A Prophet of Doom Was Right About the Climate

By Justin Gillis | The New York Times Link to article

The night before the day that would make him famous, James E. Hansen listened to a baseball game on the radio. But his mind kept wandering: What would he say to Congress the next day to convey that humans were endangering the planet?

He had long been trying to raise the alarm without success, and so had other scientists. But then, on June 23, 1988 — 30 years ago Saturday — a Colorado senator named Tim Wirth convened yet another hearing on the topic. Dr. Hansen was one of several scientists on the witness list.

Few people had ever heard of him, nor of the obscure NASA unit that he headed. He and a small group of colleagues studied the Earth’s climate, working in a suite of offices above the Manhattan diner that “Seinfeld” would later make famous.

He had conducted rigorous studies of historical temperatures, concluding that the planet was warming sharply. He had helped to pioneer computer modeling of the climate, and the results predicted further warming if people kept pouring greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

June 23 turned out be a blistering day in Washington, and much of the nation was suffering through a drought and heat wave. Dr. Hansen took his seat in a Capitol Hill hearing room and laid out the scientific facts as best he understood them.

He had thought up a good line the night before, during the Yankees game, but in the moment he forgot to deliver it. When the hearing ended, though, reporters surrounded him, and he remembered.

“It is time to stop waffling so much,” he said, “and say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here.”

His near certainty that human emissions were already altering the climate caught the attention of a sweltering nation, catapulting Dr. Hansen to overnight fame. That year, 1988, would go on to be the hottest in a global temperature record stretching back to the 19th century.

With the perspective of three decades, it is fair to ask: How right was his forecast? (Link to article)