Distinguished alum speaks on energy


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James Hansen remembers his days at the University of Iowa fondly.

Studying under James Van Allen in the Physics/Astronomy Department, Hansen said he learned vital knowledge that has brought him to where he is today — working as a leading climate scientist in the United States.

“What stuck with me was the research environment and the attitude of how science works,” Hansen said. “Working in Professor Van Allen’s department was a great environment that has stuck with me for decades.”

After earning three degrees from the UI and finishing his UI career with a Ph.D. in physics in 1967, Hansen became a professor at Columbia University. He is also a former director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at NASA.

Hansen was back at the UI Thursday to give a lecture that focused on lessons from Iowa in relation to potential global climate policies. He also gave a keynote speech during the Meeting the Renewable Energy Challenge Symposium.

“Students should be very concerned about the energy situation,” Hansen said. “Their well being depends on having abundant, affordable energy.”

The lecture detailed the various possible problems the world could face in just a few short decades if fossil fuels and other carbonbased energy continues to lead in use.

The solution to the problem, Hansen said, is as simple as keeping prices for carbon-based fuels honest by getting rid of subsidies and adding a fee that would be assessed at mines and domestic entry for fuel.

“If we don’t get on a different energy path, young people will inherit something out of their control,” Hansen said.

UI student Sergio Chavarria Jr, who is getting a certificate from the UI in sustainability, said that as a student, it is important to be involved with the issue.

“A lot of the youth has to get into it because it is our future at stake here,” he said.

The lecture was part of the larger symposium put on by the UI Public Policy Center and its Forkenbrock Series on Public Policy.

Peter Damiano, the director of the center, said getting Hansen to the UI lined up well with the purpose of the symposium.

“We are very proud of the fact that we want to present evidence-based information to people and create a political discourse,” he said. “Meaning you have to have people from all sides.”

Hansen said the current problem with getting policies pushed forward isn’t the politics but rather the money in politics. He said it is hard to compete with the lobby from energy companies.

Jon Carlson, a professor in the UI College of Law and moderator at the symposium, said the issues discussed are important in a variety of ways.

“Dr. Hansen brings a lot of credibility; he was one of the first people in this country to talk about climate change seriously,” he said.

Damiano said Hansen being a UI graduate made his appearance special.

“It’s always feels good to have one of our own back,” he said.

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