Every two years the Tang Prizes in four categories are announced in Taiwan, where the Taiwanese philanthropist Samuel Yin has created what some pundits have dubbed the “Asian Nobels.”
This year, in June, it was announced that American climate activist and astro-physicist James Hansen won the $500,000 prize for his lifetime work with sustainability issues. He will fly to Taipei in September to accept the prize in person at an awards ceremony and give lectures a several colleges around the country.
The Tang Prize comes to Hansen at a good time, as he is preparing to publish a new book titled “Sophie’s Planet,” a series of heartfelt letters to his 19-year grand-daughter Sophie Kivlehan who will be starting her sophomore year at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania in September.
The book will be published by Bloomsbury Press in early January 2019, and with Hansen’s Tang Prize under his belt now and resulting in global publicity for his work as a climate activist, the book is sure to become a bestseller worldwide. This is a book for our climate-anxious times, our cli-fi novel times, our ”End of the World if we don’t do something soon about runaway climate change times.”
So who is Sophie Kivlehan and why is Hansen’s new book, 300 pages long, addressed to her?
In a longform profile of Sophie in The Weather.Com site, reporter Joe McCarthy headlined his story: “Sophie Kivlehan Doesn’t Want to Freak You Out.”
“Sophie Kivlehan [will be a sophomore the fall of 2018] at Dickinson College in Carlisle where she studies biochemistry and molecular biology,” McCarthy wrote, adding:
”She’s a diligent student, introverted and ethical (like many of her peers). She plays cello for the Dickinson College Orchestra. She plans on attending med school and after that hopes to become an obstetrician, focusing on fertility. And for the past three years Kivlehan has been a plaintiff in a lawsuit accusing the U.S. government of actions and inaction that furthers climate change, something few on campus know. Oh, and her grandfather is James Hansen, the former NASA director who is about as famous as a climatologist can be.”
”Kivlehan’s lawsuit has the features of a secret mission. She’s separated it from her academic and personal life. Keeps documents pertaining to the lawsuit in an unassuming Dickinson binder. Doesn’t speak loudly about the case. And when it’s all over, ‘Whether it ends one way or the other,’ she says with a dramatic air, ‘I would like to retire from this life.'”
If that’s true, then why take part in the court case? McCarthy asks.
“Climate change is very simple,” Kivlehan tells him. “You don’t put dirty things in the air. That’s bad.”
McCarthy notes: “Despite being the granddaughter of a man known as the “grandfather of climate change” and despite the raft of science she’s studying, Kivlehan’s opinions on the environment don’t get bogged down in scientific minutia. She knows the science, but when she talks about climate change, it’s clear-eyed and straightforward, if tinged with the certainty of youth.”
“It’s easy to zoom out and see, when you’re young, to zoom out and see that it’s very simple. Climate change is very simple,” Kivlehan tells him.
“The sky is blue. Climate change is real.”
To learn more about Sophie and the book of letters to her that her famous grandfather will publish next January, read Joe McCarthy’s profile in full here.