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 kingzfan104:
just asking, but if it were to hit florida, what would be the time frame in days? next thursday i am going to california but im not sure what we would do if it were to come towards us.


Probably 10 days or so, unless it speeds up.
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Quoting MrJoeBlow:
CAN ANBODY SEE MY POSTS?


Not, when your yelling!!!
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Quoting FLdewey:


Insanity is the people here who start acting like the storm is coming for their house BEFORE IT EVEN FORMS.

Our shenanigans are cheeky and fun.

And their shenanigans are cruel and tragic.
very true but too many pathetic comments happen here , but yes we have to have some fun every once in a while but they always HAPPEN when we have developing systems , they should wait until there is nothing going on like early this week.
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Quoting Seflhurricane:
true, has storm come on to discuss 90L and the wave near the islands ???


I saw him earlier. but not lately.
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6577. will45
Quoting Seflhurricane:
the fourth sentence is a bad word, and we do not mention that individual, by the way whats his user name now


Congress
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Thanks Doc!
Another book to 'warm-up' to.
:)

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The 10 percenter...


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6574. SLU
Quoting DDR:

Nice...all your cisterns and reservoirs must be full by now?


Yep. After the severe drought, the rains returned in April. Everything is back to normal. Perhaps we're getting too much rain now. lol. Lots of sporting activities are getting disrupted here.
Member Since: July 13, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 5258
just asking, but if it were to hit florida, what would be the time frame in days? next thursday i am going to california but im not sure what we would do if it were to come towards us.
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Quoting PanhandleChuck:


I don't know, he only has had about 40 of them
okay i have so many of his user names on ignore i cant keep up
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Quoting DestinJeff:


He tends to be around in the late evenings. Surely he'll pop in tonight around Post 8000.
sometimes he pops in anytime thats why i ask , thanks
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Quoting Seflhurricane:
the fourth sentence is a bad word, and we do not mention that individual, by the way whats his user name now


I don't know, he only has had about 40 of them
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Hello,

Just wanted to point out some comp. models from 90L it might be the 1st major storm of the season?Link
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Quoting MrJoeBlow:
Can anybody tell me if I should cancell my plans in 12 days to drive from Riverview to Ocala?


No one can answer that question at the moment...You need to stay tuned to the weather and make your own decision on that as you near your travel dates.
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Quoting MrJoeBlow:
CAN ANBODY SEE MY POSTS?


No LOL
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Quoting PanhandleChuck:
Let the games begin, this is probably the start of what's most likely going to be a very busy season.

As soon as 1 troll smells the invest, he will communicate to his other brothers and sisters and the blog will be swamped.

I think the CV season has begun to unleash its wrath in what promises to be a very interesting couple of months. I sure hope people are prepared, because chances are that a couple of majors are going to have a direct impact on the CONUS.

JFV.... Old budster, your shower curtain will not be enough protection
the fourth sentence is a bad word, and we do not mention that individual, by the way whats his user name now
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Anyone want the winning powerball numbers for next Saturday? It was pretty clear looking at the long range steering forecast.
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CAN ANBODY SEE MY POSTS?
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Quoting StormChaser81:


That's sounds about right. =)
true, has storm come on to discuss 90L and the wave near the islands ???
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Let the games begin, this is probably the start of what's most likely going to be a very busy season.

As soon as 1 troll smells the invest, he will communicate to his other brothers and sisters and the blog will be swamped.

I think the CV season has begun to unleash its wrath in what promises to be a very interesting couple of months. I sure hope people are prepared, because chances are that a couple of majors are going to have a direct impact on the CONUS.

JFV.... Old budster, your shower curtain will not be enough protection
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Quoting Jax82:
Truth is, we dont know where any system is going to go UNTIL IT FORMS. Saying there is going to be a Florida landfalling hurricane with this wave is pretty amateur when it is 10+ days out, regardless of whats happened in the past. Forecasting its development and when it develops should be the first step. I'll trust the experts when they say after the first week in august things should start heating up.


That's sounds about right. =)
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Quoting StormChaser81:


That's who is running it. Schools out for SUMMER....
this is insane we cant even have a tropics discussion without someone saying something idiotic
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:



If a ridge like that were to persist, everything would be steered well to the south. For example, the ridges steering the 2004 storms was located much further north, in New England:

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6555. angiest
Quoting MississippiWx:


A ridge that is bridged from the East Coast into TX isn't bad for the US Gulf Coast. It would send most of the storms into Mexico. However, that ridge will break down a lot at times, but it looks like it will be at least a week before it does. I'm really dreading the 100 degree actual temps we are supposed to have, not to mention the 110+ heat index we will have. It's going to be an ugly week.


Its the fact that it is coming in from the east, putting "us" on the SW periphery that is so concerning. A good way to move storms into the Gulf and then a path to start recurving.
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6554. DDR
Quoting SLU:


We got some heavy rain this morning. The run-off is high and the coastal waters are brownish in colour from all the rain.

Nice...all your cisterns and reservoirs must be full by now?
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Quoting mikatnight:


Ask June, she'll know.



lol
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Quoting Seflhurricane:
this blog has become extremely childish


That's who is running it. Schools out for SUMMER....
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6550. Jax82
Truth is, we dont know where any system is going to go UNTIL IT FORMS. Saying there is going to be a Florida landfalling hurricane with this wave is pretty amateur when it is 10+ days out, regardless of whats happened in the past. Forecasting its development and when it develops should be the first step. I'll trust the experts when they say after the first week in august things should start heating up.
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Quoting Tazmanian:
where did july go


Ask June, she'll know.
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Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
Is that PGI19L?


I believe so, but I'm not certain.
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this blog has become extremely childish
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Quoting FLdewey:

Si
I knew it!
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6544. Ossqss
click to enlarge





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6543. SLU
Quoting DDR:

Hey slu
I dont think so,it rained yesterday and today,i've been too busy to follow the games,who's playing who?


Barbados v Guyana and Windwards v CCC
Member Since: July 13, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 5258
Quoting extreme236:
Some disorganized convection flaring in the west-central Caribbean associated with another tropical wave.
Is that PGI19L?
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Quoting angiest:


Been like that since April or May it seems. I remember thinking back then, seeing that we kept getting rather unusual ridging for that time of year, that this was likely to be a bad season for the Gulf.


A ridge that is bridged from the East Coast into TX isn't bad for the US Gulf Coast. It would send most of the storms into Mexico. However, that ridge will break down a lot at times, but it looks like it will be at least a week before it does. I'm really dreading the 100 degree actual temps we are supposed to have, not to mention the 110+ heat index we will have. It's going to be an ugly week.
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Quoting MrJoeBlow:
Can anybody tell me if I should cancell my plans in 12 days to drive from Riverview to Ocala?




no need too this is still way way way out there
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6537. Becca36
Quoting StormChaser81:
I get a laugh every time I hear anybody asking about possible landfalls 2 days or more out. Why even ask question when you know there no answer to them. Speculating is one thing, but asking when or where a major will form or end up is got to be the funniest thing ever.

The best scientist in the world cant answer these questions, so lets ask people on weather underground. lol


So true. LOL
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where did july go
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6535. SLU
Quoting DDR:
SLU
any luck with the rain today? way too much over here.


We got some heavy rain this morning. The run-off is high and the coastal waters are brownish in colour from all the rain.
Member Since: July 13, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 5258

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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.

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