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Who is James E. Hansen?
Blog...Who is James E. Hansen?

Who is James E. Hansen?

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outside of columbia university where james e hansen works as of 2014
In this article, we’ll explain James E. Hansen’s early life, education, and career, what he is most known for, his values and main opinions on climate change, and how he is helping the climate change cause today.
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outside of columbia university where james e hansen works as of 2014

From Greta Thunberg, John Kerry, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – there are multiple figures in today’s world to follow in the midst of climate change for guidance and expertise, and one of those is James E. Hansen.

As a previous climate scientist for NASA and current researcher for Columbia University, James E. Hansen is another person to subscribe to for anyone interested in learning more about climate change and how it will continue to affect our lives.

In this article, we’ll explain James E. Hansen’s early life, education, and career, what he is most known for, his values and main opinions on climate change, and how he is helping in the fight against climate change today.

Who is James E. Hansen?

James E. Hansen is a well-known climate scientist, who is currently running the Awareness and Solutions of the Earth Institute climate science program at Columbia University and previously worked for NASA.

Hansen is most recognised for his work in climatology and his 1988 visceral testimony that predicted the fight against climate change we are currently battling today.

Since his infamous statement to congress, James E. Hansen has worked tirelessly to educate everyone around the world about climate change – and just how detrimental our planet and daily lives will become if we don’t.

👉 In more recent years, James E. Hansen has ventured into climate activism – and was even arrested while protesting against the Keystone oil Pipeline.

Early Life & Education

James E. Hansen was born to James Ivan Hansen and Gladys Ray Hansen in Denison, Iowa. After having been inspired by Red Giants and White Dwarfs written by Robert Jastrow in high school, both books about the inner workings of outer space – Hansen felt motivated to move forward with a career in science. 

Once Hansen decided on science, he then attended the University of Iowa – choosing the space science program and graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in both physics and mathematics in 1963. 

Here is a timeline of the rest of Hansen’s higher education:

  • 1963 – Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in physics and mathematics
  • 1965 – Master of Science (M.S.)  in astronomy 
  • 1967 – Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D) in physics

👉 All of James E. Hansen’s degrees were awarded from the University of Iowa. In addition to this, Hansen studied abroad at the Institute of Astrophysics at Kyoto University and also at the University of Tokyo for physics. 

picture of iowa state university

Career Beginnings 

While completing his Bachelor of Arts and Master degree at the University of Iowa, James E. Hansen partook in a training program under NASA – where he would later work as a climate scientist. 

Following his trainee-ship, Hansen started working for NASA the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in 1967 – where he was appointed director in 1981 until 2013.

👉 It was worth noting that many well-known politicians or other influential leaders usually attended multiple education institutions and “job-hopped” before rising to prominence – but James E. Hansen’s path was notably more straightforward than most, having earned all of his degrees from one university and securing a position at NASA shortly afterwards.

Whilst working for NASA in New York City, much of Hansen’s work consisted of studying the Venusian atmosphere and other areas of space to see how climate change had impacted the Earth’s atmosphere and what could be the implications of global warming in the future. More specifically, Hansen studied traces of various gasses and aerosols to develop his scientific theories regarding climate change – which was successfully done with his own earth climate models. 

👉 Ultimately, while working for NASA – James E. Hansen secured clear data to demonstrate the clear imprint we have already left on the world amidst global warming.

After having worked over 30 years for NASA, James E. Hansen accepted a role in 2014 as the director of Columbia’s University Earth Institute Program – specifically for climate science and to develop future solutions. The main goals of the program are to raise awareness regarding the potential climate policies that could be implemented to help mitigate climate change, and aligns with much of what Hansen focuses on in present day – which is climate activism. 

image of rocket from nasa

What is James E. Hansen most well known for?

Undoubtedly, James E. Hansen is most famous for his statement regarding the importance of climate change back in the 1980s – before global warming was as prevalent as it is today.

In fact, James E. Hansen has been considered such an influential figure – he was listed as one of the top 100 most influential people by Time magazine in 2006.
james hansen senate testimony june 23rd 1988

If James E. Hansen hadn’t given his testimony regarding climate change back in the 1980s, the same level of awareness for the current global crisis we are facing today would not have the same context without Hansen’s initial prelude to the issue.

This is because in 1988, James Hansen presented congress with the, at the time, bold notion that humans were the root cause behind the increase in greenhouse gas emissions – and that mankind was single-handedly responsible for killing the planet. 

Hansen is often referred to as the father of global warming for his accurate predictions on how climate change was affecting the planet and human life.

At the time, this seemed irrational – but seeing as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released in their most recent report that humans are indeed the culprit behind climate change – James Hansen is now getting credit for his eerie premonition. 

👉 In addition to his infamous presentation to congress regarding climate change, James E. Hansen is also well known for T.V. and radio appearances, scholarly publications, and his TED talk on climate change.

round glasses on piece of paper

What are some key beliefs, awards, and achievements held by James E. Hansen?

James E. Hansen is adamant that climate change is imperative in order to pave a better world for future generations. Luckily, sticking to his beliefs has done him well, considering he has earned numerous awards for his efforts to promote the importance of climate change – such as a Sophie Prize and awards on behalf of PNC Bank.

Hansen is known for using pathos and breaking down the concept of climate change into simple terms in order to provoke emotion and incentivise action on behalf of those listening to his speeches on the importance of climate change. In other words, Hansen makes it easy for people to understand why climate change is bad and why we should all do something about it – especially keeping our children and grandchildren in mind.

Additional beliefs held by Hansen include:

  • Climate change is a political responsibility can only be effectively reduced if proper government action is taken, such as by implementing the stricter environmental regulations needed to curb emissions;
  • It would be morally wrong to leave future generations with the “mess” of climate change created by previous generations;
  • This dire situation is exceptionally upsetting seeing as global warming can be solved, such as by introducing moderate carbon fees for fossil fuel companies.  

In fact, considering Hansen’s exceptional work in climatology, his 1988 testimony, and continued climate activism – James E. Hansen was chosen to join the National Academy of Sciences in 1996. Since then, he has been awarded multiple times for his exceptional efforts and contributions to help fight climate change.

Some of the many achievements and awards Hansen has received include:

  • 2001 – Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award
  • 2006 – Heinz Award
  • 2007 – Dan David Prize
  • 2008 – PNC Bank Common Wealth Award of Distinguished Service
  • 2009 – Carl-Gustaf Rossby Research Medal
  • 2010 – Sophie Prize
  • 2012 – Stephen H. Schneider Award
  • 2013 – Joseph Priestley Award

👉 James E. Hansen is not just recognised in the United States for his efforts to study, understand, and promote the importance of climate change – but he is a globally recognised leader in the movement against climate change.

columbia university

What else is James E. Hansen doing today to promote awareness surrounding climate change?

James E. Hansen isn’t only a renowned climate scientist using his public speaking skills and scholarly articles to spread the word about the crucial situation surrounding the climate – but he is also taking matters into his own hands by participating in the Juliana v. United States lawsuit. 

In addition to participating in various protests James E. Hansen has taken part in since leaving his directorship position at NASA in 2013, Hansen has chosen to represent his granddaughter as a plaintiff in the lawsuit – as an effort to represent future generations and how they will be harmed if the government continues to ignore implementing the necessary measures needed to curb the most drastic effects of climate change. 

👉 Ultimately, this aligns with one of Hansen’s primary values – which is that it would be wrong to leave behind the deleterious effects of climate change to future generations.

Hansen isn’t only partaking in the lawsuit, but has continued to find other ways to promote awareness surrounding climate change – such as by attending special events like those hosted by the Nature Conservancy and the Natural History Museum of Utah in April 2023 to speak about the current stance on climate change and advocating for greater political action.

Besides continuing to regularly attend these events which aim to discuss climate change, Hansen has continued publishing papers and scholarly articles – which aim to warn the public about the future negative impacts of global warming. 

Think of how you feel when exposed to drastic temperatures, such as frigid winds in the midst of a blizzard or a blistering heat wave. In some cases, you may be more prone to extreme temperatures one way or the other – and climate sensitivity explains how the Earth is vulnerable to increasingly consistent, warm weather and excess greenhouse gas emissions.

The paper has sparked some controversy, but for Hansen – this continues to be the main point, as it will spark the pivotal conversation we need surrounding climate change.

As the saying goes, “bad press is still press” – and it’s likely that James E. Hansen will continue to go to great lengths to get his message across the world: climate change is real, and we can do something about it today.

What about Greenly? 

If reading this article about James E. Hansen has made you interested in reducing your carbon emissions to further fight against climate change – Greenly can help you!

Breaking down the insight from leaders like James E. Hansen can be overwhelming, but don’t worry – Greenly is here to help. Click here to schedule a demo to see how Greenly can help you find ways to improve energy efficiency and decrease the dependency on fossil fuels in your own company. 

Greenly can help you make an environmental change for the better, starting with a carbon footprint assessment to know how much carbon emissions your company produces.

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