MADELEINE BRAND, host:
We turn now to NASA's top climate change scientist.
Jim Hansen, welcome to the program.
Mr. JIM HANSEN (NASA): Hi. Glad to be here.
BRAND: Well, we've just heard about President Bush's new proposal on climate change, and what do you think about it?
Mr. HANSEN: Well, I think it's very timely to get together and start to do something where time is really running out. As we discussed in a paper that we just brought out - the press release came out yesterday - we are at a tipping point. If we don't begin to make some changes in our emissions - reducing greenhouse gas emissions - we're going to get some really large climate changes.
BRAND: Earlier today on NPR's MORNING EDITION, your boss - and that's administrator Michael Griffin - said something about global climate change that raised a few eyebrows. And let's listen.
Mr. MICHAEL GRIFFIN (NASA Administrator): I have no doubt that a trend of global warming exists. I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with. To assume that it is a problem is to assume that the state of the Earth's climate today is the optimal climate, the best climate that we could have or ever have had, and that we need to take steps to make sure that it doesn't change.
BRAND: And when you heard those comments, what did you think?
Mr. HANSEN: I almost fell off my chair. It's remarkably uninformed. You know, civilization developed with the current climate. And we've got an infrastructure along coastlines that assumes that our climate is going to stay roughly what it is now. But if we are going to simply allow human emissions to greatly change climate, I think that's extremely arrogant of our species. It will be devastating to many other species on the planet, not to mention many of our own species.
BRAND: Well, NASA is involved in a lot of research on global climate change, and so what does it mean that the head of NASA is kind of doubting that it's a problem?
Mr. HANSEN: I still hope that his remarks are perhaps out of context. On the surface, they appear to be remarkably uninformed about the status of our understanding. Because as our paper pointed out, if we continue on the path we're on, we will be producing a different planet which will have devastating implications for many people on the planet.
BRAND: Has he read your paper?
Mr. HANSEN: Apparently not.
BRAND: Will you be asking him, in the light of his comments, to read it and to have a conversation with you about it?
Mr. HANSEN: Well, I don't normally bump into him at my level in NASA. But if I have the opportunity, I certainly would like to talk to him about it.
BRAND: What kind of signals do you get from your bosses, from the people there at NASA, in terms of your research? Are you directed in any way as to where you should point your research?
Mr. HANSEN: Well, the signals that we've got really come from the research support, which has decreased dramatically in the last couple of years. There's a 30 percent cut last year in the research and analysis budget for Earth science. And that's the money that funds climate research in NASA.
BRAND: A 30 percent cut. What does that translate into?
Mr. HANSEN: Well, that's a huge cut. That's decimating the program.
BRAND: Decimating the program. So are there key areas that you think are vital to research that you just can't afford to research right now?
Mr. HANSEN: Well, the biggest problem is the measurements that need to be made. Those - the budget for satellites has not been cut as much, but it's been cut to the point where we cannot afford as many satellite missions. And measurements are the foundation of understanding.
BRAND: Why do you think Michael Griffin would make comments such as these, kind of - sort of downplaying the significance of global warming?
Mr. HANSEN: I have no idea. It's an amazing coincidence that it's at the same time as our paper just came out and the president's statements. But I just found it very surprising.
BRAND: Jim Hansen, thank you for joining us.
Mr. HANSEN: Sure. It's good to be here. Bye.
BRAND: Jim Hansen is the director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. He is NASA's top climate scientist.