James E. Hansen, the NASA climate scientist who has become an outspoken campaigner against coal burning, was among 29 protesters arrested as they intentionally crossed onto the property of Massey Energy, the biggest company conducting mountaintop mining in West Virginia. Dr. Hansen and the others, including Ken Hechler, 94, a former congressman, and the actress Darryl Hannah, were cited for trespassing and released, said Nell Greenberg, a spokeswoman for the Rain Forest Action Network, whose executive director was also arrested.
In a statement distributed by the Rainforest Action Network, Dr. Hansen said:
I am not a politician; I am a scientist and a citizen. Politicians may have to advocate for halfway measures if they choose. But it is our responsibility to make sure our representatives feel the full force of citizens who speak for what is right, not what is politically expedient. Mountaintop removal, providing only a small fraction of our energy, should be abolished.
Dr. Hansen has said for years that growing reliance on coal, far more so than oil, is the biggest threat to the global climate. As a result, he has strongly criticized the climate bill that is facing a vote by the full House of Representatives on Friday. He cites studies concluding that various provisions would allow expanded coal use in coming decades despite an overall cap on emissions of carbon dioxide. In a profile of Dr. Hansen by Elizabeth Kolbert in the current issue of the New Yorker (subscription required), she pressed him on his stance:
Dr. Hansen pointed out that the bill explicitly allows for the construction of new coal plants and predicted that it would, if passed, prove close to meaningless. He said that he thought it would probably be best if the bill failed, so that Congress could “come back and do it more sensibly.”
I said that if the bill failed I thought it was more likely Congress would let the issue drop, and that was one reason most of the country’s major environmental groups were backing it. “This is just stupidity on the part of environmental organizations in Washington,” Dr. Hansen said. “The fact that some of these organizations have become part of the Washington ‘go along, get along’ establishment is very unfortunate.”
Dr. Hansen has pushed far beyond the boundaries of the conventional role of scientists, particularly government scientists, in the environmental policy debate. He’s been heaped with scorn and honors as a result. With his opposition to the climate bill, he’s made foes out of old allies.
Rainforest Action Network runs hard-hitting campaigns to break North America’s fossil fuels addiction, protect endangered forests and Indigenous rights, and stop destructive investments around the world through education, grassroots organizing, and non-violent direct action. For more information, please visit: www.ran.org