NASA scientist wins WWF conservation medal
Dr Hansen, Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, was presented with his medal by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh in a ceremony today 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.”
“From his plain-speaking before the US Congress in 1988 about the implications of climate change to his recent warnings that we have only a short time to act before we face irreversible damage to our planet and its natural systems, he has been at the forefront of climate science. We are pleased to be able to recognize his outstanding achievements.’’
Dr Hansen, 65, is a physicist who joined NASA in 1967. Since the 1970s he has worked on computer simulations of the Earth’s climate in a bid to understand humanity’s impact upon it.
In 1988, he appeared before committee hearings of the US Congress. His remark to reporters later that “the greenhouse effect is here and is affecting our climate now’’ helped take the “greenhouse’’ concept of heat-trapping gases into popular parlance.
More recently, he has spoken out about the concept of “tipping points’’ where, because of climate change, natural systems may experience sudden, rapid and possibly irreversible change.
In accepting his award, Dr Hansen reiterated the need for urgent action.
“There is still a huge gap between what is understood about global warming, by the scientific community, and what is known about global warming, by those who need to know, the public and policymakers,” he said.
“We must close that gap and move our energy systems in a fundamentally different direction within about a decade, or we will have pushed the planet past a tipping point beyond which it will be impossible to avoid far-ranging undesirable consequences.
“This fate can be avoided with policies that make sense for other reasons, policies that result in cleaner air and reduced dependence on fossil fuels, but the changes must begin soon to avoid economic disruption and hardship.”
The citation for Dr Hansen’s award reads: “In recognition of his groundbreaking research on man's impact on the Earth's climate and his courage in sounding the alarm; thereby helping to awaken the world to the fact of climate change and galvanize international action to address it."
• Part of Dr Hansen’s testimony to the US Congress features in Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth.
• The medal is WWF’s premier award. At its inception in 1970 it was known as the WWF Gold Medal, but on Prince Philip’s retirement as WWF International’s president in 1996, it was renamed the Duke of Edinburgh Conservation Medal as a tribute to him.
• Recipients of the award receive a gold medal in a sustainably-sourced rosewood box donated by the Chamber of Mines of South Africa, a Rolex watch, and a certificate signed by the Duke of Edinburgh and the Director General of WWF.
For further information:
Alison Sutton +44 1483 412 388, ASutton@wwf.org.uk
Moira O’Brien-Malone +41 22 364 9550, firstname.lastname@example.org