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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6734. xcool
29/1745 UTC 7.6N 29.9W T1.0/1.0 90L
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It's way too premature to even speculate which state (if any) this invest will affect. All the models are good at showing right now is the general direction a system might go, based on current/forecast steering, while taking into account other environmental conditions, and intensity. If it says Florida this early on in the run, then there is chance it may well not affect there.
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Quoting extreme236:
All the speculation of this hitting Florida is very silly right now.


Jeff already informed the Florida National Guard, you are too late.
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Quoting StormW:
Good evening!


Good evening Storm! How are we this evening?
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Quoting extreme236:
All the speculation of this hitting Florida is very silly right now.


Did I say it would hit Florida? I'm just saying that's what the ECMWF is showing, your right its very, very, very subjective to change. This thing could go as far south as Caribbean our out to sea. We first need a system, but model support is increasing.
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Quoting ElConando:
Longest my area was without power was 8 days after Andrew. Next longest was Wilma, was without power for 2 1/2 days.


Where are you located?
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6728. tkeith
Quoting fallinstorms:
we might have Danielle and colin soon
You told us the season was over...and I believed you...now what?

say it aint so fallinstorms...
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Quoting CybrTeddy:
I thought for sure the ECMWF was going to drop 90L.. it in fact shows a stronger system with Florida's name on it.


I tried looking but I'm stumped where is Florida written on the model?
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Quoting StormW:
Good evening!


Hey Storm!
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Quoting CybrTeddy:
If anyone noticed, this is the first 12z run that its actually just as strong as the 00z. The ECMWF has locked on now.



Well this model certainly does not look good... a tropical cyclone through the Central Bahamas... God only knows whats next... but usually when they go through there, it has FL Keys or FL peninsula in its crosshairs. Lets not, shall we!
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All the speculation of this hitting Florida is very silly right now.
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6721. JLPR2
I see we got 90L and a low



A lot happens when you stay away from the computer for 12 hours XD
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I thought for sure the ECMWF was going to drop 90L.. it in fact shows a stronger system with Florida's name on it.
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i know models this far out are terrible but what is the strength that they have 90L at as it reaches florida?

and please no stupid comments like this far out it is stupid to say something like that. Just answer my question. TIA
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Quoting Hurricanes101:
does anyone have the coordinates for 90L from the atcf site?

not just the 18Z, but the list of the 5 coordinates the atcf has for it


There you go.

Link
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Longest my area was without power was 8 days after Andrew. Next longest was Wilma, was without power for 2 1/2 days.
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does anyone have the coordinates for 90L from the atcf site?

not just the 18Z, but the list of the 5 coordinates the atcf has for it
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If anyone noticed, this is the first 12z run that its actually just as strong as the 00z. The ECMWF has locked on now. Heads it straight for Florida too, although track this far out is very speculative.

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6712. Walshy
Tornado Warning

Statement as of 4:49 PM EDT on July 29, 2010

The National Weather Service in Wakefield has issued a

* Tornado Warning for...
northern city of Virginia Beach
in southeast Virginia...

* until 515 PM EDT

* at 443 PM EDT... trained weather spotters reported a funnel cloud
near Lynnhaven... or 5 miles north of Oceana Naval Air Station. A
tornado may develop at any time. Doppler radar showed this
dangerous storm moving east at 10 mph.

* This dangerous storm will be near...
Cape Henry around 510 PM EDT.

Other locations impacted by this dangerous storm include London
Bridge... Oceana NAS... Oceana... North Virginia Beach and Rudee
Heights.

Precautionary/preparedness actions...

Take cover now. Move to an interior room on the lowest floor of a
sturdy building. Avoid windows. If in a Mobile home... a vehicle... or
outdoors... move to the closest substantial shelter and protect
yourself from flying debris.

To report severe weather... contact your nearest law enforcement
agency. They will relay your report to the National Weather Service
in Wakefield.

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6710. xcool
:))
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Quoting hydrus:
We were exhausted after Jeanne. We just had few little things put back after Charley( including the electricity ) and Jeanne knocked out the power again, the power was out for over two weeks from Charley, it sucked.


Yeah, same with the twins. Frances took the power out, and it finally got restored only to get knocked out again for a couple weeks with Jeanne. Then I lost power for "only" 5 days from Wilma. 2004 and 2005 were not friendly years to us in FL... lets hope it will not happen this year!
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Quoting xcool:
You can throw out all those models. Each one seems to have initialized in a different location than the other.
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am looking for word too the new 8pm two
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6704. hydrus
Quoting ecflweatherfan:


Frances was a very long duration event too, as it just sat there and spun off the East Central Florida coast... I hate those types, if one is coming in, lets just get it done and over with quick.
We were exhausted after Jeanne. We just had few little things put back after Charley( including the electricity ) and Jeanne knocked out the power again, the power was out for over two weeks from Charley, it sucked.
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6703. xcool


90L & Georges 1998 track HMMMMMMMM ???????
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Sammy, same here. I'm not going through a Category 5. If one does come, my clothes and stuff all go in my CR-V and i'm taking a 9 hour drive all the way up to SC.
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I can possibly even see the N Car. low develop into a tropical storm.


nothing to see here, move along
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Afternoon everybody. I'm off to the Hwy 98 bumper car session. Interesting blog today from both those who posted and those who did not...
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Notice the upward pulse developing in the Eastern Pacific. This is what happened the last couple of times the upward pulse moved out of our basin. It redeveloped in this same spot.
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6697. angiest
Quoting sammywammybamy:
Is it me or did the Blog Slow down from Ludicris speed in the last 10 minutes to a trickle.


Spaceballs, they've gone to plaid!
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Quoting Hurricanes12:
MH09, when and if do you think 90L will detach itself from the ITCZ?
It will likely begin to attempt to detach itself from the ITCZ as early as tomorrow, but it will probably take 2-4 days for it to fully detach itself.
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Quoting MississippiWx:


Seems like all of our systems want to develop slowly this year...


The environment has been less than stellar thus far causing this slow development and is still a part of today. Conditions are SLOWLY improving so, the week long development types may go by the wayside soon.
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Quoting sammywammybamy:
Is it me or did the Blog Slow down from Ludicris speed in the last 10 minutes to a trickle.


Dinner time for the young ones. Mom and Dad are home. lol
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Quoting BFG308:
Does Dr. Masters ever read the comments? If he does I'm sure he has to look at this and say

"What the #^*& are these guys talking about??? 7000 comments? C'mon guys..."


He looks at them every once in awhile, he answered my questions and many others on the blog during the winter and early hurricane season. It's probably hard to keep up with the blog moving so fast.
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6687. xcool
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Quoting btwntx08:
hmmm what did taz do get his comment removed??



i dont see any thing that got re move
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6685. BFG308
Does Dr. Masters ever read the comments? If he does I'm sure he has to look at this and say

"What the #^*& are these guys talking about??? 7000+ comments? C'mon guys..."
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Quoting hydrus:
I was in Port Charlotte when Charley hit. I dont think I need to tell you about that one. Was in Desoto county when Jeanne hit, 14 hours of hell. Coincidentally. we were in the Keys in 1980 when the other Jeanne gave some wind and a lot of rain.


Frances was a very long duration event too, as it just sat there and spun off the East Central Florida coast... I hate those types, if one is coming in, lets just get it done and over with quick.
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.