James Hansen: ‘All we’ve done is agree there’s a problem.’ Photograph: Ali Smith for the Guardian
Oliver Milman in New York
Tue 19 Jun 2018 06.00 BST
James Hansen, who gave a climate warning in 1988 Senate testimony, says real hoax is by leaders claiming to take action
Thirty years after a former Nasa scientist sounded the alarm for the general public about climate change and human activity, the expert issued a fresh warning that the world is failing “miserably” to deal with the worsening dangers.
While Donald Trump and many conservatives like to argue that climate change is a hoax, James Hansen, the 77-year-old former Nasa climate scientist, said in an interview at his home in New York that the relevant hoax today is perpetrated by those leaders claiming to be addressing the problem.
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Hansen provided what’s considered the first warning to a mass audience about global warming when, in 1988, he told a US congressional hearing he could declare “with 99% confidence” that a recent sharp rise in temperatures was a result of human activity.
Since this time, the world’s greenhouse gas emissions have mushroomed despite repeated, increasingly frantic warnings about civilization-shaking catastrophe, from scientists amassing reams of evidence in Hansen’s wake.
“All we’ve done is agree there’s a problem,” Hansen told the Guardian. “We agreed that in 1992 [at the Earth summit in Rio] and re-agreed it again in Paris [at
the 2015 climate accord]. We haven’t acknowledged what is required to solve it. Promises like Paris don’t mean much, it’s wishful thinking. It’s a hoax that governments have played on us since the 1990s.”
Hansen’s long list of culprits for this inertia are both familiar – the nefarious lobbying of the fossil fuel industry – and surprising. Jerry Brown, the progressive governor of California, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, are “both pretending to be solving the problem” while being unambitious and shunning low-carbon nuclear power, Hansen argues.