The Intersection

I am quite confident that most readers of this blog would agree that NASA’s James Hansen is a pretty big hero. Nevertheless, he shouldn’t be saying stuff like this:

Recently, after giving a high school commencement talk in my hometown, Denison, Iowa, I drove from Denison to Dunlap, where my parents are buried. For most of 20 miles there were trains parked, engine to caboose, half of the cars being filled with coal. If we cannot stop the building of more coal-fired power plants, those coal trains will be death trains – no less gruesome than if they were boxcars headed to crematoria, loaded with uncountable irreplaceable species.

Or this:

A related alternative metaphor, perhaps less objectionable while still making the most basic point, comes to mind in connection with an image of crashing of massive ice sheets fronts into the sea — an image of relevance to both climate tipping points and consequences (sea level rise). Can these crashing glaciers serve as a Krystal Nacht, and wake us up to the inhumane consequences of averting our eyes?

In my latest DeSmogBlog item, I explain why it’s just dumb and counterproductive (not to mention offensive) to use Holocaust analogies in a global warming context. Full analysis here.

Upshot: James Hansen is a hero all right, but that certainly doesn’t make him perfect.


  1. #1 Scott Belyea
    December 4, 2007

    Ugh. I agree.

    serve as a Krystal Nacht

    And he’s ignorant enough to use some sort of bizarre pseudo-English/German mistranslation for Kristallnacht

  2. #2 mgr
    December 4, 2007

    Hi Chris:

    My take is that Hansen’s reference to Shoah is a proper analogy. One of the things I learned as a student under Barney Neitzmann and his experience with the Mosquito during the Nicaragua conflict (a smaller scale holocaust), is that it is easy to question the methods another employs, but it is much more difficult to provide a better method. What analogy would you employ to convey the direness of the situation that is more apt?


  3. #3 Fred Bortz
    December 5, 2007

    Disagree with mgr, who writes: “My take is that Hansen’s reference to Shoah is a proper analogy.”

    The Shoah (Holocaust) happened to particular segments of humanity and was the result of a brutal totalitarian ideology and the people who did nothing to stop the insanity.

    The Shoah was the result of deliberate, palpable evil. Climate catastrophes, if they occur, will result from inaction, inattention, and the sum total of everyone’s everyday actions–very different in terms of emotional/moral content.

    Global warming catastrophes, if worst-case scenarios come to pass (a big but plausible if), will not be potentially far worse in terms of loss of life and habitat. They will happen to the world as a whole, not just to an unfortunate fraction of humanity, though the burden will be distributed unevenly.

    There may be no analogy in human experience. The question is why do we need an analogy when we can describe the consequences so vividly.

    But I think we will do better if we make sure we also describe the non-business-as-usual scenarios that can come to pass if we do act with suitable urgency.

  4. #4 Neuro-conservative
    December 5, 2007

    Chris — I notice in your DeSmog piece that you strictly criticize Hansen on pragmatic grounds, stating that his Holocaust comments will detract from the impact of his warnings.

    Do you not believe that there is something morally abominable in his comparison? Are hypothetical future actions which may or may not result in extinction of various species comparable to the deliberate extermination of entire classes of humans? (Especially since the latter actually, um, you know, happened.)

    Why is this imbalanced hysteric a hero to you? Don’t you think it possible that his hysterical and outrageous comments are indicative of a faulty thought process?

  5. #5 gerald spezio
    December 5, 2007

    Mooney, Your behavior is beneath contempt.

  6. #6 Fred Bortz
    December 5, 2007

    Correction of above:

    Global warming catastrophes, if worst-case scenarios come to pass (a big but plausible if), will not be potentially far worse…

    Delete the “not”

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