The Capricious Dr. Hansen

In 1988, the longtime head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) gave an explosive performance in front of the U.S. Congress’s Science, Space, and Technology Committee, during which he claimed that America and the world were on the brink of disaster. The earth’s surface temperature, Professor James Hansen contended, was rising in concert with carbon dioxide emissions, and the consequences would be increased drought, rising oceans, and an average rise in global temperature of ten degrees Fahrenheit by 2050. If the United States government did not act now, it would be sanctioning catastrophe, he warned. With this testimony, invited by the committee’s chair, Senator Al Gore, Hansen effectively started the modern climate-change movement.

Professor Hansen came across as a scientifically minded Inspector Poirot, assembling the family in the library to explain how the murderer among them had hidden his crime. But within ten years, he had morphed into the hapless Inspector Clouseau. His own NASA weather satellites — the most accurate barometers of global temperature — showed that, despite his eschatological forecast, the Earth had warmed very little.

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