James HansenIn Greek mythology, Cassandra was given the gift of prophecy — of seeing the future. But she was also cursed to have no one believe her. For far too many years, Dr. James Hansen has been a modern-day Cassandra. Gifted with a scientific training that allowed him to see the forces at work that are warming the planet, for too many years he was also not believed by many who chose to ignore or deny the scientific reality of global warming.

Today, it is my pleasure to welcome Dr. James Hansen back to Capitol Hill on this 23rd of June 2008. It was twenty years ago today in 1988 that Dr. Hansen first came to Congress to deliver his message about global warming. He stated: “The greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now.”

Dr. Hansen, who currently serves as the director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and a professor of the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department at Columbia University, is a pioneer in modeling research and showed rising greenhouse gas levels would cause “temperature changes sufficiently large to have major impacts on people and other parts of the biosphere.”

Dr. Hansen has been more than just a leader within the global warming research community. He has served as a spokesperson communicating the global warming science to the public. Dr. Hansen has stood up to pressure to change the tone of his scientific research for political reasons in order to ensure that the pubic receives the most accurate information possible about climate change.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Over the past twenty years, the body of evidence Dr. Hansen and his colleagues began has only continued to grow. It recently resulted in the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report showing how rising concentrations of man made pollutants are changing the climate of our planet. The debate is over. Global warming is here. Dr. Hansen was right.

Last year, in his testimony before the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, Dr. Hansen discussed future global warming projections, and how we can begin to avert dangerous climate change. Dr. Hansen’s message was clear. Inaction has consequences.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

However, this is also a time of amazing opportunity. Climate change is a call to action. We have the opportunity to transform and grow our economy, and move into an era of energy independence. New green-collar jobs are ready to be unleashed, and we must direct our investment in the new low carbon economy.

This is why I have introduced the Investment in Climate Action and Protection Act, iCAP. It sets up a “cap and invest” system that is science-based, reducing emissions by 85 percent by 2050. The consumer-focused iCAP reinvests over half the proceeds in American families through tax credits and rebates. Eighty percent of Americans would receive benefits and two-thirds of U.S. households would be fully compensated for any cost increases from the bill. Finally, iCAP is technology-driven and invests trillions of dollars in efficiency and clean energy technologies that will be essential to protect our planet from the climate threat Dr. Hansen warned us of twenty years ago.

Just last week, I heard from the people of Greensburg, Kansas. Last year, a tornado destroyed 95 percent of their community. They have seized this opportunity, and are building a low-carbon community, incorporating smart growth, energy-efficient designs and harnessing the power of wind as their energy source. This small community faced this challenge and turned it into an opportunity to build with the future in mind. I hope that Greensburg, Kan., serves as an example to us all of what is possible in the United States. Global warming is the greatest opportunity of our time to revolutionize our economy and improve the quality of life for all Americans.

So on the twentieth anniversary of Dr. Hansen’s first call to action, we are grateful for his perseverance and dedication which has carried Congress, and the public, a great distance in their understanding of global warming. Dr. Hansen saw the future indeed; now it’s time for Congress to heed his call and take the action needed to save our planet.