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A controversial fighter in the climate-change debate

NASA's James Hansen frequently clashes with global warming 'deniers,' as well as the Bush administration.


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Among those who've started to worry and maybe do something in their lives about global climate change, James Hansen is not exactly a household name. Not like, say, Al Gore.

But as one of the leading scientific experts and public Jeremiahs on the subject, the head of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York has been in the thick of it for many years.

He heads a federal government research team that's butted heads with climate skeptics and sometimes with the Bush administration. Dr. Hansen, who writes prolifically, is often called to testify before Congress. And last week he was tossing rhetorical darts at the Houghton Mifflin publishing company for what he calls "many gross errors" in a textbook used in colleges and Advanced Placement high school classes.

One chapter, written by conservative authors, states that "science doesn't know how bad the greenhouse effect is" and that global warming is "enmeshed in scientific uncertainty." While that may be literally true, it doesn't reflect the expert consensus. As a Boston Globe story observed:

"While there are still some scientists who downplay global warming and the role of burning fossil fuels, the overwhelming majority of climate scientists ... say human activity is causing climate change. Last year an international collection of hundreds of scientists and government officials unanimously approved wording that said the scientific community had 'very high confidence,' meaning more than 90 percent likelihood, that global warming is caused by humans."

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