Erik Hanssen (continued)

Hello again, I recognize your face, but I seem to have forgotten your name. I’m Erik Hanssen, I believe I had started telling you a story the last time we met. I left off with a dreary winter day in the temperate rainforest of the Pacific Northwest. I had been traveling in my Vanagon for quite some time and started to feel the itch of over-achieving coming over me again. I had gone so long without achieving much aside from reading a lot of books, staying at every campground along the Pacific coast of the United States, and consuming more black tea than any one man ought to in his life. My parents’ voices were haunting me like the raindrops on the metal roof of my van. I needed to quell the noise. Perhaps I was just bored, but I walked into the cellphone sales office and left with an unlimited data plan, a smartphone, a tablet, and a Bluetooth keyboard.

By week’s end, I had enrolled in an online Master’s program in Glaciology that would culminate with an internship somewhere. I thought it would be interesting, I had been reading books about climate change and disappearing glaciers since it started raining about three months prior to that day. I felt like I had a purpose for a while there, it gave me a sense of accomplishment that I hadn’t felt in years. Looking back on it, that time was a new adventure for me. Having an education in the History of Science and Medicine, it made me feel good to do research on the ‘here and now’ of science. I didn’t know it would lead to me being here. I just enjoyed the ride, as I had been before I went back to academia on a whim.

I stopped the paper book obsession and found a new addiction in digital books. It certainly made organizing my van simpler, and with digital libraries allowing me to electronically borrow their books I ended up saving a small fortune in fuel expenses. Using that newfound flexibility, I was able to find some nice campgrounds with cell reception where I could stay for a week or two at a time and really focus on getting my assigned research finished. I finished the Master’s in Glaciology with some fieldwork in the northern portion of the Cascade Mountains, where I had to drive toward civilization for quite some time to get cellular coverage, and a thesis paper that had to be peer-reviewed. It only took about a year to add another ‘Master in’ to my curriculum vitae, when you live in a van and have no life it’s easy to spend all day doing schoolwork.

On the heels of that adventure in learning, I decided I wanted to keep studying glaciers. I found them interesting, and they each had their own personality. They were constant and volatile, persevering and deteriorating, emergent and waning; the glaciers had become the one thing on the planet that I truly felt emotion for. I loved them and dreamed of them, I spoke to them and they spoke to me. All that raw power with the Achilles heel of a snowman, they didn’t handle heat too well and the planet was in a warming phase.

Before you get all political on me, let me explain ‘global warming’. I hate that phrase; I prefer ‘climate change’. Politicians, along with a large amount of the general public and the media, have somehow turned this into a faith argument. Some people believe in it, some people don’t. Climate change is not a faith argument, it is happening, has been happening, and will continue to happen. We have more than enough evidence that there have been ice ages, no one argues that point and it isn’t dragged out to pander to the faith arguments. We have plenty of evidence that some of the same places that were covered in ice during those ice ages had also been home to tropical flora and fauna, again not used in the faith debate. The climate changes, we don’t live in a static world, everything is changing constantly. So debating over whether or not we ‘believe’ in climate change is a waste of energy, time, and money.

Back to the story of how I ended up in this place.

I found a Ph.D. curriculum that involved spending six months a year studying glaciers in North America during the spring and summer months, along with two months in Antarctica. I loved every minute of it at the time; I got to spend most of the year studying the only thing on the planet that would speak to my soul. In short order, to the tune of three years, I finished my dissertation and was offered a job with the Danish Climate Centre in Copenhagen.

I stewed on the offer for as long as I could. My parents were from Denmark, and I spoke and conversed reasonably well in the language. I could hardly read it though. I had also developed a fair bit of an emotional attachment to my little van. In the end, I worked out a job-sharing research fellowship between the DCC and Montana State University. I would winter with the DCC and summer with MSU as a climate researcher. It was a good gig, and I didn’t have to sell my van. I bought another one, same year and same color, in Denmark when I got there; it gave me a sense of stability to have twin copies of my rolling home on opposing sides of the globe.

So, I’m a glaciologist and climate change researcher, and I knew something big was going to happen during my career. I had no idea how big, had I known that I wouldn’t be sitting here with you!

She looks familiar. I think I worked with her a few years back in the northern Rocky Mountains.

“Hey, Jess! What are you doing in here?”

“The same as you, Erik.  The same as you.”


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