Climate scientist Hansen wins $100,000 prize

OSLO (Reuters) - U.S. climate scientist James Hansen won a $100,000 environmental prize Wednesday for decades of work trying to alert politicians to what he called an unsolved emergency of global warming.

James Hansen, director of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, smiles before the Climate Change Copenhagen Congress March 11, 2009. REUTERS/Scanpix/Jens Norgaard Larsen

Hansen, born in 1941, will visit Oslo in June to collect the Sophie Prize, set up in 1997 by Norwegian Jostein Gaarder, the author of the 1991 best-selling novel and teenagers’ guide to philosophy “Sophie’s World.”

“Hansen has played a key role for the development of our understanding of human-induced climate change,” the prize citation said.

Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies since 1981, testified to the U.S. Congress as long ago as 1988 about the risks of global warming from human activities led by the burning of fossil fuels.

“We really have an emergency,” Hansen said in a video link with the prize panel in Oslo about feared climate changes such as a thaw of ice sheets on Greenland or Antarctica or a loss of species of animals and plants in a warming world.

“The United States is not taking a path which is going to solve the problem,” he said, adding that other nations were also doing too little. Legislation to cap U.S. greenhouse gas emissions is stalled in the Senate.

A Copenhagen Accord agreed at a U.N. climate summit in December fell short of many nations’ hopes by setting a non-binding goal of limiting warming to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), without spelling out how.

Hansen said that world temperatures were on a rising trend despite what he called a “well orchestrated campaign” in the past year to discredit scientific findings about global warming. He did not say who he reckoned was behind the campaign.

Sceptics have cast doubt on the science after the U.N. panel of climate experts corrected an error in a 2007 report that exaggerated the thaw of Himalayan glaciers while e-mails hacked from a British university showed some climate experts were dismissive of alternative views.

Hansen said his granddaughter was called Sophie, a name directly inspired by Gaarder’s book.

After years focused on science, he said he started speaking out more about risks of global warming in 2004, reckoning his grandchildren would not forgive him if he stayed silent. His latest book is called “Storms of My Grandchildren.”

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