American Climate scientist Dr James Hansen used the Edinburgh Medal address last night to call for help in making people understand the gravity of the situation surrounding the issues of climate change. He admitted that he didn’t consider himself an activist, although that was a term frequently used to describe him, but he believed scientists had a responsibility to communicate the implications of the situation for the planet and for future generations.
Hansen described how the questions of his grandchildren had changed him from a scientist who shied away from the media and public activism to one who believed passionately that he must use his voice to change government policy and public opinion. He stated, ”It is immoral for us to leave to the next generation a planet whose climate is spiralling out of control. I believe it is an issue of intergenerational justice – we can only pretend we don’t understand what is happening around us.”
He admitted that his cause seemed to have gone backwards in the last few years, with the public in general being less aware of the situation and continued “It is very difficult to communicate when people who are profiting from the current system don’t want changes, and governments are going ahead in allowing and even encouraging development of fossil fuels as if they don’t understand the implications.”
Dr Hansen was delivering the 2012 Edinburgh Medal Address having received the 24th Edinburgh Medal from the Lord Provost of Edinburgh at a ceremony at the City Chambers last night. The Edinburgh Medal is a prestigious award given each year to men and women of science and technology whose professional achievements are judged to have made a significant contribution to the understanding and well-being of humanity. The Medal is supported by the City of Edinburgh Council and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and is awarded as part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival.
Dr Hansen is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, an adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University and at Columbia’s Earth Institute. Perhaps best known for bringing global warming to the world’s attention in the 1980’s when he first testified before Congress, Dr Hansen’s background in both space and earth sciences gives him a broad perspective on the status and prospects of our home planet.
Dr Hansen is taking part in three other Science Festival events with some of the country’s most important voices on climate change. Tickets for ‘Our Climate Future’ with Lord Anthony Giddens and Professor Pete Smith, Science Director of Scotland's Climate Change Centre of Expertise today at 8.00pm,and for‘Fixing the Planet’ with, among others, Professor Stuart Haszeldene OBE Professor of Carbon Capture & Storage at University of Edinburgh at 5.30pm on Thursday 12 April are available from www.sciencefestival.co.uk or 0844 557 2686
The first Edinburgh Medallist in 1989 was the theoretical physicist and Nobel Prize winner Abdus Salam; of the subsequent twenty Medallists, three have gone on to be awarded the Nobel Prize.