Dr. James Hansen, of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, is one of America's most important climate scientists. He was instrumental in introducing the issue of global warming to the nation over two decades ago (!). Now, he devotes much of his time to raising public awareness of climate change -- he's written well-received books on the topic, recommended policy solutions, and participated in demonstrations and protests all over the U.S.
And he's easily one of the gutsiest scientists in the country -- he'd been arrested for protesting mountaintop removal mining, and, most recently, the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline currently proposed to cut through the middle of America. Earlier this year, he said that if the pipeline were to be approved, it would be "game over for the climate", since refining and burning the fuel generates so many greenhouse gas emissions.
Dr. Hansen joined 12,000 other concerned citizens at the White House yesterday, to form a massive human chain around the president's house. I had a chance to speak with Hansen in the midst of the action, and he took a moment to explain why tar sands represent "a critical juncture" for our future, why unconventional fossil fuels are so dangerous, and how our politics could feasibly fight climate change. Watch:
We had a friendly internal debate here at TreeHugger after Hansen made his "game over" statement about the tar sands, so I was curious to follow up on that issue in particular. And it seems that my initial interpretation was correct -- as he explains in the video above, Hansen doesn't necessarily believe that approval of the Keystone XL will be the one straw that breaks the camel's back, delivering us unto a world destined for catastrophic, runaway global warming. No, he seems to mean that if we allow the Keystone XL to set a precedent -- that we aim aim to develop dirtier, more expensive, unconventional fossil fuels instead of renewable sources -- then it will be game over for the climate system as we know it.
Dr. Hansen is without a doubt a brilliant man -- perhaps it's time we start listening to his advice.