I’ve met many good people in my life, and a few great ones. And one of the marks of the latter, it seems to me, is that they’re often under attack.

James Hansen arrested at a Keystone protest.
James Hansen being arrested at a Keystone protest.
Ben Powless

Like this morning. I opened the newspaper to read a column in the New York Times by Joe Nocera. It’s his fourth column pushing for the Keystone XL pipeline; fair enough. (Though in the third, he managed to get the economics of carbon so completely backward that he had to append a long correction to yet another column.)  This time, though, the vehicle he used was an attack on NASA scientist James Hansen, who had correctly identified the huge amount of carbon in the tar sands of Canada and Venezuela. Nocera didn’t like Hansen lending his credibility to the fight against Keystone XL, and even though Hansen been meticulous to make sure he’s always spoken as a private citizen, the columnist insinuated he should lose his job: Are these, he asked, “the sort of statements a government scientist should be making?”

If Nocera’s crusade against Hansen leads to pressure from his employers, it wouldn’t be the first time — he’s been in trouble with every presidential administration since George H.W. Bush, and for precisely the same reason: Unlike most scientists he’s been willing to loudly sound the alarm about climate change, and try like hell to get across the message that we must act. From the very first day he came to public notice, warning Congress in 1988 that global warming was real, the establishment has tried to tell him to speak more softly. He hasn’t listened — not because he’s an ideologue, but because he’s a father and a grandfather.

Mohamed Nasheed.
Mohamed Nasheed.
Presidency Maldives

Meanwhile, a few hours later, pictures started pouring in from the Maldives, an island nation in the Indian Ocean. The images were even uglier than Nocera’s attack: They showed hooded and helmeted policemen arresting Mohammed Nasheed and carting him off to jail.

The same jail, apparently, where he was held and tortured for years by the longtime Maldivian tyrant Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, a kleptocrat who ruled for three decades. Ruled until Nasheed, the “Mandela of the Indian Ocean,” managed to force an election which he won handily. But establishments never really give up, and this one eventually ousted him in a coup some months ago. Faced with the prospect that his unabated popularity was going to win him a free election, they’ve now jailed him again on a trumped-up charge.

I know Nasheed because he’s not only a hero of democracy, he’s a hero of the climate. Since the Maldives lies a meter or two above sea level, it has an obvious interest in the temperature of the planet, and Nasheed has been one of the most charismatic and committed leaders in the so-far futile global fight against carbon. He did all he could to transform the bureaucratic U.N. process into a working forum — when the Copenhagen talks were fizzling, he at least tried to salvage something.

John Kerry
Center for American Progress Action Fund

And now he’s behind bars again, and God knows what they’re doing to him. One guy who could find out is Secretary of State John Kerry — a phone call from him to the coup leaders would probably be enough to set him free. Kerry, oddly, could also stop the Keystone pipeline, since it requires a permit from the State Department. It will be interesting to find out if he’s a good man or a great man.