Hansen apologizes, warns against “averting our eyes”

NASA’s James Hansen has apologized for his coal train/death train analogy (discussed here), in a post titled “Averting Our Eyes.” While I didn’t think the National Mining Association deserved an apology, Hansen came to see that others were legitimately offended:

I regret that my words caused pain to some readers. I hope that they will accept my apology for having caused discomfort, an apology that is heartfelt.

At the same time, Hansen is — like all of us — searching for the words, the metaphors, the pictures, really, anything that can help the public grasp the genuine scale of the dangers we face:

Burning all fossil fuels, if the CO2 is released into the air, would destroy creation, the planet with its animal and plant life as it has existed for the past several thousand years, the time of civilization, the Holocene, the period of relative climate stability…. We cannot pretend that we do not know the consequences of burning all fossil fuels.

I think that we still have a long way to go in making the danger clear, in part because of the inertia of the climate system and the danger of passing tipping points — points at which little or no additional forcing is needed to cause large, relatively rapid, undesirable effects….

We cannot avert our eyes and pretend that we do not understand the consequences of continued “business as usual.”

… the special interests have been cleverer than us, preventing the public from seeing the crisis that should be in view. It is hard for me to think of a different equally poignant example of the foreseeable consequence faced by fellow creatures on the planet. Suggestions are welcome.

Hansen does have more to say in his apology:

Here, not in defense of my words, rather to make two further points, I provide the comments of two other people:

“Jim, I thought that your equating the coal trains in Iowa with holocaust death trains an apt and reasonableanalogy. It does not at all trivialize the suffering and deaths of European Jews but rather is a tribute tothem. They will not all have died in vain if the horror and inhumanity of the holocaust can be used towake up the world to the catastrophic consequences of continued pollution of the earth’s atmosphere withcarbon dioxide.” XXXXX

“Jim: As a Jew, who is sensitive about misuse of references to the holocaust, I found no problem with yourmetaphor…nor to your response to the CEO…except for the reference to “creation”!” YYYYY

My supposition was that most people would take the reference in the way indicated by the first of the last two comments. One merit of references and memorials to the Holocaust is as a reminder that we cannot allow such an event again, we cannot avert our eyes. As for reference to “creation”, my feeling about that topic developed during a meeting with evangelical leaders on a Georgia plantation. We found no reason for conflict between science and religion, but many reasons for working together. We all felt strongly about the need for stewardship, for passing on to our children and grandchildren the planet that we received, with its remarkable forms of life.

As usual, a well-reasoned, well-written piece from the nation’s top — and most thoughtful — climate scientist.