In the latest issue of the The New York Review of Books (
not yet online here), legendary climate scientist Jim Hansen leaves behind the cozy confines of technical scientific writing and launches into the world of book review prose. He does remarkably well.
The books at issue are Tim Flannery’s The Weather Makers, Elizabeth Kolbert’s Field Notes From a Catastrophe, and Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, but Hansen mostly uses the books as a pretext to lay out the basic state of conventional wisdom on the climate issue, namely: Things are bad and getting worse, species are set to die out and sea levels are set to rise, we can either continue on with business as usual or set a new course, and we really should set a new course, because within 10 years we’ll pass a point of no return. Regular Grist readers will find it all quite familiar, but Hansen does a nice job of presenting the information in a compact, dispassionate, and frightening form.
Perhaps more juicy, from a purely tabloidy perspective, are some nuggets about Gore and Hansen’s relationship toward the end of the piece. To wit:
The reader might assume that I have long been close to Gore, since I testified before his Senate committee in 1989 and participated in scientific "roundtable" discussions in his Senate office. In fact, Gore was displeased when I declined to provide him with images of increasing drought generated by a computer model of climate change. (I didn’t trust the model’s estimates of precipitation.) After Clinton and Gore were elected, I declined a suggestion from the White House to write a rebuttal to a New York Times Op-Ed article that played down global warming and criticized the Vice President. I did not hear from Gore for more than a decade, until January of this year, when he asked me to critically assess his slide show. When we met, he said that he "wanted to apologize," but, without letting him explain what he was apologizing for, I said, "your insight was better than mine."
An Inconvenient Truth is about Gore himself as well as global warming. It shows the man that I met in the 1980s at scientific roundtable discussions, passionate and knowledgeable, true to the message he has delivered for years. It makes one wonder whether the American public has not been deceived by the distorted images of him that have been presented by the press and television. Perhaps the country came close to having the leadership it needed to deal with a grave threat to the planet, but did not realize it.
Good to see Hansen give Gore the credit for foresight that he deserves. Hopefully that sentiment will spread.