Monday's protest at the Capitol Power Plant found climate modeler James Hansen yet again at the forefront of U.S. climate politics. Hansen, head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, was among the prominent figures attending what was billed as the largest act of civil disobedience against global warming in American history. The target was the skyrocketing—and Hansen would say highly dangerous—use of coal in the U.S. The plant has been burning coal for a century.
Hansen spends increasingly more of his time—as a private citizen, he's quick to say—on climate activism. He's been involved in efforts to acquit Greenpeace protesters who infiltrated a British coal plant and calls on individual power companies, including Duke Power, to reduce their dependence on coal power. But the demand for his support from the burgeoning movement spreads him thin. "I do one [protest] and I get 10 invitations for others," says Hansen.
"There are 50 states—I can't go to all of [the protests]," he adds. He wonders if it's better to try to effect change by appearing at events like a recent hearing of the Ways and Means Committee, where he called for a price on carbon emissions—his fix for rising greenhouse gas emissions. After all, he says, helping put in place a national system to regulate carbon “will automatically deal with the individual cases” of various carbon polluters.
Hansen, who told the crowd about the need for continued activism, says the "peaceful but noisy" event was a success. Organizers said it drew thousands of activists to block the entrance to D.C.'s Capitol Power Plant, preventing a day’s operation while avoiding a single arrest. The spirit of the event was uplifted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s call last week to convert the entire plant to cleaner-burning natural gas. But with lots more to do, Hansen will continue to juggle his roles as a scientist and an activist. "I think that these individual cases are useful for making clear what is happening," he says.
(PHOTO: Kate Davison/Greenpeace)