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 DestinJeff:
I think the comments section here tonight is one of the signs of the Apocalypse.


(BOT) a cumputer generated crystal ball for the follys of man on earth
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
Oss, there was nothing despicable in the email I sent you. Nothiing whatsoever. However, due to stimulus funds, I did get a considerably larger grant for book purchases from the feds than last year. (which is good, because all we got locally was from the library league book sales)

And I will be spending tax dollars in the same way. I wish to thank you so much for the tax dollars you contribute for me to spend, ossqss :)
Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
Oss, there was nothing despicable in the email I sent you. Nothiing whatsoever. However, due to stimulus funds, I did get a considerably larger grant for book purchases from the feds than last year. (which is good, because all we got locally was from the library league book sales)

And I will be spending tax dollars in the same way. I wish to thank you so much for the tax dollars you contribute for me to spend, ossqss :)


So post all of it and let the people see it instead of circumventing it? Why hide it in misdirection? Then let us see you boast on the books you bought. Why not if you are so proud of it?
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
Oss, there was nothing despicable in the email I sent you. Nothiing whatsoever. However, due to stimulus funds, I did get a considerably larger grant for book purchases from the feds than last year. (which is good, because all we got locally was from the library league book sales)

And I will be spending tax dollars in the same way. I wish to thank you so much for the tax dollars you contribute for me to spend, ossqss :)

A beautiful example of our tax dollars at "work".
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Quoting SkulDouggery:
The Skeptical Environmentalist is in the 370s, political books.
Exactly where all GW books belong!
ooohhhhh. them's fightin' words. We got ourselves a full-fleged Dewey decimal debate! Yeeehaaa.
.
.
.
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Quoting angiest:


@angiesterhenran
Cool, this is me:

MH09Forecasting
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Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
Blog Update!

July 26, 2010 - 7:20 PM EDT - New Area Of Concern Near The Yucatan


Any of you guys considering signing up to Twitter?


@angiesterhenran
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370. Halyn
Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:



People like me ossqss? What do you mean by that?
I would be interested in your answer, ossqss. I would hate to see an instance of bigotry on this blog.
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Blog Update!

July 26, 2010 - 7:20 PM EDT - New Area Of Concern Near The Yucatan


Any of you guys considering signing up to Twitter?
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Good Evening WU/Senior Chief/Ike/Patrick…

Seeing some of the band names I have seen posted tonight reminds me of how old I am getting…

Ruh Roh…GW Blog…Shields up! Maybe we should relax to some good music…I thinks it’s going to get “Hot in Herre…” Link

v/r

Jon
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Quoting Surfcropper:


I thought Van Halen did 1984..
;)


No, it was the Eurythmics.
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The Skeptical Environmentalist is in the 370s, political books.
Exactly where all GW books belong!
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361. xcool
Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15626


Food for thought.

Upper-level lows rarely transform directly into warm-core surface lows, though
they can interact with surface features to form new surface lows to the east of
the upper-level cyclone.
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
Mech, the books I purchased are in the science 500s :) Nonfiction.

Unlike Ayn Rand. Atlas Shrugged is fiction.


I used to think George Orwell's "1984" was fiction. Now I'm beginning to wonder if it wasn't prophetic.
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I think next week will be pretty active in the tropics... and it will make up for the quiet period I think we will see this week...
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
Levi32, the majority of our food production takes place in alluvial river valleys, low plains and deltas that cannot be replaced. If rain falls on the Sahara, you get wet sand, not soil.

For anyone who says that this is not an optimal climate for people---explain why civilization developed in this Holocene climate and no other.


Also, for those who think it doesn't matter if the earth warms or cools because there is no optimal climate----how much in taxes are you willing to spend to relocate people in the USA below 300 feet above sea level?

Over 100 million people. I imagine none of you would feel good about global warming and sea level rise if you had to pay for the consequences.

That would be $0.00. Why should any of us pay a dime in taxes to relocate anyone who choses to stay by a rising sea? Last time I checked, this was still a free society. Although there are obviously plenty of people here who are chomping at the bit to turn it socialist.
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:



People like me ossqss? What do you mean by that?


Obvious trouble makers with a history of such. Your email has been reported for action by Admin.

Despicable!
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:



Two. The Chilling Stars by Singer and
The Skeptical Environmentalist by that Danish guy I can't remember his name.
Christian Huygens?
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 20547
Just in... Global warming caused by internet blogs...

Scientist suspect that that people who would otherwise have little to no global impact on global warming are posting a multitude of comments on internet blogs while consuming vast quantities of electricity to power their laptops desktops and computer servers, cool their beer and energy drinks and microwave their nachos and hot dogs...


furthermore scientist say; "We have to get the word out, if only there was a global way where people could quickly read and comment on our results and form their own conclusions"

"We building a 5 bagillion giga-watt server powered by 200,000 coal fired plants, 30 million belching cows and a host of inefficient internal combustion engines to run our climate models and we're going to post the results to our internet sites on a weekly basis."

"were still looking for the worst contributors out there, and it won't be easy" scientists add...

There you have if folks, a GW solution is on the doorstep once we find out the cause...
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:


Do tell, ossqss. We all are curious!


You were proud of it Simon Why not take advantage of your opportunity?

Here is a hint if you forgot :) Stand for it or don't boast about it! As you just did in an email to me! What is up with that? Sorry, I don't take bait from people like you.

103 8:36 AM GMT on September 24, 2009
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Quoting Patrap:


Hey look, there's a great big blob over the Yucatan.
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lol @ myself for saying "climit". =)
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343. Halyn
Just FYI .... the following is a url about the particular scenario I mentioned (had to find one .. lol):

http://www.redorbit.com/news/science/1779539/african_desert_rift__new_ocean_in_the_making/index.htm l
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Quoting NoNamePub:
WOW.....serious on here today....
Levi - Islanders Have a bit tougher if the ocean moves closer each year....


Almost everyone has means of transportation, and this isn't a tsumami. If you notice an unstoppable ocean rise on your island you have years to get off before the island is covered.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26566
Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
Levi32, the majority of our food production takes place in alluvial river valleys, low plains and deltas that cannot be replaced. If rain falls on the Sahara, you get wet sand, not soil.

For anyone who says that this is not an optimal climate for people---explain why civilization developed in this Holocene climate and no other.


Also, for those who think it doesn't matter if the earth warms or cools because there is no optimal climate----how much in taxes are you willing to spend to relocate people in the USA below 300 feet above sea level?

Over 100 million people. I imagine none of you would feel good about global warming and sea level rise if you had to pay for the consequences.


Just because current river deltas disappear doesn't mean they will never exist again.....land gets eroded and things change and new rivers and new deltas form. Who's to say we'll even get that warm so as to make our major food production areas all get buried under the ocean? That's insane.....and even if warming continues it would take forever to turn into a crisis.

"Also, for those who think it doesn't matter if the earth warms or cools because there is no optimal climate----how much in taxes are you willing to spend to relocate people in the USA below 300 feet above sea level?"

Again, one inch towards my house every day.....this isn't overnight. Most people will move by themselves if they border the beach and see waves approaching their living room, seriously. People are smart. We don't need the government to "relocate" anybody, except the ones who want to drown on purpose?

300 feet of ocean rise would take so long that by the time we had everything "paid for" it would come down to what....an extra penny a month out of each American's pocket?

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26566
I just find it interesting that many of the same folks that are such vocal critics of global warming (something for which there is ample evidence to support) are also among the the most likely to believe without supporting evidence things like the stories of the bible, and many other things... but i'll stop there because this is a weather blog. :)

The bottom line is that the climit IS changing. It may or may not be man-made, but regardless of the cause, it is man-affecting. There is a strong correlation between CO2 and temperature, and humans are now the single biggest emitter of said gas.

That's all I have to say about that.
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Nice image above, another blob off Africa, and another ULL off Portugal.
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Quoting Chicklit:
I have to continuously add ice cubes to my aquarium in order to stave off algae blooms and loss of oxygen during warm summer months.
My fish get lethargic and sick when the tank gets too warm.
We are dumping pollutants into the atmosphere that is scientifically proven to warm the planet. The answer is to stop dumping pollutants into the atmosphere at the rate we've been spewing.
It will still take a very long time to correct the damage we've already done.
Simple as that.

Yes, indeed.
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Don't forget to read Laboratory Earth by Stephen Schneider. It's fun to read.
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I have to continuously add ice cubes to my aquarium in order to stave off algae blooms and loss of oxygen during warm summer months.
My fish get lethargic and sick when the tank gets too warm.
We are dumping pollutants into the atmosphere that is scientifically proven to warm the planet. The answer is to stop dumping pollutants into the atmosphere at the rate we've been spewing.
It will still take a very long time to correct the damage we've already done.
Simple as that.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:

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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.