Distinguished Service were first presented in 1979 by the Common Wealth Trust, which honors the legacy of the late philanthropist Ralph Hayes. - Common Wealth Trust

March 2006 - Hansen appears on a 60 Minutes special entitled "Rewriting the Science". The special reports that the ice flow into the Atlantic ocean "has nearly doubled over the last five years."  Hansen continues to speak out on global warming despite attempts by NASA's public affairs office to restrict his comments. - Greenwire

December 2003 - Hansen publishes a report paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Co-authored with NASA scientist Larissa Nazarenko, the paper assert that soot, mostly from diesel engines, "is causing as much as a quarter of all observed global warming" because it reduces "the ability of snow and ice to reflect sunlight." - Associated Press

September 2002 - Hansen leads a study at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies which concluded that continued global warming will occur to the extent that "global temperature should rise by about 3 degrees Fahrenheit in the next 50 years." - Newsday

December 2001 - Hansen receives the Roger Revelle Medal for bringing "global change to the forefront" of current scientific research and concern - American Geophysical Union

Speech

3/5/2001 - Acceptance Speech

Thanks very much, Teresa. An Award named for John Heinz has special significance for me for reasons that I would like to explain. I seem fated to be known for my testimony to Congress in 1988 to Tim Wirth's committee, by the way. That was the year that global warming became popular. But, events of the next year stand out in my mind. One week in May of 1989, global warming was in the news almost every day. Beginning on Monday with a page one article in The New York Times, saying 'scientist says budget office altered his testimony,' and ending on Friday with an article 'U.S. in a shift ... seeks treaty on global warming.'

Understandably, some people in Washington felt that the issue was being pushed too fast, and indeed the scientific community was still trying to decide if global warming was real. I thought that I was in trouble, but behind the scenes, Senator Heinz called the President's Chief-of-Staff on my behalf, and he wrote a two page letter. It was a remarkable letter, showing his depth of understanding of the scientific problem, and also his interest in fair play.

Another characteristic of Senator Heinz was evident in a town meeting that he organized in Philadelphia. He wanted to hear all sides of the global warming story and to find a balanced approach. He was a strong environmentalist, but he also worked to improve the economy of Pennsylvania and the nation. He realized that these goals need not conflict. He was thoughtful, or, as a scientist, I like the word objective.

In the current issue of Audubon Magazine, I suggest that the President appoint a commission of scientists, businessmen, consumers, and environmentalists to recommend actions to slow global warming. We can take common sense steps to do that. Our industry and our technology hold the key. We should reduce air pollution including low level ozone and soot, improve energy efficiency, and develop renewable energy. Collateral benefits improve public health and reduce dependence on foreign energy sources justify the cost. This practical approach could gain bipartisan and international consensus for addressing climate change. It's the kind of approach that John Heinz would have advocated.

I want to thank, Teresa Heinz and the Foundation for this Award, which I hope will encourage other scientists to speak their minds. Also, my wife Anniek, and Erik, and Kiki, for their generosity in letting me spend so much of my time on my science. And Reto Ruedy and Makiko Sato and Andy Lacis and my other colleagues who deserve most of the credit for the scientific work that we've done together. And Carolyn Harris, who's here tonight someplace, who deserves the credit for our student and educator outreach program. Thanks.
James Hansen
James Hansen