A Man For All Seasons: James Hansen Wins The Ridenhour Courage Prize

James Hansen was awarded the Ridenhour Courage Prize today. The Prize is “presented to an individual in recognition of his or her courageous and life-long defense of the public interest and passionate commitment to social justice.”

I was given the great privilege of introducing Hansen. This is what I prepared:

Dr. James Hansen is being honored today in part because he told Congress: “The global warming now is large enough that we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause-and-effect relationship to the greenhouse effect.”

The courageous part isn’t what he said, it’s when he said it — 25 years ago, during the sweltering summer of 1988. It was the first high-profile public statement by a US government scientist alerting the country to this grave threat.

Jim embodies the Ridenhour Courage Prize. When he was still NASA’s top climate scientist, he blew the whistle on government efforts to silence him — and others — on climate change.

Jim is a modern day Paul Revere … if Paul Revere’s midnight ride had taken place in 1750 and the message was, “The British are coming, The British are coming — in 25 years.”

Yes, climate change is a challenging story to tell. And Jim has actually been telling it publicly since 1981, when he published his first warning that led to a major New York Times story, headlined, “Study Finds Warming Trend That Could Raise Sea Levels.”

And yet carbon pollution has kept rising. We live in a spineless world, where being scientifically right for over 30 years gives you no more credit with the national media than being a professional disinformer funded by the fossil fuel industry.

How spineless is this world? If a doctor used the best science to diagnose a smoker as having early-stage emphysema and the doctor did NOT urge the patient to start quitting cigarettes, he’d be charged with malpractice.

But if a climatologist uses the best science to diagnose an entire planet as having early-stage climate change, and he urges the world to start quitting fossil fuels, well, then he is labeled an alarmist by industry-backed groups.

The truth is we all should be alarmed by the great moral crisis of our time. By destroying a livable climate we are stealing the future from our children and grandchildren and countless future generations.

To save this spineless world from itself, supplying the truth isn’t enough. You need to supply the spine, too. You need to be courageous. And so Jim has been forced by the times — and by his moral convictions — to become an activist.

There is a saying that applies to Jim, “One man with courage is a majority.”

How many scientists have spawned an entire movement?

Five years ago Jim explained that “If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted,” we need to return carbon dioxide levels back to 350 parts per million. That led to Bill McKibben founding the group

Then Jim said burning the tar sands would be “game over for the climate” — and that led to the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline — and the biggest protests and civil disobedience the climate movement had ever seen.

And because Jim has the courage of his convictions he has had the courage to be convicted himself — he’s been arrested 5 times during peaceful protests.

Fifty years ago this month, another great moral crusader was arrested for protesting — and he wrote a letter from his jail cell in Birmingham explaining why. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” wrote Martin Luther King Jr. on April 16, 1963. “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

Now more than ever, we are “tied in a single garment of destiny,” cloaked as a species in a protective climate that we are in the process of unraveling. And so the need for activism, the need for courage, the need to speak out, is as great as ever.

As King put it, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

It is my singular honor to give you a man who will not have to repent, a man for all seasons, literally — the winner of the 2013 Ridenhour Courage Prize, Dr. James Hansen.

37 Responses to A Man For All Seasons: James Hansen Wins The Ridenhour Courage Prize

  1. Jeremy says:

    The only sad thing is the CO2 concentration has jumped up to dangerous levels and no agreement is in site to reduce output emissions. I remember that time back in the late 80’s. For a time was with Greenpeace and the office leader warned us about Global Warming.
    My initial reaction…it would take centeries for it to be a problem. Boy, was I wrong, it took only a few decades.

  2. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    When our grandchildren ask what did we do to stop this, one man can answer “all that I could”.

  3. prokaryotes says:

    That’s nice but imagine he would be on the cover on Times or something like that, that would really show the world the urgency.

  4. Jacob says:

    Excellent introductory speech Joe, very worthy of Dr. Hansen. The efforts of folks such as the two of you are greatly appreciated and I hope will one day be rewarded with drastic action appropriate to the situation we find ourselves in.

  5. prokaryotes says:

    Climate change is the single most important thing on earth, it effects everything. The media really should pick up the driving story of the next 1000 years. And this prize is a good pitch to start now!

  6. Lou Grinzo says:

    Standing ovation for both James Hansen and our host, Joe.

  7. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Congratulations to Jim and Joe. Courage is essential but so is a sense of belongingess, of belonging to the the Earth, that we are Earthlings first and last. A sense of togetherness is necessary for the cooperation that must come between all people and between all nations, ME

  8. Paul Klinkman says:

    1981 is quite early, even within the world of climatology. My boss didn’t begin to talk publicly about the Mauna Kea measurements until 1984, and even then he spoke with an abundance of scientific caution. Yes, Dr. Hansen was out leading when it counted.

    Let him be a lesson to graduate students, postdocs and untenured professors.

  9. Paul Klinkman says:

    OK, Mauna Loa.

  10. Sasparilla says:

    Fantastic Joe, really a great intro for Dr. Hansen.

  11. Paul Klinkman says:

    And if one of you well-educated mugs wants to demonstrate courage in this time period, you might focus on how we’re actually going to
    –stop heating with oil
    –store electricity for 24/7 uninterrupted renewables power
    –take the oil (and the 40,000 deaths per year) out of transit in America
    –sequester the carbon
    –save most or all of earth’s 30 million species from extinction. Extinction is forever.

  12. D. R. Tucker says:

    A big victory for tree lovers (and that should be all of us) as the world’s largest paper company comes to an agreement on with the Dogwood Alliance. We’ll talk to Andrew Goldberg, head of corporate engagement at the forest conservation group. We’ll also chat with the producers of a new film called Bidder 70, about Tim De Cristopher’s courageous stand which landed him in jail…until this week. Beth and George Gage share what drew them to tell Tim’s amazing story.

    Read more:
    Under Creative Commons License: Attribution

  13. Sasparilla says:


  14. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    That’s not what the MSM are for. Their forte is singing the praises of the rich, agitating for war with a list of ‘evil ones’ that keeps on growing, and brainwashing the serfs into a stupour of greedy materialism. If I was Hansen and these creatures started singing my praises I’d be very, very, worried.

  15. prokaryotes says:

    This must happen for several reasons

    – Hansen wants publicity (That’s why he is going to jail for what he has to say)
    – A big platform to present his findings to the general public (scientific literature and niche communities won’t do)
    – Air time in the main stream media means acceptance and will help to improve understanding of the science

    Ofc there are many people who can do this now but i think he should be one of them.

  16. Ed Leaver says:

    Heh. You don’t ask for much. But the history of David Keeling and his GHG observatories is both cautionary and fascinating. Do note the minor contribution of Rep. Al Gore — a student of Roger Revelle’s while at uni — at a critical juncture.

  17. Gingerbaker says:

    Great introduction for a bona fide hero. Well done, Joe. :)

  18. A thinker-doer says:

    An inspiring man who has much more greatness ahead. (The same goes for Dr. Hansen.)

  19. Bill D. says:

    Nice tribute to a true American hero. Jim Hansen is a giant among men and he richly deserves every accolade that he receives.

  20. It’s a marvelous tribute to someone who really deserves the honor. Hear, hear!

  21. LMA says:

    In Canadian news today, CBC is reporting that Hansen has become the target of Canadian Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver:

    “It does not advance the debate when people make exaggerated comments that are not rooted in the facts. And he should know that.”

    Whatever the outcome of the KXL decision may be, Hansen’s courage has clearly drawn the battle lines.

  22. fj says:

    Thirty years’ advocacy for action against a looming climate change crisis of unimaginable scale, caused by the very energy and engines of civilization, thereby infringing on the vested interests of the wealthiest most powerful people, industries, and nations on this planet, will position James Hansen as a major hero of the great transition, yet to happen, without precedent.

  23. Elizabeth Woodworth says:

    Dr. Hanson knows better than anyone that the time for climate inaction is rapidly running out. CO2 is at nearly 400 ppm. How can it not be totally obvious that we must subordinate economic issues to planetary welfare?

    Indeed it is quite possible to serve both the economy and the ecology at the same time, by transitioning subsides, investments and jobs over to clean energy.

    A workable plan to transition to clean energy is proposed at:


  24. Raul M. says:

    Congrats, you know, a fellow just was trying to tell me it is subversive to read so much stuff about global warming. Being a gov. Employee, he was stopped in his tracks by the statement that I listen to the gov. Tell about global warming. What then about being subversive? Such a hard time of it following so many masters. Congrats Jim and Joe. Just a note to say there is more room here if you find yourself needing a hide-out.

  25. Superman1 says:

    He deserves every accolade. Unfortunately, he is selling a product no one wants to buy. Congress, the media, and the bulk of the American public have little interest in his product; that’s why we see 400ppm approaching, and more to come.

  26. Superman1 says:

    And, he is not unique in that regard. Lennart Hardell has been telling us for years that heavy cell phone use for a decade quintuples the brain cancer risk for children and doubles it for adults. No one wants to buy that message, for basically the same reasons as apply to fossil fuels.

  27. Superman1 says:

    Many more examples are possible. Anything that challenges our ‘addictions’ will not sell. I wish Hansen well, but he’s trying to sell Cadillacs to a public that wants Yugos.

  28. Julie Garrett says:

    Such a great introduction! Wish I was there to cheer and thank Jim. Thank you, Joe.

  29. Well deserved by Dr. Hansen, and an excellent speech, Joe. The quotes from MLK resonate deeply.

  30. Susan Anderson says:

    Wonderful! A true climate hero with an intro by another true climate hero. You go guys!

  31. fj says:

    Yes, the truly extraordinary significance of MLK seems to keep surfacing with increasing frequency.


  32. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Brain cancer is good for the medical industrial complex. Lots of operations, radiotherapy, chemo, palliative care etc, new trial drugs, lengthy hospitalisation. The genius of capitalism is to turn everything, even human suffering, preferably amongst the rich or very well insured, into a commodity to be exploited for maximised profit.

  33. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    LMA, when something like Oliver attacks you, you know that you are on the correct path.

  34. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Very many things are going to be declared ‘subversive’ in the near future, as the ruling caste seeks to quell a rising tide of dissent and resistance to forced group-suicide for humanity. They already have the laws that can criminalise almost any actions or thoughts that they do not approve of.

  35. Solar Jim says:

    For James congratulations, and thanks to Joe and Bill. Now it is time for prominent mothers to also speak out to protect the children and countless species.

    Within one lifetime, not their children’s but their own, is all that remains to affect all futures.