Storms of My Grandchildren by Dr. James Hansen

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 11:34 PM GMT on July 26, 2010

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"Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity" is NASA climate change scientist Dr. James Hansen's first book. Dr. Hansen is arguably the most visible and well-respected climate change scientist in the world, and has headed the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City since 1981. He is also an adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University. Dr. Hansen greatly raised awareness of the threat of global warming during his Congressional testimony during the record hot summer of 1988, and issued one of the first-ever climate model predictions of global warming (see an analysis here to see how his 1988 prediction did.) In 2009, Dr. Hansen was awarded the Carl-Gustaf Rossby Research Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the American Meteorological Society, for his "outstanding contributions to climate modeling, understanding climate change forcings and sensitivity, and for clear communication of climate science in the public arena."

Storms of My Grandchildren focuses on the key concepts of the science of climate change, told through Hansen's personal experiences as a key player in field's scientific advancements and political dramas over the past 40 years. Dr. Hansen's writing style is very straight-forward and understandable, and he clearly explains the scientific concepts involved in a friendly way that anyone with a high school level science education can understand. I did not find any scientific errors in his book. However, some of his explanations are too long-winded, and the book is probably too long, at 274 pages. Nevertheless, Storms of My Grandchildren is a must-read, due to the importance of the subject matter and who is writing it. Hansen is not a fancy writer. He comes across as a plain Iowan who happened to stumble into the field of climate change and discovered things he had to speak out about. And he does plenty of speaking out in his book.

James Hansen vs. Richard Lindzen
Dr. Hansen's book opens with an interesting chapter on his participation in four meetings of Vice President Dick Cheney's cabinet-level Climate Task Force in 2001. It seems that the Bush Administration was prepared to let Dr. Hansen's views on climate change influence policy. However, Dr. Richard Lindzen, whom Hansen describes as "the dean of of global warming contrarians", was also present at the meetings. Dr.Lindzen was able to confuse the task force members enough so that they never took Dr. Hansen's views seriously. Hansen observes that "U.S. policies regarding carbon dioxide during the Bush-Cheney administration seem to have been based on, or at a minimum, congruent with, Lindzen's perspective." Hansen asserts that Lindzen was able to do this by acting more like a lawyer than a scientist: "He and other contrarians tend to act like lawyers defending a client, presenting only arguments that favor their client. This is in direct contradiction to...the scientific method." Hansen also comments that he asked Lindzen what he thought of the link between smoking and cancer, since Lindzen had been a witness for the tobacco industry decades earlier. Lindzen "began rattling off all the problems with the data relating smoking to health problems, which was closely analogous to his views of climate data."

Alarmism
Global warming contrarians often dismiss scientists such a Dr. Hansen as "alarmists" who concoct fearsome stories about climate change in order to get research funding. Dr. Lindzen made this accusation at Cheney's Climate Task Force in 2001. However, Dr. Hansen notes that "in 1981 I lost funding for research on the climate effects of carbon dioxide because the Energy Department was displeased with a paper, 'Climate Impact of Increasing Carbon Dioxide,' I had published in Science magazine. The paper made a number of predictions for the 21st century, including 'opening of the fabled Northwest Passage', which the Energy Department considered to be alarmist but which have since proven to be accurate." If you read Dr. Hansen's book and listen to his lectures, it is clear that he is not an alarmist out to get more research funding by hyping the dangers of global warming. Hansen says in his book that "my basic nature nature is very placid, even comfortably stolid", and that nature comes through very clearly in Storms of My Grandchildren. Hansen's writings express a quiet determination to plainly set forth the scientific truth on climate change. He has surprisingly few angry words towards the politicians, lobbyists, and scientists intent on distorting the scientific truth.

The science of climate change
The bulk of Storms of My Grandchildren is devoted to explanations of the science of climate change. Hansen's greatest concern is disintegration of the gerat ice sheets in Greenland and West Antarctica causing sea level rise: "Once the ice sheets begin to rapidly disintegrate, sea level would be continuously changing for centuries. Coastal cities would become impractical to maintain." Hansen is concerned that evidence from past climate periods show that the massive ice sheets that cover Greenland and Antarctica can melt quickly, with large changes within a century. For example, sea level at the end of the most recent Ice Age, 13,000 - 14,000 years ago, rose at a rate of 3 - 5 meters (10 - 17 feet) per century for several centuries. Hansen is convinced that just a 1.7 -2°C warming, which would likely result if we stabilize CO2 at 450 ppm, would be a "disaster scenario" that would trigger rapid disintegration of the ice sheets and disastrous rises in sea level. Hansen advocates stabilizing CO2 at 350 ppm (we are currently at 390 ppm, with a rate of increase of 2 ppm per year.)

Another of Hansen's main concerns is the extinction of species. He notes that studies of more than 1,000 species of plants, animals, and insects have found an average migration rate towards the poles due to climate warming in the last half of the 20th century to be four miles per decade. "That is not fast enough. During the past thirty years the lines marking the regions in which a given average temperature prevails (isotherms) have been moving poleward at a rate of about thirty-five miles per decade. If greenhouse gases continue to increase at business-as-usual rates, then the rate of isotherm movement will double in this century to at least seventy miles per decade."

Hansen's other main concern is the release of large amounts of methane gas stored in sea-floor sediments in the form of methane hydrates. If ocean temperatures warm according to predictions, the higher temperatures at the sea floor may be enough to destabilize the methane hydrate sediments and release huge quantities of methane into the atmosphere. Methane is a greenhouse gas 20 - 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Solutions to the climate change problem
Dr. Hansen is a controversial figure, since he has stepped outside his field of expertise and become an activist in promoting solutions to the climate change problem. He devotes a chapter called "An Honest, Effective Path" in the book to this. His main theme is that we need to tax fossil fuels using a "fee-and-dividend" approach. All of the tax money collected would be distributed uniformly to the public. This carbon tax would gradually rise, giving people time to adjust their lifestyle, choice of vehicle, home insulation, etc. Those who do better at reducing their fossil fuel use will receive more in the dividend than they will pay in the added costs of the products they buy. The approach is straightforward and does not require a large bureaucracy, but currently has little political support. Hansen is vehemently opposed to the approach that has the most political support, "Cap-and-trade": "Cap-and-trade is what governments and the people in alligator shoes (the lobbyists for special interests) are trying to foist on you. Whoops. As an objective scientist I should delete such personal opinions, to at least flag them. But I am sixty-eight years old, and I am fed up with the way things work in Washington." Hansen also promotes an overlooked type of nuclear power, "fast" reactors with liquid metal coolant that produce far less nuclear waste and are much more efficient than conventional nuclear reactors.

Quotes from the book
"Humanity treads today on a slippery slope. As we continue to pump greenhouse gases into the air, we move onto a steeper, even more slippery incline. We seem oblivious to the danger--unaware how close we may be to a situation in which a catastrophic slip becomes practically unavoidable, a slip where we suddenly lose all control and are pulled into a torrential stream that hurls us over a precipice to our demise."

"In order for a democracy to function well, the public needs to be honestly informed. But the undue influence of special interests and government greenwash pose formidable barriers to a well-informed public. Without a well-informed public, humanity itself and all species on the planet are threatened."

"Of course by 2005 I was well aware that the NASA Office of Public Affairs had become an office of propaganda. In 2004, I learned that NASA press releases related to global warming were sent to the White House, where they were edited to appear less serious or discarded entirely."

"If we let special interests rule, my grandchildren and yours will pay the price."

"The role of money in our capitals is the biggest problem for democracy and for the planet."

"The problem with asking people to pledge to reduce their fossil fuel use is that even if lots of people do, one effect is reduced demand for fossil fuel and thus a lower price--making it easier for someone else to burn...it is necessary for people to reduce their emissions, but it is not sufficient if the government does not adopt policies that cause much of the fossil fuels to be left in the ground permanently."

"I have argued that it is time to 'draw a line in the sand' and demand no new coal plants."

"The present situation is analogous to that faced by Lincoln with slavery and Churchill with Nazism--the time for compromises and appeasement is over."

"Humans are beginning to hammer the climate system with a forcing more than an order of magnitude more powerful than the forcings that nature employed."

"Once ice sheet disintegration begins in earnest, our grandchildren will live the rest of their lives in a chaotic transition period."

"After the ice is gone, would Earth proceed to the Venus syndrome, a runaway greenhouse effect that would destroy all life on the planet, perhaps permanently? While that is difficult to say based on present information, I've come to conclude that if we burn all reserves of oil, gas, and coal, there is a substantial chance we will initiate the runaway greenhouse. If we also burn the tar sands and tar shale, I believe the Venus syndrome is a dead certainty."

"One suggestion I have for now: Support Bill McKibben and his organization 350.org. It is the most effective and responsible leadership in the public struggle for climate justice."

Commentary
James Hansen understands the Earth's climate as well as any person alive, and his concern about where our climate is headed makes Storms of My Grandchildren a must-read for everyone who cares about the world their grandchildren will inherit. Storms of My Grandchildren retails for $16.50 at Amazon.com. Dr. Hansen's web site is http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/.

Jeff Masters

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Quoting gator23:

I heard Pat got banned is that true?


He did? What he do?
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Quoting cmagag:



You live off 290? I'm sorry ;-)

Haha, not quite. I'm more in the 249 area.
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6882. NRAamy
If you get banned for 24 hours, you have to sit in a corner surrounded by a My Little Pony Shower curtain, bud....
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WOW new surface map is out 18Z it has our wave and on the wave we have our tropical low

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6880. gator23
Quoting extreme236:
6852. Flagged

Do not circumvent a ban. Most bans last 24 hours or less, please accept the ban. If you create a new username to circumvent a ban, you will be blocked from the site completely.

I heard Pat got banned is that true?
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Quoting Drakoen:


Right. Reason being the large amount of posts unrelated to weather and the fervent ignorance of the potential of this season.


Amen to that.
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Quoting Drakoen:


Right. Reason being the large amount of posts unrelated to weather and the fervent ignorance of the potential of this season.


Certainly true....but we are certainly glad you remain on here!
Member Since: June 29, 2009 Posts: 13 Comments: 5313
6877. cmagag
Quoting 1900hurricane:
Man, it sure is easy to find my house today! Just go to the HGX radar and find the only thunderstorm. That's me right in the middle. XD




You live off 290? I'm sorry ;-)
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Drak,any chance this will be orange at 8pm?
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Quoting ecflweatherfan:


Actually, both!


Kinda true. There is an elementary and middle school literally a street away from me. While they are not first priority, they tend to get power back sooner than in most areas. Since we are on the same power grid as the two schools, we get power then they do.
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6874. tkeith
Quoting Drakoen:


Right. Reason being the large amount of posts unrelated to weather and the fervent ignorance of the potential of this season.em>
It's always been a matter of "when" not "if"...

The season is upon us...
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6872. Skyepony (Mod)
Environmental Research Letters, Vol. 4, No. 1 (2010) 014012; doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/4/1/014012
How difficult is it to recover from dangerous levels of global warming?
J. A. Lowe (Met Office Hadley Centre (Reading Unit), Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Reading RG6 6BB, U.K.), C. Huntingford (Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Wallingford OX10 8BB, U.K.), S. C. B. Raper (Centre for Air Transport and the Environment, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester M1 5GD, U.K.), C. D. Jones and S. K. Liddicoat (Met Office Hadley Centre, FitzRoy Road, Exeter EX1 3PB, U.K.) and L. K. Gohar (Met Office Hadley Centre (Reading Unit), Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Reading RG6 6BB, U.K.)

Abstract

Climate models provide compelling evidence that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at present rates, then key global temperature thresholds (such as the European Union limit of two degrees of warming since pre-industrial times) are very likely to be crossed in the next few decades. However, there is relatively little attention paid to whether, should a dangerous temperature level be exceeded, it is feasible for the global temperature to then return to safer levels in a usefully short time. We focus on the timescales needed to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases and associated temperatures back below potentially dangerous thresholds, using a state-of-the-art general circulation model. This analysis is extended with a simple climate model to provide uncertainty bounds. We find that even for very large reductions in emissions, temperature reduction is likely to occur at a low rate. Policy-makers need to consider such very long recovery timescales implicit in the Earth system when formulating future emission pathways that have the potential to 'overshoot' particular atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and, more importantly, related temperature levels that might be considered dangerous.

Link: http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/4/1/014012/
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6871. Drakoen
Quoting Seflhurricane:
cool i also have noticed you have not been on here as frequently as last year


Right. Reason being the large amount of posts unrelated to weather and the fervent ignorance of the potential of this season.
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ugh
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6869. SLU
When a system threatens, the NHC contacts the governments of the respective countries and advises them to issue warnings/watches. The governments then decide whether or not to issue the warnings. Most times they do but the Meteorological Department of France tends to be conservative with the warnings for the French Caribbean islands and in the past they've issued warnings only 12 to 18 hours before the onset of the winds.
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what dos PGI20L mean?
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Quoting hydrus:
My parents moved away from Florida, they are at an advanced age. The last series of storms took a heavy toll on there health. They now live on the Cumberland Plateau in Central Tennessee. Things are mellow here. but the past couple of winters we have had strong windstorms hit and do some damage. Pretty wild stuff to a guy that was raised in the everglades.


This year, in January, I had sleet and snow at my house here in Merritt Island... it stayed in the 30s all day here. As a matter of fact, they had two causeways going over the Intracoastal Waterway shut down due to icing, caused by freezing rain, on the bridges. Talk about wild stuff! Never thought I would see that day. This is FL, not supposed to happen. Hurricanes and Tropical Storms are part of our culture here.
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6864. Drakoen
850 vorticity is showing a weak maxima with 90L and some vorticity with the wave east of the Lesser Antilles.
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Quoting Drakoen:


I've been good
cool i also have noticed you have not been on here as frequently as last year
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Quoting extreme236:
6852. Flagged

Do not circumvent a ban. Most bans last 24 hours or less, please accept the ban. If you create a new username to circumvent a ban, you will be blocked from the site completely.



LOL you took the words right out of me
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Quoting DestinJeff:


Link
Nice! Thanks Jeff! 850mb vorticity is pretty good and consolidated as of 20:15 UTC.
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6859. Drakoen
Quoting Seflhurricane:
90L is coming along nicely does it look like it may be orange at 8Pm, and by the way how have you been ??


I've been good
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6852. Flagged

Do not circumvent a ban. Most bans last 24 hours or less, please accept the ban. If you create a new username to circumvent a ban, you will be blocked from the site completely.
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6856. hydrus
Quoting 305st0rm:


288 hours out is a long time's away. Aug.10th!
Very true. But it would be interesting if it turned out to be that invest. The models are improving, I know 288 hours is WAY to far out in time to make a solid forecast.
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6854. Drakoen
Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
Do you have the link?


Link
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90L spin on visible images looks to be improving
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6850. IKE
SYNOPSIS FOR CARIBBEAN SEA AND TROPICAL N ATLC FROM 07N TO 22N
BETWEEN 55W AND 65W
530 PM EDT THU JUL 29 2010

.SYNOPSIS...HIGH PRES RIDGE NE OF BASIN PROVIDE MODERATE TO
FRESH BREEZE THROUGH WEEKEND. TROPICAL WAVE ACROSS CENTRAL
CARIBBEAN TONIGHT MOVE W ACROSS SW CARIBBEAN THROUGH EARLY FRI
AND INLAND NICARAGUA FRI. SECOND TROPICAL WAVE WITH VERY ACTIVE
WEATHER CROSS TROPICAL N ATLC AND LESSER ANTILLES TONIGHT AND
REACH 63W EARLY FRI THEN CENTRAL CARIBBEAN ALONG 71W SAT AND TO
78W EARLY SUN. FRESH NE BREEZE ASSOCIATED WITH SECOND WAVE.


SYNOPSIS FOR THE GULF OF MEXICO
430 PM CDT THU JUL 29 2010

.SYNOPSIS...HIGH PRES 1023 MB CENTERED AT 28N91W DOMINATES BASIN
WITH LIGHT TO MODERATE ANTICYCLONIC FLOW. HIGH PRES DRIFT S-SW
AND WEAKEN FRI AS FRONTAL TROUGH MOVES INTO FAR NE GULF.
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img src="" alt="" />
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Quoting ecflweatherfan:


Those watches and warnings are issued by their respective governments. They are not issued by the US government. Just because the NHC posts those watches and warnings, does not mean it is issued by the US government. In fact, in their Watches/Warnings section, it relays that the respective governments have issued those warnings/watches. Make sense?
yes thanks
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Quoting angiest:


See the following from one of the Alex advisories:


AT 1125 PM EDT...0325 UTC...THE GOVERNMENT OF HONDURAS HAS ISSUED A
TROPICAL STORM WARNING FOR THE ISLANDS OF ROATAN...GUANAJA...AND
UTILA.



Each country's government is responsible for issuing watches and warnings.
okay understood thanks i just found that curious why that particular area never gets watches/warnings.
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we are going too have a vary busy AUG
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Quoting Seflhurricane:
not necessarily because countries in south america do not belong to the US or some of the Islands in the carribean, neither bermuda, or the bahamas, so i dont understand what you mean ???


Those watches and warnings are issued by their respective governments. They are not issued by the US government. Just because the NHC posts those watches and warnings, does not mean it is issued by the US government. In fact, in their Watches/Warnings section, it relays that the respective governments have issued those warnings/watches. Make sense?
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Quoting Seflhurricane:
and by the way post 6805 made the comment !!!!!!!!!!!!


I fixed it ;) oops
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6842. IKE
Quoting Congress:


I shall, I live for tropical meteorology, ike.


Yeah...I've noticed. You're not alone.
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6841. angiest
Quoting Seflhurricane:
not necessarily because countries in south america do not belong to the US or some of the Islands in the carribean, neither bermuda, or the bahamas, so i dont understand what you mean ???


See the following from one of the Alex advisories:


AT 1125 PM EDT...0325 UTC...THE GOVERNMENT OF HONDURAS HAS ISSUED A
TROPICAL STORM WARNING FOR THE ISLANDS OF ROATAN...GUANAJA...AND
UTILA.



Each country's government is responsible for issuing watches and warnings.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Seflhurricane:
not necessarily because countries in south america do not belong to the US or some of the Islands in the carribean, neither bermuda, or the bahamas, so i dont understand what you mean ???


The NHC puts up watches and warnings as they are issued from the governments of those nations.
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Quoting hydrus:
Could that 1008 mb low off S.E. FL be the new invest?


288 hours out is a long time's away. Aug.10th!
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6838. xcool
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6837. hydrus
Quoting ecflweatherfan:


Agreed, I know that I have some concerns. But I know I am taking the wait and see approach, and watching with a vigilant eye to see what may pose a threat. Hopefully it will be a non-event type season.
My parents moved away from Florida, they are at an advanced age. The last series of storms took a heavy toll on there health. They now live on the Cumberland Plateau in Central Tennessee. Things are mellow here. but the past couple of winters we have had strong windstorms hit and do some damage. Pretty wild stuff to a guy that was raised in the everglades.
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Quoting Drakoen:
It's also nice to have graphics from cimss that update every hour
Do you have the link?
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Quoting Inactivity:


Just wait and see!
and by the way post 6805 made the comment !!!!!!!!!!!!
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About

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.