One giant did step forward before election day, but he, too, may have waited too long. Dr. James Hansen, a physicist who's director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and has twice spoken to the Bush cabinet on climate change, gave a speech in Iowa on October 27 that was both an act of courage and prophetic judgment. The Times wrote about it the day before, but only the Associated Press actually covered it. Though all of us who live on the coasts may need very swift boats to escape a near future of catastrophically rising sea levels, Hansen's warnings got no attention from the cable networks consumed by the boats of three decades ago. At the possible cost of a federal job he's held for three decades, Hansen castigated the "interference with and misuse of the scientific process" that he said was "occurring now to a degree unprecedented in my scientific lifetime.
"I speak from a position of having tried hard to work with and advise the current administration on matters relating to climate change. I find a willingness to listen only to those portions of scientific results that fit predetermined inflexible positions. This, I believe, is a recipe for environmental disasters." Told by his NASA boss not to talk about "dangerous" human interference with climate, Hansen nonetheless concluded, "consistent with thousands" of U.N. scientists," that "we in the U.S. are on a dangerous course in our climate and energy policies" and that the disintegration of the Arctic ice sheet could be "explosively rapid."
You can almost hear the pre-Iraq whispers of nonpartisan intelligence and military experts in Hansen's description of the Bush administration's hidebound inflexibility, especially since Hansen had face-to-face meetings with Cheney himself. How is it that men capable of masterminding so stunning a campaign triumph are so willfully resistant to fact when facing life-threatening policy choices? While there is much to mourn about Tuesday's loss, America can survive most of the inevitably callous choices of the next Bush term, even internationally. What the world can't survive is an America that is irreversibly poisoning the planet at a record pace, and refuses to hear the pro-life voice of undisputed science.