When a scientist gets all political

Elizabeth Kolbert has a pretty good profile of renowned (and now temporarily arrested) climate scientist James Hansen, unfortunately tucked away behind The New Yorker‘s digital subscriber wall. One major angle that comes out of the article is a sense that Hansen has drifted too far out of science and into politics, as captured by this graf, which I have assiduously and insidiously copied, word for word.

Hansen is also increasingly isolated among climate activists. “I view Jim Hansen as heroic as a scientist,” Eileen Claussen, the president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, said. “He was there at the beginning, he’s faced all kinds of pressures politically, and he’s done a terrific job, I think, of keeping focussed. But I wish he would stick to what he really knows. Because I don’t think he has a realistic view of what is politically possible, or what the best policies would be to deal with this problem.”

All this because, the following paragraph (which is too long for me to copy down) implies, Hansen favors a direct and stringent carbon tax over the more politically feasible “cap and trade” system. For one, favoring a carbon tax and a complete ban on coal-fired power plants, as Hansen does, does not strike me as an out-of-touch radical position. You can disagree on the policy merits of each, or on their political viability, but you can’t begrudge the man for advocating for his solution.

More significantly, though, isn’t the obstacle to getting tougher policies through, say, the U.S. Congress the fact that science has not been able to infuse itself in the politics of the thing? It seems to me that we need more James Hansen-esque super-scientists filling the political arena with ambitious arguments, not urging that they back down in favor of what is “politically possible.” The future is going to be laughing at our “politics,” I am sure.

(image from flickr user World Development Movement under a Creative Commons license)