Since he aimed to communicate not only to the public but also to his scientific colleagues, Jim buttressed these statements—including those regarding a practical solution—with copious evidence from real-world measurements and with rigorous analysis, based on his nearly forty years of experience studying the climate of our own planet and that of our neighbor, Venus. Indeed, this talk succeeded in connecting the dots for the first time in the minds of many geoscientists. One might assume that the thousands at this meeting would all be experts in global warming; however, most actually specialize in one or two specific aspects of the enormous field of geophysics. Very few—probably none—have the broad view of Earth's climate system that Jim Hansen does. A number of leading scientists, for instance, Paul Crutzen, who had won a Nobel Prize for his work on atmospheric ozone chemistry, told Jim that he had put together just the sort of comprehensive and convincing presentation that was needed. Many began using the charts from his talk, which he later placed on the Web, and a few suggested that he turn it into a paper and publish it in an academic journal. In a way, he would do that, about a year and a half later. By that time, however, his thinking had moved on, and it took six papers to get it all down.
Among those who gathered around immediately after the talk were a BBC reporter and a technician. "One of them just held a microphone in front of my face," Jim recalls. Other media requests began arriving by e-mail. Back in New York, his assistant, Darnell, and his institute's public affairs officer, Leslie McCarthy, also began receiving e-mails and telephone calls.
Jim and Anniek remained in San Francisco through Thursday evening, whereupon they caught a red-eye back to New York and Jim returned to science.
Jim leads an ascetic life. He and Anniek keep a tiny apartment a few blocks from his institute, the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), which is located on the campus of Columbia University. On the days when he doesn't get up at 4:30 A.M. to catch a train to Washington for a meeting at NASA headquarters or the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, he tends to spend the early morning thinking and writing in the peace and quiet of the apartment. Until recently, it had no Internet connection, which he saw as a good thing. If Leslie, Darnell, or one of Jim's scientific colleagues or fellow managers needs to reach him, she or he will call on the phone. At some point in the morning, when a meeting or some other pressing duty calls, he will rush downstairs and walk—more exactly run—a few blocks south to GISS, where he will work into the night. He claims that his only regular exercise comes from running up the stairs to his seventh-floor office. He and Anniek also own a small farm in rural Pennsylvania, to which he commutes by car about once a week—less in winter. Indeed, the old Volvo that they keep on the street in New York bears some resemblance to a farm vehicle. The one time I rode in it, the backseats and floors were covered with straw.
He works virtually all his waking hours. If he wakes in the night, he will put a few hours into his latest writing project or scientific paper. This is not busywork. Jim has a profound ability to focus. He moves from project to project, apparently shooting from the hip but hitting the bull's-eye nearly every time. As we shall see, it is difficult to keep up with him. Over the next few critical months, he would play a major role, sometimes in the background, in a dazzling number of crucial events that would finally put global warming back in its rightful place at the forefront of public concern.
The morning he and Anniek returned from the AGU meeting, Jim caught a few hours of sleep, then posted the words he had said and the images he had shown on the personal page he keeps on Columbia's Web site. He holds dual appointments at Columbia and GISS. Aside from directing the institute he is an adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia and an active participant in the Columbia Earth Institute. GISS is also quasi-academic. Many of the NASA scientists at the institute hold dual appointments, some full-time Columbia scientists do their research there, and many Columbia students are involved in GISS research as well.
That afternoon, Jim sent an e-mail to a list of scientific and media contacts, to let them know that he had posted his Keeling talk on the Web. It's not as if he didn't realize that he was walking the political line with some aspects of the talk. This was his way of presenting it as a personal statement, disassociated from his position as a government scientist. Since Jim has been walking the political line to greater and lesser degrees for about twenty-five years—since 1981, to be precise, the first year of Ronald Reagan's presidency—he is probably as aware as any of NASA's 18,000 employees of the agency's stipulation that any statements that might relate to government policy must be presented as personal opinion.
The seeds he planted that afternoon quickly took root ...
The biggest headlines on the global warming front that particular week arose not from the statements of scientists in San Francisco, but from the behavior of a delegation representing the George W. Bush administration in Montreal. Representatives from nearly 200 nations were meeting in that city to discuss the next steps in the halting international effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions that had commenced seventeen years earlier, right around the time Jim had told the Senate that global warming had arrived.
Owing to the complexities of greenhouse policy, two parallel sets of negotiations were taking place in Montreal. The larger of the two was aimed at extending the voluntary 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which had been negotiated during the term of the current president's father. The 189 nations that had eventually signed the Framework treaty, the United States among them, were discussing future, nonbinding agreements aimed at improving the treaty's effectiveness and enticing developing nations to join in the emissions-curbing effort. The second, smaller set of negotiations in Montreal involved only those developed nations that had signed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. President Bill Clinton had signed the Kyoto treaty, but Congress had refused to endorse it; and when George W. Bush rejected it in March 2001, he ensured that the United States would be the only major developed nation besides Australia not to commit to the binding agreements of Kyoto. (The only other developed nations not to sign were Monaco and Liechtenstein.) The Kyoto signatories were working to develop a new set of more ambitious goals and timetables that would come into force after the Kyoto treaty lapses in 2012. Since the United States had not signed the treaty, the U.S. delegation was not party to these "post-Kyoto" discussions, of course.
Although it might seem that there was little to be risked in the non-binding discussions, the lead negotiator for the United States, one Harlan Watson, spent nearly his entire two weeks in Montreal attempting to undermine their very premise. Stating quite openly that his aim was to end, right then and there, all international discussions even of nonbinding emissions limits, Watson fiercely resisted the efforts of the other 188 signatory nations even to start a new round of informal negotiations. This was very much in keeping with the goals of the oil giant ExxonMobil, which had recommended him for a place on the negotiating team shortly before President Bush, evidently taking the company's cue, appointed him leader of the team in 2001.
After midnight on the final day of the Montreal sessions, with a proposal for a new round of informal talks on the table, Dr. Watson is said to have uttered, "If it walks like a duck and talks like duck, it's a duck," and walked out of the room. A confused delegate from another country evidently stated, "I don't understand your reference to a duck. What about this document is like a duck?"
Slightly more than twenty-four hours later, again in the wee hours of the morning and only after the other signatories had agreed to two huge escape clauses—that any future talks would be "open and non-binding" and that they would "not open any negotiations leading to new commitments"—did Watson agree to add his signature.
The United States received much criticism for Watson's antics—and not only from environmentalists. A front-page article in The Washington Post, published on Saturday, December 10, a few hours after Watson finally relented, read, "At times this week, Washington and its traditional allies seemed on the brink of divorce, especially after Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin told reporters ... . 'To the recalcitrant nations, including the United States, I would say this: there is such a thing as a global conscience, and now is the time to listen to it.'"
The unique thing about global warming as a policy issue is that every once in a while our planet itself decides to make a statement. Indeed, the third intensifying factor that early December was the season. November 30 marks the end of the so-called meteorological year. Since weather stations generally report their results monthly, meteorologists and climatologists have found it convenient to divide the year into four three-month seasons. September, October, and November are designated as fall; December, January, and February as winter; and so on. Sometime around the second week of December, then, the three major research groups that track global weather-station data—the Hadley Centre at the University of East Anglia in Britain; the U.S. National Climatic Data Center, which is an arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); and Jim Hansen's group at GISS—release their estimates of the Earth's average temperature for the meteorological year just ended. They update the reports in early January to provide laypeople with estimates for the calendar year, which are rarely much different.
Jim's and the British group are the longest standing of the three, having both published their first global temperature estimates in 1981. All three groups constantly improve their methods and their coverage of the planet and report these improvements in scientific journals as necessary.
Owing to the intense interest of news organizations in this annual taking of the planet's temperature, the three groups coordinate with one another and all release their data on the same day. Interest was especially high this particular December because a race was on: since mid- to late summer, the scientists in all three groups had been telling their friends and acquaintances, including those in the news media, that 2005 might turn out to be the warmest year on record—since about 1880, that is, when station coverage first became global enough to permit a meaningful estimate.
Reprinted by arrangement with Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from Censoring Science by Mark Bowen. Copyright © 2007 by Mark Bowen