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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X-cool: What years were you hanging around Downman?
Member Since: April 13, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 744
Quoting jurakantaino:
Talking about a political blog the problem with the "far right" here is that when ever somebody expert or not talk about GW or any issue that had to do with the protection of our emviroment you people go nuts, if you don't like Dr. Master blog and his defence of the emvironment and other issues related to the protection of natural sources, go to conservatgive blog ... this is a weather blog and GW and climate changes affects the weather..simple, hah?


i am over to the right and i don't have a problem with GW as it does pertain to the weather.
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POOF POOF fallinstorms GOO A WAY FAR WAY
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Quoting nyhurhunter:
WHY DOES DR MASTERS HAVE TO MAKE THIS A POLITICAL BLOG, I THOUGHT THIS WAS FOR TROPICAL WEATHER. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HIM AND A PREACHER. THE CLIMATE IS OBVIOUSLY CHANGING, BUT HOW DO WE KNOW FOR SURE ITS MAN MADE AND NOT A SOLAR CYCLE OR A WHOLE DIFFERENT CYCLE WE DONT EVEN KNOW ABOUT YET. WE DONT EVEN COMPLETELY UNDERSTAND HURRICANES OR TORNADOES YET. DONT THEY KILL MORE THAN CLIMATE CHANGE, SHOULDNT WE FOCUS ON THINGS THAT DESTROY HOMES AND CAUSE MASS DESTRUCTION FIRST THEN MOVE ON TO OTHER THINGS. IT IS ABOUT MONEY, WHEN IS THE LAST TIME YOU HEARD THE WORD "GREEN" IN REFERENCE TO THE ENVIRONMENT. WHEN YOU HEAR THAT SOMEONE IS MAKING MONEY.
Talking about a political blog the problem with the "far right" here is that when ever somebody expert or not talk about GW or any issue that had to do with the protection of our emviroment you people go nuts, if you don't like Dr. Master blog and his defence of the emvironment and other issues related to the protection of natural sources, go to conservatgive blog ... this is a weather blog and GW and climate changes affects the weather..simple, hah?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Another GW blog,run for the mountains!I'm melting!I'm melting!Be back when their is something IMPORTANT to talk about.Some people need to get a life.CIAO
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60: Are you proposing the population of the earth be reduced to save the planet for the remaining population?
Member Since: April 13, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 744
fallinstorms

Get ready for a big batch of crow!
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LMAO
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64. IKE
Quoting SouthALWX:
Oh darn! a GW blog?? Good thing I was on my way to the store to pick up some paint. Will be more interesting to watch it dry than to watch the atlantic .... Im thinking Ill get a thick black .. that seems to dry the slowest.


LOL!
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Movement towards NNW ...Yucatan
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poof fallinstormspoof fallinstorms
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57. IKE
Quiet across the Atlantic Basin

Jul 26, 2010 4:18 PM


The Atlantic Basin is void of any organized tropical systems. Disturbed weather from the northwest Caribbean into the western Gulf of Mexico is being caused by a weakening upper level low pressure area located in the central Gulf of Mexico interacting with an upper level high pressure area near the Yucatan. This upper air pattern is not favorable for tropical development but it will continue to support widespread showers and thunderstorms from the Yucatan into eastern Texas and eastern Mexico. Another weakening upper level low over the eastern Caribbean is above a large area of drier than normal air covering the central and eastern Caribbean. So, we see an unusual lack of clouds over the eastern Caribbean and over much of the Lesser Antilles. Two poorly organized tropical waves over the central Atlantic are encountering drier than normal air and show no organized thunderstorms. Long range computer forecasts show no low level features emerging across the Atlantic Basin through at least Friday. Note it's not unusual for late July to be quiet. However, often a period of quiet during late July and early August is followed by a much more active tropical pattern during La Nina years.

By AccuWeather Expert Senior Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski
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Quoting Hurricanejer95:

I see yellow on EPAC but...
000
ABPZ20 KNHC 262338
TWOEP
TROPICAL WEATHER OUTLOOK
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
500 PM PDT MON JUL 26 2010

FOR THE EASTERN NORTH PACIFIC...EAST OF 140 DEGREES WEST LONGITUDE..

TROPICAL CYCLONE FORMATION IS NOT EXPECTED DURING THE NEXT 48 HOURS.

$$
FORECASTER CANGIALOSI


That just signifies that conditions are favorable for development, there doesn't have to be a cyclone there for the color to be yellow, orange, red, etc.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21032
Brought this over to this blog. Hope you don't mind, Doc M. Thanks for the update.

Quoting StormW:


Yeah...being a met., when I see an area that has falling pressure, 850mb vorticity, and an upper level anticyclone possibly developing, to me it's an area of interest. At least I'm not designating INVESTS over land.


I never gave it much chance earlier, StormW, but I ain't gonna get boxed in with a "never", lol.

The ULL looks pretty weak this evening. Upper levels look ok tomorrow. Biggest negative maybe the very strong lower-level flow from the southeast at 850mb and 700mb as a hindrance to organization but I bet we get a circle!
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Quoting fallinstorms:
the ssts are cooling

this is like a el nino

i know now nothing will form

im never wrong

im smart as NHC


Your really funny...
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 108 Comments: 30245
Oh darn! a GW blog?? Good thing I was on my way to the store to pick up some paint. Will be more interesting to watch it dry than to watch the atlantic .... Im thinking Ill get a thick black .. that seems to dry the slowest.
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I see yellow on EPAC but...
000
ABPZ20 KNHC 262338
TWOEP
TROPICAL WEATHER OUTLOOK
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
500 PM PDT MON JUL 26 2010

FOR THE EASTERN NORTH PACIFIC...EAST OF 140 DEGREES WEST LONGITUDE..

TROPICAL CYCLONE FORMATION IS NOT EXPECTED DURING THE NEXT 48 HOURS.

$$
FORECASTER CANGIALOSI

NHC should circle the yellow area yellow
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Quoting fallinstorms:
the ssts are cooling

this is like a el nino

i know now nothing will form

im never wrong

im smart as NHC


I know this is a troll, and I am replying.

However - Every one of those statements is absurdly wrong.
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37. fallinstorms
POOF POOF POOF ALLDAY AND ALL NIGTH
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Quoting fallinstorms:


it will not build up



Still around, huh.
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Quoting btwntx08:

oh that one lol well it was designated overland in mexico so that is nothing and it was from yesterday


Exactly... overland, your original post stated they would wait till the area over the Yucatan got over water before mentioning it. I was merely stating why wait until that area gets over water when they designated 99AL far into inland Mexico. But really no big deal just trying to clear up what I was referencing.
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Quoting AllStar17:
Ask them about the Yucatan disturbance.
Nah, they'll just tell you to pay attention to the TWO, TWD, and marine discussions.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21032
Yuk is looking more interesting. My eyes could be fooling me but it looks like a NNW movement.

What's the latest out of Campeche weather station?
Member Since: April 13, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 744
Ask them about the Yucatan disturbance.
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NICE MLCYucatan.
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Quoting GeoffreyWPB:


I wrote the NHC over 99L:

Just curious...why would you declare an invest inland?
Did the Mexican Meterological Services request this?

Their answer:

The Invest was requested well before the system moved inland.

Regards,

Dennis Feltgen
Public Affairs Officer
Meteorologist
NOAA Communications & External Affairs
National Hurricane Center
Miami, Fla.
It might of been requested but didn't get designated until 18:00 UTC of the 25th. By that time the invest was well inland.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21032

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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.

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