by Jeremy Moule
A development at NASA yesterday may prove to be a pivotal event in the fight against the Keystone XL oil pipeline: high-profile NASA climate scientist James Hansen announced his retirement.
Why? He says he wants to devote more time to climate change activism. And news reports say that may include an active role in legal actions meant to force government to address climate change. (The New York Times story on his retirement, which is available here, is the most thorough article I've found.)
Despite his government job, Hansen has already been a fierce critic of TransCanada's Keystone XL project, a proposed bi-national mega-pipeline that would transport crude oil from the Alberta tar sands to the Gulf Coast. In an article he wrote last year for the Huffington Post, Hansen said that "exploitation of tar sands would make it implausible to stabilize the climate and avoid disastrous global climate impacts."
Now that he's free to "testify against the government," as he said to the Times, it seems entirely within reason that he'll get involved in lawsuits to stop the pipeline. Someone with his technical background and sharp mind may be just what's needed to build a successful case against the pipeline.
Hansen was among the first scientists to publicly say that climate change was happening and that it was a threat to the planet. He's been persistent in his warnings ever since and in recent years has joined in fossil fuel protests; he's developed a protestor's arrest record in the process. As Guardian writer Alice Bell put it in a post this morning: "Hansen has long been a problem for those who believe science and politics should be separate."