Posted by: ericgrimsrud | April 17, 2013

James Hansen, the Jackie Robinson of Climate Change

We all know the “Jackie Robinson Story” and for those who have not yet learned it, there is a new movie just out telling it once more.  So all I need to relate here are a few summary points concerning Robinson’s life.  He was, of course, the first man to break the color barrier in the Major Leagues of Baseball in 1947. He then had a spectacular career with the Brooklyn Dodgers becoming one of America’s very best players.  Prior to all of this, he had an excellent background in sports winning letters in four different sports at UCLA and excelling in track and field events.  Throughout his tenure in the major leagues of baseball, however, he was subjected to every sort of personal abuse and discrimination imaginable including death threats.  Those who did not like what he stood for did their very best to find flaws in both his athletic performance and his personal character.  Jackie Robinson’s character was as impeccable as his performance, however.  He and his life-long spouse led personal lives that we not only irreproachable but exemplary.   Thus, they stood their ground quietly but steadily against the flood of racial bigotry that was directed their way.  With the advantage of 20/20 hindsight, the impact of Jackie Robinson’s career is now clear.  He helped initiate a movement that broke down the color barriers in major sectors of American life.  In another sense, he opened our eyes to some of the realities of life which had been obscured by ignorance, bias, and bigotry.  All of this from a person who came from a simple rural setting in Georgia.

So who is this other James Hansen fellow that reminds me of Jackie Robinson – relative to Robinson he is a virtual unknown within the public domain.  First, let me point out the main difference between these two men.  To my knowledge, James Hansen has never been an accomplished athlete of any sort (my apologies to James if I am wrong there).  He has always been a scientist.  After explaining that difference, however, I could then relate much of Hansen’s life simply by drawing a parallel to everything I just said above about Jackie Robinson.  Hansen also came from a humble rural background (in Iowa) and moved on to develop his god given talent in the field of physics at the University of Iowa.  Like Robinson, he then moved up into the big leagues of his profession in his late 20’s, securing a position at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City which he held for 46 years serving as its Director for the last 30 years until his retirement last week.  By the 1980’s he had become an authority on the subject of the Earth’s climate and sounded one of the very first alarms before a Senate committee in 1988 concerning the warming of Earth that is being caused by our increasing levels of greenhouse gases. Since then he has remained one of the very best players on that field and has committed his life to the further understanding of climate change.  While still at the top of his profession at age 72, Dr. Hansen has now decided to retire from his position at Goddard in order to devote all of his attention to communications with the general public on the subject of climate change.

Like that of Jackie Robinson, the life of James Hansen has been made unusually challenging by that ever present force that exists in any society and is best described by the adage, ”if you don’t like the message, kill the messenger!”  While Robinson’s clear message was “the black man is the equal of the white man”, Hansen’s has been “man-caused global warming is rapidly causing changes to our planet that are incompatible with existing forms of human civilization”.  While most of us acknowledge that responding to Hansen’s message might prove to be inconvenient for many of us, the general public would very probably accept and respond to it if it were not for the mixed and confused messages they are daily bombarded with by powerful Business-as-Usual forces of the world.  Many of these forces, whose very existences might indeed require that no major changes be made, have drawn a bull’s eye on the leading messenger of the climate change problem and will continue to do their best to destroy the credibility of James Hansen.   Now that Dr. Hansen has given up his governmental post, he will be able to speak his mind much more freely within the public domain.  Therefore, we can expect to see the personal attacks on him and his message to be greatly increased.

So will Hansen be able to break down the “climate change” barrier that presently exists within the USA and elsewhere?   I don’t know.  Unlike the Jackie Robinson Story, this one is still in the middle chapters.    Just like the racial barrier, the climate change barrier is a very tough one that was many years in the making.  In any case, I recommend that we all go see “The Jackie Robinson Story” in order to better appreciate the real leaders among us.  Only a few, it seems, in each generation are willing and able to effectively confront the worst angels of our nature.  Within the next decade, I entirely expect that a movie entitled “The James Hansen Story” will be in our theaters.   Whether or not it also has a happy ending depends on the number of fans he acquires.  So please do keep an eye out for this man and what he says and does.  In this case, the future welfare of all races depends on it as well as the entire “ballgame” of organized human endeavors.


  1. In most households, Al Gore is the Jackie Robinson of Climate Change. The “N” word is applied to him by deniers. Most people have never heard of Dr. James Hansen.

    • Dave, You appear to not know what Hansen has done. He’s the guy that has run all the bases – prepared forC his long career and then did it to the full extent. He is also the guy that has paid the price, including jail time and death threats. Yes, Al Gore is famous and was even before he did anything about climate change. He is the best politician on this issue, but he provides no basis for a Jackie Robinson type story. As I said in my post, Hansen is not yet famous but now that he has the shackles of a gov job off, watch him. He is the real thing – like Robinson – and is a quiet modest man – like Robinson – he also knows his game as few do and has the most credibility in playing it of any scientist alive – like Robinson was. It’s great that you and the general public know and respect Gore. Now that Hansen is working entirely in the public domain, also keep an eye him – the real thing. Hopefully he will be able to do even more than Al did. The job is far from done – in fact, CO2 levels continue to rise at a rate greater than ever! The world needs more thoroughly credible leaders such as Hansen. Eric

  2. James Hansen’s paper, Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise, and Superstorms (2016) is incredible. But the public will have a hard time accepting that slow moving global supercurrents of ocean flow that circulate vertically (as well as horizontally) to the deepest parts of the ocean protect the earth from runaway temperature rise and that they will ultimately be stopped through ice melt at the poles caused by the increase in heat trapping atmospheric carbon dioxide. They will have an even harder time relating the halted circulation of these currents to superstorms that can propel 1000 ton boulders onto the land as happened 180 million years ago and sea level rise of up to or more than 30 feet. James Hansen and his 18 collaborators have convinced me though. The people I have talked to about this eventuality need a softer message though. There is something going on in the world today, not only the US, called Apocalypse Fatigue. Hansen has to tell the whole story. That’s his job. It can’t be tweeted. That is impossible. Yet, Tweet sized bits of information are the only communication accessed by the majority and yet so many still do understand how ominous the world situation is and they do share their understanding of that message with others in repeated Tweet size bites of understanding. There is a parallel path to this minimalist intellectual approach of persuasion. It is through direct experience in probably an infinite variety of iterations that we can’t see now but of which many include some kind of spiritual awareness probably associated with some almost primal need for self awareness. We breath the air, drink the water, eat the plants, and love the view. Those are not intellectual understandings but they are universal points of access to understanding on a non-conscious level that our home is threatened, and since our home is part of us, we are directly threatened.

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