Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Meeting Hansen & Gore (briefly, but still a thrill)

Now that you mention it - after having brunch with my son and doing a few errands (by bike on a beautiful but too warm for November autumn day), I met Jim Hansen. Briefly, but still. That email Tenney sent yesterday mentioned that he would be at two events in Boston, and I went to one of them Sunday afternoon and hope to go to the other one Monday morning before going to work.

Hansen was invited to Boston by a group of students who are camping out on their campuses during the week to demand that Massachusetts take steps to be 100% on renewable energy by 2020. On Sunday nights many of these students are camping out on Boston Common in front of the Massachusetts State House and taking their message to the state legislature on Monday mornings. They invited Jim Hansen to join them this weekend, and on Monday the Global Warming Committee of the MA Senate will have a hearing that Hansen will speak at. He said he is going to sleep out with the students, but I hope not. He is still recovering from surgery (read Tenney's email about this). He looked pale but very happy to be among these dedicated young people. The kids tossed an earth ball through the crowd and every time it came his way Hansen would give it a good swat with a big smile.

Hansen spoke to the group about how we are approaching climate tipping points, about the accelerating loss of ice mass in Greenland and Antarctica, about the increasing accuracy of paleontological climate research, about species being pushed to extinction as habitats change, about the potential loss of color in the autumn leaves - which have been just stunning this year in New England.

He also talked about putting a price on carbon - his tax and rebate proposal. I still don't agree with his hostility to cap and trade, and I think any attempt to impose a carbon tax would face the same onslaught in Congress from the fossil fuel industry, provide innumerable opportunities for loopholes, and as for simplicity and transparency - have you spent any quality time with the US tax code lately? He said he was attracted to the idea that Massachusetts could lead the country in energy conversion because it's a progressive state and the place where the American Revolution started. (The logo of the student group is a Minuteman with a wind turbine.) Ironically, Massachusetts and several other states in the Northeast have taken leadership in forming the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the first US-based cap and trade system.

Whatever disagreements I have about cap and trade vs. tax, Jim Hansen is a hero. I was thrilled to be able to thank him for his work.

On Saturday, as I mentioned before somewhere in this barrage of messages, I heard Al Gore speak and got a signed copy of his new book. Next weekend, Bill McKibben will be speaking at a conference I plan to attend and also spending time with the students on Boston Common.

Gore and Hansen are two very different men, but both are so committed and so willing to express a clear and compelling message about climate change, so dedicated to teaching and to learning. These were not Hollywood-style events. Gore spoke in a middling size church across the street from Harvard Yard that hosts many lectures and meetings and a soup kitchen in the basement; the event was sponsored by a venerable - and still independent - Harvard Square bookstore that Gore, speaking as a Harvard grad, said is one of his favorites - and is one of my favorites too since high school days. On Boston Common where Hansen spoke, a softball game was going on at the far side of the park, homeless people were staking out their benches for the night, a clatch of dog walkers hung out while their dogs played off leash in a patch of grass. A group of tourists gathered around their guide for a mini history lesson, people passed by going about their business. Countless rallies and festivals have been held on these grounds.

I'm getting off on a tangent, but what I'm trying to express is that there is something about the very ordinariness of these settings and the way these men are caught up, not in themselves, but in the realities they are seeking to understand and seeking to communicate that is very compelling and so not the way they are portrayed by the denier cabal.

I feel a deep need to keep faith with people like Al Gore, Jim Hansen, Bill McKibben and so many people I know who just don't quit.


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