Reader Danny Weston sends this report of James Hansen's lecture at the LSE last week.
On Friday the 17th James Hansen came to speak at the London School of Economics (LSE), on “Itinerant farming to White House arrests: A scientist’s view of the climate crisis”.
The venue was completely packed and I wasn’t sure initially if I would even get in. There were hundreds of people, already buzzing with excitement before Hansen began his talk.
As expected, Hansen put the frighteners on, emphasising that immediate action was required to stymie anthropogenic CO2’s allegedly noxious effect on our environment. His presentation was littered with continual emotive references to, and pictures of, his numerous grandchildren, showing them gradually growing up. This was important because Hansen is now pushing the line that whilst climate catastrophe is not imminent, it is “in the pipeline” and the victims will, apparently, be our grandchildren. The reason we’re not seeing imminent catastrophe now is because of “climate inertia” and we should be worried because there are further “tipping points” to come after which “we could lose control”. I’m sure all of this sounds familiar.
Furthermore, he was also playing the victim card, detailing his interactions with the Bush administration and presenting himself as a hard pressed and isolated scientist working against the grain. He claimed that the 30% reduction in the NASA climate budget during this period was a result of him having gone to the New York Times claiming that NASA had censored him .
He went through all of the standard alarmist memes with almost no qualification or caveats to speak of. Regular readers of BH and other sceptical blogs will be familiar with all of them – TSI not being a factor in affecting the climate, “unprecedented melt” in Greenland (for which he showed this  image, with no mention of these  issues), both Arctic and Antarctic “death spirals” (showing a graph for each, with a single curve sloping precipitously downward at an ever faster rate), ocean acidification, coral bleaching and so on.
“Extreme weather” of course had a central place in the presentation. He claimed that there were now “more extreme forest fires” and of course highlighted Hurricane Sandy. He said that droughts were also getting worse and tried to illustrate this anecdotally by claiming to have noticed changes in the migratory behaviour of the monarch butterfly in North America (also giving him another opportunity to reference his grandchildren).
He then moved onto more political aspects of his views, leading with a slide quoting himself thus:
“Our parents did not know that their actions could harm future generations. We will only be able to pretend that we did not know.”
This led into a discussion of “intergenerational justice”. During which he made a number of bizarre claims and statements. These included:
- Extolling the virtues of France’s dash to nuclear power (no mention of the issue of nuclear waste whatsoever, nor the fact that both the UK and Germany regularly rely on French nuclear power).
- Answering a questioner who raised the issue of national debts as possibly being more important than “green” spending, he claimed that attacking the deficit rewards the government, helping them to grow bigger.
- Praising Bill McKibben for “getting the Sierra Club to join him” and “thousands of people” to surround the Whitehouse for the anti-Keystone pipeline demonstration. This is bizaare because Hansen was there himself – with all 50 attendees 
- Then of course there was the boilerplate “there is a well funded [fossil fuel] effort to prevent the public from understanding the issue”.
During the Q and A session as I listened to one questioner after another identify whichever activist group or green lobbying special interest group they were from, I truly felt like I was alone in enemy territory. I almost backed out and let my fear get the better of me. But I kept putting my hand up regardless – I felt Hansen’s scaremongering could not go unanswered and if it wasn’t by way of putting points and questions to him then it was going to have to be heckles.
Shortly before the mike came to me, one of the activists in the audience pointed out that he [Hansen] was only preaching to the choir, saying that it was important to get people from ‘outside the choir’ to attend such events and asking how.
That was my in. Hansen responded to her that it was very important to get people from ‘outside the choir’ in to such talks but didn’t know how.
The mike came to me and I stood up and laid into him. I said that he was high on the hyperbole and hysteria and low on the facts. Most of the people there would unfortunately take him at his word and not look any further so I said I felt obliged to point out that most of his claims were highly controversial and some were flat out wrong and that I’d be happy to go through them with him there and then and debate him.
The crowd then turned on me, exploding in incredulity.
I stated that my question to him was that if he truly wanted people from ‘outside the choir’ to get involved then what on earth did he expect to happen when he continually pushed the line that there was an enormous well funded “denial” campaign, painting anyone who dared express a sceptical thought as being in bed with the fossil fuel industry.
After several hostile exchanges with the crowd immediately around me and a bit of back and forth between myself and Hansen, he finally got around to (not) answering my question. His response was very odd. He went through the hackneyed nonsense about science being based on scepticism (the implied syllogism here being that he was a scientist, therefore also a sceptic). He then said that he had debated Richard Lindzen previously. He said (referring to Lindzen) that it was “hard to win against an articulate guy”. He also – bizzarely – claimed that Lindzen had been shown to be wrong again and again and that he [Hansen] would no longer have any kind of debates, public or otherwise, with Lindzen or others because Lindzen “like other climate contrarians” – apparently – “even when he has been shown to be wrong on so many occasions, just shifts to another point to pick on”.
Following the talk I ended up being collared multiple times outside the lecture theatre. Thankfully a few people backpatted me and saying “very brave”, and a couple whispered to me conspiratorially “I’m outside the choir too”, but plenty were wanting to argue. I was happy to oblige.
I want to say thanks here by the way to the one kind chap who sided with me and argued with the attendees outside. What was particularly depressing though was further confirmation of the general pattern of ignorance that many of the alarmist footsoldiers appear to exhibit. There genuinely is no variation in my experience and over the last seven years or so during which I’ve argued with hundreds face to face since I fell from grace and became a CAGW sceptic. It is abundantly clear that they all get their talking points from the same limited insular group. I’d be interested to know if other BH readers have had a similar experience – commonalities include ignorance of CO2’s direct effect following a logarithmic decay, the importance of climate sensitivity and strong positive feedbacks to the alarmist case and similarly, their importance to the typical sceptic’s position (they always seem to have an utterly cartoonish impression of sceptics having never having before met one in real life), not understanding that the temperature data of 1880 or before may not necessarily be comparable to that in 2013, not knowing that regular measurements of CO2 have only been taken since 1958, not knowing that Venus’s climate is driven primarily by atmospheric pressure and proximity to the sun rather than CO2 and so on.
All in all a thoroughly depressing experience.