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James Hansen Steps Down from NASA

Revisit NewsHour’s interview with retiring NASA climate scientist James Hansen, who discussed why summer droughts in the summer of 2012 were linked to climate change.

James Hansen, an outspoken advocate for action on climate change, announced Monday that he is retiring after nearly 50 years as a climate scientist for NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Hansen, 72, wrote in an email that he was stepping down from the organization in order to spend more time on his campaign to cut carbon emissions. He first testified about the impending threat of climate change before Congress in 1988.

PBS NewsHour interviewed Hansen in August about how the extreme heat events of 2012 were connected to human activity and climate change.

Hansen and his team at Goddard began publishing climate models in 1981 that projected the influence of carbon dioxide on global warming. Hansen’s models showed that the increase in greenhouse gases would have drastic consequences far earlier than previous studies suggested. He has continued to publish studies and articles on the topic, including a paper in 2012 in which Hansen coined the term “climate dice” to explain how climate change increases the odds for weather disasters like droughts, hurricanes and heat waves.

Climate change has become a moral issue to Hansen, as he said in the email. The New York Times quoted his letter:

“If we burn even a substantial fraction of the fossil fuels, we guarantee there’s going to be unstoppable changes” in the climate of the earth, he said. “We’re going to leave a situation for young people and future generations that they may have no way to deal with.”

Hansen spoke out against government authorities that he felt were not taking action to combat climate change or outright denying the problem. He has been a visible participant in climate change protests, and has been arrested twice for his role in these events. Most recently he was arrested at a protest in Washington, D.C., to stop the Keystone XL pipeline that would bring Canadian tar sand oil through the U.S.

Once he has officially retired from government on Wednesday, Hansen plans to take up a greater role in lawsuits against state and federal governments for their lack of emission regulation, and lawsuits to stop further development in the Canadian tar sands.

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