A leading Nasa researcher who pioneered the case for tough action to combat climate change in the US has been awarded the WWF's top conservation award. James Hansen, whose testimony to the US senate on global warming is featured in Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth, received the medal from the Duke of Edinburgh at a ceremony yesterday at St James's Palace in London.
"Dr Hansen was among the first to see the looming threat of climate change and to sound the alarm," said James Leape, WWF International's director general. "For more than two decades he has made huge contributions to scientific understanding of climate change and to raising awareness among decision makers and the public."
NASA's Dr. James Hansen has proved to be both a global warming lightning rod and an outspoken advocate of openness within NASA. Photograph by Forrest M. Mims III.
Accepting the award, which includes a gold medal and a Rolex watch, Prof Hansen said: "The rude scientific awakening to the threat of climate change has been sudden and profound. Only in recent years has the extent and immediacy of the threat become clear."
He said this had resulted in a big gap between the understanding of climate scientists and that of the public and policy makers. Dr Hansen is director of Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.
"I am concerned about the burden that we will leave for our children and grandchildren, if we do not take a leadership role in addressing global warming," he went on.
Apart from the moral burden to act, he speculated that communities affected would seek compensation from polluting nations. "Will not people driven from their land seek reparation from countries most responsible? Science does not leave the opportunity for us to claim ignorance of the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions."
He also criticised adverts funded partly by ExxonMobil designed apparently to promote CO2. The tag line "They call it pollution, we call it life" would "bamboozle" the public, he said. "It is time to stop patronising that company," he added.
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