James E. Hansen, 2018 laureate in Sustainable Development, has recently engaged with the younger population to promote awareness of the pressing problem of climate change. On September 26, he delivered a speech to more than 200 eager young students at Affiliated Senior High School of National Taiwan Normal University (HSNU) on the topic “Young People's World: Making Your Future,” and engaged with the curious students in lively discussion.
Previous director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and adjunct professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University, Hansen has been active in the study of climate change for the past 30 years. He has called for the government to place more effort on the issue of climate change, and for that reason he has contended on multiple occasions with the government. Concerned for the future of the earth, he has called on the youth to work together to protect both their rights and their planet.
Hansen advocates the spirit of science and education, the collection of resources, and being self-critical and accepting of examination. Hansen further stressed the need for objective, quantified data on the advantages and disadvantages of each type of energy, be it fossil fuel, nuclear, or renewables. Only then can the discussion bring us closer to an effective model for energy.
Carbon taxes may be a good way to reduce the use of fossil fuels and thus reduce carbon emissions, Hansen argued, and the funds derived from the carbon tax can be relegated to support of new energies. This would create new jobs and stimulate the economy and government revenue. During the discussion portion of the talk, Hansen urged for the creation of a public climate alliance in Taiwan that would itself advocate the use of carbon taxes, mitigate global warming, and protect our precious ecologies.
Questioners were curious and eager for debate. On the question of nuclear energy, Hansen acknowledged that the level of education in Taiwan was quite high: thus, it is a question that can be put up for public debate and evaluation. Although earthquakes, thermal activity, typhoons, and other natural disasters are relevant considerations for nuclear power in Taiwan, Hansen added that there are measures for safety in nuclear power plants. In the end, it is up to the informed citizenry to use scientific methods to compare and weigh the relative advantages and disadvantages.
HSNU Principal Shu-Li Wang and Tang Prize Foundation CEO Jenn-Chuan Chern delivered the opening addresses to the event. After a 30-minute speech from Hansen, the event entered into a lively discussion between generations. Two spectacular second-year students on the science track, Liao Yi-Yun and Chen Ming-Sheng, moderated the discussion.
For this rare opportunity, students from all over Taiwan gathered to listen to Hansen’s advice. Students of HSNU were joined by their peers from Taipei First Girls' High School, Taipei Municipal Zhongshan Girls High School, and National Taitung Girls' High School. Thanking Hansen for taking time to speak to the youth, HSNU Principal Wang presented several HSNU gifts to Hansen at the end of the event, and gathered eager students together for a group photo.
In his 2012 TED talk “Why I must speak out about climate change,” Hansen argued that “It would be immoral to leave these young people with a climate system spiraling out of control.” Ensuring that we leave to next generation a sustainable world is Hansen’s life-long goal.
Undaunted by the gravity of high government and the powerful doubts of business, this former NASA climate scientist attended a government hearing in 1988, where he argued that global warming was the result of human activity, and that simulations showed that the 2010s would see marked rises in global temperatures. His brave, farsighted testimony before congress has since been known as the Hansen Hearing.
In the midst of all of his advocacy work, Hansen is also nearing completion of a book for the youth, entitled Sophie's Planet: A Search for Truth About Our Remarkable Home Planet and Its Future. The book recounts his own scientific methods and his history in climate science.
The future will need courage and critical thought, and so such a talk was a wonderful opportunity for these students to develop themselves. It will be these young students taking up positions in the highest levels of government, it is they who will be the future scientists and engineers. Only by planting the seeds for intelligent exchange now can we ensure that the next generation will be up to the challenge.
Watch the talk and more at the Tang Prize website: