Politics & Policy

Crossing the Line

Top NASA climatologist James Hansen endorses eco-vandalism.

Prominent NASA climatologist James Hansen, a close ally of global-warming activist Al Gore and one of the world’s leading scientific voices warning of a global climate crisis, has endorsed eco-vandalism.

Hansen’s controversial turn stems from testimony he gave this month in a London criminal trial against Greenpeace supporters who were accused of defacing — at a cost of $60,000 in property damage — Kingsnorth, an English coal plant. Hansen testified in support of the defense’s assertion that the Greenpeace members had a “lawful excuse” because they were acting to protect property around the world “in immediate need of protection” from the impacts of global warming — caused in part, they allege, by coal burning.

#ad#By crossing the line to the side of destructive violence, Hansen — often hailed as the “the world’s leading climate scientist” by green organizations and praised by Time magazine as one of the world’s “100 Most Influential People” — has seriously damaged the credibility of a movement that has struggled to separate its apocalyptic rhetoric from more extreme environmentalists who demand violent action to match that rhetoric.

It is as if Dr. C. Everett Koop, a prominent anti-abortion physician, had testified in favor of vandalizing abortion clinics.

The Sierra Club — one of the world’s leading green organizations and which just last year teamed with Hansen and the American Solar Energy Society on a new report laying out a plan for dramatically reducing the nation’s greehouse-gas emissions — would not comment on Hansen but distanced itself from eco-vandalism. Said a Sierra Club spokesperson: “We don’t advocate destruction of property.”

According to The Independent newspaper in London, Hansen “asserted that emissions of carbon dioxide from Kingsnorth (power station) would damage property through the effects of the climate change they would help to cause.” But, although “there’s just barely still time,” said Hansen, mankind needs an immediate moratorium on the construction of all new coal fired power plants. Somebody, he concluded to the jury, needs “to stand up.”

The jury ruled in favor of the defendants, the so-called Kingsnorth Six. The Independent reported the news under the headline: “Jury decides that threat of global warming justifies breaking the law.”

The ruling shocked British industry, set a precedent for more eco-vandalism, and will likely complicate Hansen’s tenure at NASA.

Hansen’s endorsement is likely to embolden radicals in the United Kingdom and possibly in the U.S., where members of the Earth Liberation Front have torched suburban homes, SUVs, logging trucks, ranger stations, and a ski resort in Vail, Colo., causing many millions of dollars in damage.

“The ramifications are huge,” writes Iain Murray, an environmental-science expert with the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “Operators of coal-fired power stations in the U. K. have just been stripped of legal protection from the criminal actions of the environmental lobby.”


Hansen’s fierce criticism of the Bush administration’s climate policy as a government scientist and as a professor at Columbia University has earned prominent media attention, which helps explain his Time-endorsed celebrity status. Hansen has also received criticism for his close ties to Al Gore — appearing, for example, with the former vice president on stage at Live Earth! — and for taking money from Democratic donor George Soros.

In the wake of Hansen’s Greenpeace testimony, meteorologist Anthony Watts called for his resignation, writing that “a NASA scientist siding with vandalism is an inappropriate abuse of the position. It was a question of law, not of science. . . . Dr. Hansen has violated the code of (NASA) ethics.”

#ad#CEI’s Murray says that “a plausible case is presented that Hansen has breached codes of practice,” though he worries that removing Hansen would only create a green martyr.

Hansen is proof of the corruption of environmental science by the religious zeal of climate alarmism. Even its premier scientist has become synomymous with ideological extremism.

By contrast, the experience of Dr. C. Everett Koop is instructive. A renowned pediatric surgeon, Koop held strong personal views on the morality of abortion. Yet, as a public servant in the late 1980s, Surgeon General Koop tried to separate his personal views on abortion from his responsibilities as a government scientist — even under pressure from the Reagan administration and the political temptation to tilt public debate on a hot political issue. In reviewing the science on whether abortions had long-term health effects on women, Koop found the science inconclusive. Dr. James Hansen might well say the same of climate science, if the line between advocacy and science had not become so badly blurred.

Once the paragon of the green movement, Hansen’s credentials gave scientific credibility to the ideological motives of Gore and left-wing green organizations. Now he is a severe liability, aligning himself with extreme measures that expose the natural course of that ideology. As surgeon general, Dr. Koop knew that the pro-life advocacy and violent intimidation could not co-exist. NASA scientist Hansen is proof that green and intimidation are never far apart.

– Henry Payne is a writer and editorial cartoonist for the Detroit News.

Henry Payne — Henry Payne is the auto critic for the Detroit News.

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