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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Can anybody tell me if I should cancell my plans in 12 days to drive from Riverview to Ocala?
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6532. DDR
Quoting SLU:


Looks like there isn't going to be any cricket tonight :(!!!

Hey slu
I dont think so,it rained yesterday and today,i've been too busy to follow the games,who's playing who?
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i cant be leve where in AUG
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Quoting Becca36:

I can't answer your question although I always wonder as I'm in Boca also. I assume in a few days if and when there's a defined LLC the models will have a better initialization point so we'll have a better idea. After the eye of Wilma passed over my house I'm a bit shell shocked...


Wilma's eye passed over everyone's house! (60 mile diameter if I remember correctly)
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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

Does it make people feel better when you tell them something even if it's wrong.

They just keep coming.
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Got a feeling one of those classic buzz saw storms will be trecking towards the conus. Little to nothing to impede a strong system. I will call my family in Wilmington and have them keep an eye out for next week. Just my wife and two little girls there.
Member Since: June 2, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1404
Quoting hcubed:
Are we there yet?



are we done yet?
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6524. angiest
Quoting MississippiWx:


Patterns like that are hard to break and we have been in this pattern since the beginning of hurricane season. This is from my Jackson, MS NWS Office:



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.
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Quoting extreme236:
Some disorganized convection flaring in the west-central Caribbean associated with another tropical wave.


yup oh you have mail
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Quoting MississippiWx:


Patterns like that are hard to break and we have been in this pattern since the beginning of hurricane season. This is from my Jackson, MS NWS Office:



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6521. hcubed
Are we there yet?
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6520. angiest
High continues to persist over the Gulf coast for at least the next week it seems:


high pressure building into the region from the east will begin
this transition from overcast and wet to hot and dry. These last
few days of July and into the first week of August will significantly
heat up as subsidence clears skies and inhibits precipitation.
Thickness values are forecast to increase by another 50 meters or
so (from 579 dam to over 582 dam) by Saturday. Middle-upper low over
the Louisiana coast is prognosticated to continue on this westward trek
and be across eastern Texas by early Saturday. This low's passage
will advect in a drier southeastern U.S. Air mass...precipitable waters will lower
to under 1.5" the next couple of days. Mainly clear afternoon skies
will allow this drier inland air mass to heat up into the average
upper 90s to slightly over 100f...lower 90s at coast...through the
weekend. In short...it looks as if the region will be experiencing
their first 100 degree days and possible heat advisories this
weekend.
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Some disorganized convection flaring in the west-central Caribbean associated with another tropical wave.
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6518. DDR
SLU
any luck with the rain today? way too much over here.
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
Big heat wave ridges are hard to bust through. Heights over the southeast are very high. How it will be in first weekend of August? Don't know yet.


Patterns like that are hard to break and we have been in this pattern since the beginning of hurricane season. This is from my Jackson, MS NWS Office:

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6516. SLU
Quoting DDR:
Hello
The t-wave at 60w sparked off some big thunderstorms a couple hours ago in north Trinidad,i recorded 75mm in 35 mins plus 25 mm thereafter,its still raining...floods all over.


Looks like there isn't going to be any cricket tonight :(!!!
Member Since: July 13, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 5367
6514. angiest
Quoting mikatnight:





Wow! That is totally new!
(Yes, I know. When Jeff posts it I act like it is something never seen here before).
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6513. Becca36
Quoting hurricaneben:
Is there any chance that Invest 90L (Possibly future Colin) will affect Florida? I'm wondering because I live in Boca Raton and I'm a bit concerned about what's coming over the next month or so.

I can't answer your question although I always wonder as I'm in Boca also. I assume in a few days if and when there's a defined LLC the models will have a better initialization point so we'll have a better idea. After the eye of Wilma passed over my house I'm a bit shell shocked...
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6512. SLU
Quoting HurricaneSwirl:


That's on my birthday lol. I hope no one in the Bahama's has my birthday.. Then again, you know what they say about the models, is that if a model shows a hurricane go over your house far out, that's the one place where it won't go. :P


lol .. i like that
Member Since: July 13, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 5367
Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
A ridge axis in Central Florida would keep any system well to the south I think. Keys or lower.
Usually they border the periphery of the ridge, however that ridge could be in a totally different place than where it is being forecasted now.
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Quoting HurricaneSwirl:


It looks to me like several comments were wiped, maybe not on that specific blog entry but check out all of the early September 2008 blogs. They have 0 comments. No way no one posted in them.

Yeah, I noticed that too, although I thought that it was maybe because I had bad connection or something, but if you see it too, then I offer up no other explanation.

Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Who thinks we'll hit 8000 comments by tonight?

I think so.
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6506. DDR
Close to 2 feet of rain for the month...
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Quoting Jeff9641:


Depends on how far north it gets before heading back west or WNW. I called a 2004 set up in April and sure enough it has been identical with the east coast of FL dry. Most of our rain in 2004 came from hurricanes in C FL that year.


I know coastal Palm Beach Co. is down almost 5" since June 1.
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6504. Drakoen
I see we have two areas of disturbances to watch one approaching the Lesser Antilles and one out in the Tropical Atlantic (90L). The one entering the Caribbean sea will have to be monitored for potential development in the central or western Caribbean, where upper level winds are forecasted to become more conducive for development.

The perturbation within the ITCZ out in the Tropical Atlantic is exhibiting broad cyclonic flow about a surface trough axis. The upper level environment looks favorable for some development over the next couple of days as it moves off to the WNW.
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I think some kind of interactive online tutorial or class, hosted by weather underground, taught by one of the senior mets, and on the subject of how to predict storms /storm formations /etc....that would be cool.

Maybe something along the lines of a novice level, an intermidiate level, and a experienced level tutorial??

Charge per class?

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we sould all so keep a eye on that mass in the Caribbean looks like there a spin there
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I am concern over these feature. Should I cancel my travel plans? I live in Riverview and had planned to drive to Ocala in 12 days.
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Quoting FLdewey:
This is like watching kids anticipate Christmas, except the presents are death and destruction and the kids are... well the kids are still kids.


Please tell them there is no Santa Claus...
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
A ridge axis in Central Florida would keep any system well to the south I think. Keys or lower.


it actually depends on the strength of the system. A stronger storm would be able to go more north. However, this is sometimes not the case such as with hurricane ike in 2008. The difference is was the ridging that influenced that storm was much stronger than the high forecast to build in later in the forecast period
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Quoting Tazmanian:



more like this weekend


When someone gets banned, aren't all their posts removed?
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6494. DDR
Hello
The t-wave at 60w sparked off some big thunderstorms a couple hours ago in north Trinidad,i recorded 75mm in 35 mins plus 25 mm thereafter,its still raining...floods all over.
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6492. ssmate
This may turn into the Blog of My Grandchildren.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Who thinks we'll hit 8000 comments by tonight?



more like this weekend
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#6485 - LOL
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2005:



2010:

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Quoting angiest:


What Chart?


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Who thinks we'll hit 8000 comments by tonight?
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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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