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 StSimonsIslandGAGuy:


How so? What I said is true!

Don't you support Obama for cutting your federal taxes? What do you think about Bush signing the biggest tax increase in history to take effect after he left office?


when it's all said and done, you know that Obama and his stimulus bill and health care will cost middle class americans more the bush administration. you are spinning the truth and you know it.
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Quoting Levi32:


Um no? The trend has been all up in the Antarctic since the beginning of satellite measurements. Do we ever hear about that? No. The new rant is ice volume because they can't throw the extent graphs in our faces anymore. Doesn't work....satellite data speaks for itself. Globally, considering the entire globe, (because yes, it's Global Warming right?) sea ice is at normal levels against the 30-year mean.


There you go again, using fact and scientific evidence...
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Quoting StormW:
What caused the reversal of the first ice age?


Anyone gonna answer that? I'd love to know that...
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:


How so? What I said is true!

Don't you support Obama for cutting your federal taxes? What do you think about Bush signing the biggest tax increase in history to take effect after he left office?


Link please?
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521: Not if you work for the taxpayers. You are a consumer, not a producer.
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I liked it better when we actually talked about the weather, and not politics.....
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hey everyone,
photo is from richardson bay, ca near sausalito
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Quoting jpritch:


First off, sea ice doesn't change sea level since it's floating to start with. Second, antarctic sea ice has recently fallen to very near normal extent. Third, Antarctica is losing ice mass on both the eastern and western ice sheets, which does result in sea level rise. Fourth, the Greenland ice sheet is losing mass at an accelerating rate. Fifth, climate change models actually predict temporary increases in antarctic sea ice, so that kind of anomaly actually helps validate the models rather than disprove them.


Um no? The trend has been all up in the Antarctic since the beginning of satellite measurements. Do we ever hear about that? No. The new rant is ice volume because they can't throw the extent graphs in our faces anymore. Doesn't work....satellite data speaks for itself. Globally, considering the entire globe, (because yes, it's Global Warming right?) sea ice is at normal levels against the 30-year mean.

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Quoting jpritch:


First off, sea ice doesn't change sea level since it's floating to start with. Second, antarctic sea ice has recently fallen to very near normal extent. Third, Antarctica is losing ice mass on both the eastern and western ice sheets, which does result in sea level rise. Fourth, the Greenland ice sheet is losing mass at an accelerating rate. Fifth, climate change models actually predict temporary increases in antarctic sea ice, so that kind of anomaly actually helps validate the models rather than disprove them.


right, then it refreezes... i know sea ice doesnt change it. But if.. the ENTIRE GLOBE is experiencing GLOBAL warming, then it would be physically impossible to have ice growing annually anywhere, and it is.
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I've been lurking for some time now, but have a few quick comments:

1. If one of the world's very best climate scientists, after investing his entire career in researching something, and has made several accurate predictions in the past, gives humanity a stern warning about their actions, I find it hard to understand how many individuals can summarily dismiss him as a crackpot without first at least reading what he had to say and what evidence he shared.

2. One big blast of a supervolcano and all of these discussions become highly irrelevant.

3. When can we expect the SAL to clear out and thus open the tropics for business? Or, could it possibly shut down the majority of the season? Welcome expert (and not-so-expert) comment on this question.
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570. xcool


nice wave
Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15603
Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:


Actually my husband/partner and I jointly own a business that employs 47 people. So you shouldn't assume.

I didn't assume. I simply restated what you posted and called it like I saw it. So keep your shirt on...please.
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568. TXEER
"when things got colder in some places they changed it, but its ok the climate has never ever changed... EVER so therefore of course humans did it. Us evil humans especially us evil americans ruin everything."

I like your style!
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Quoting TXEER:
Two quick questions please...

When did "global warming" become "climate change"?

Was it done to create more acceptance?




when things got colder in some places they changed it, but its ok the climate has never ever changed... EVER so therefore of course humans did it. Us evil humans especially us evil americans ruin everything.
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Quoting Levi32:
No comeback to post #517? Hmm lol.

They're still looking for a bumper sticker that addresses it...
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562. TXEER
Quoting BreadandCircuses:


It's all symantics, like the old George Carlin bit of euphemistic language, shell shock is now PTSD, trailer parks are mobile home communities, etc.


And most of it is BS!
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
Who has read "Storms of my Grandchildren" besides me?


I have.
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Quoting VAbeachhurricanes:


ok, but then the water refreezes in the antarctic, as we all know it is gaining sea ice.


First off, sea ice doesn't change sea level since it's floating to start with. Second, antarctic sea ice has recently fallen to very near normal extent. Third, Antarctica is losing ice mass on both the eastern and western ice sheets, which does result in sea level rise. Fourth, the Greenland ice sheet is losing mass at an accelerating rate. Fifth, climate change models actually predict temporary increases in antarctic sea ice, so that kind of anomaly actually helps validate the models rather than disprove them.
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Quoting JFLORIDA:


Really - lol.

Well..there you go.
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No comeback to post #517? Hmm lol.
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550. TXEER
Two quick questions please...

When did "global warming" become "climate change"?

Was it done to create more acceptance?


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Quoting JFLORIDA:
Most of these posts are ignoring the points in the blog.

For instance:

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.


Thats hardly a classically leftist associated position.


It’s clear the technologies are out there to get us into cleaner energy…even in a “normal” economy…the money is just not there to spur the change required…much less so as things stand now…not to mention that when investors do attempt to setup solar and wind farms…other folks jump right in to stop such action for this or that reason…kind of sad really…in the current political environment…the masses can’t see the forest for the tree’s so to speak…as long as we stay so far divided…nothing will happen. Something to ponder I suppose…

v/r

Jon

FYI - For those who care, a giant (and I do mean giant...) solar farm was set up at a Nevada AFB...the purpose was to get control of the utility bills...but the end result is the same...cleaner, renewable energy. This particular one is a test bed to determine if the dividends are really there or not...hope so.
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Quoting Levi32:


Hello Storm, let's find something in the tropics to talk about, shall we? That tropical wave over the Yucatan looks to be losing a lot of convection due to land interaction today. Interesting that the area of greatest low-level turning has already moved out over the SE Bay of Campeche, but is cloud-free because it scooted out there ahead of the upper ridge which is still left behind, so it out-ran itself and doesn't look as organized as earlier.






wave out near 30 looks interesting,perhaps in a few days we'll still be talking about it;)
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:


Then you must be a strong Obama supporter since he cut your federal taxes. Federal taxes are now lower than at any time in the last 70 years.

Bush signed the biggest tax increase in history to take effect in 2011 too---after he left office.


now i know you are on drugs...
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:


Which would you be? I'm a productive American.

Actually in one of your earlier posts you thanked a fellow blogger for the tax money/stimulus funds that you were spending on books to push your own politcal agenda. So, I'm thinking redistributionist...
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Quoting StormW:


LMAO Storm Goddess!

LOL!
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Quoting DestinJeff:


HOLY CRAP WE ARE ALL DOOM! Sea ice is only 12" thick?


talking about sea level rise... use a tape measure idc, point is why use something thousands of miles away to measure something that can be measured by hand...
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Quoting cirrocumulus:
And where did Colonel Sanders come from? Kentucky?

Now that's scary. roflol
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And where did Colonel Sanders come from? Kentucky?
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About JeffMasters

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