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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6284. Levi32
Quoting MrJoeBlow:
Can anyone say if teh storm will develope anytime soon?


It could, but chances are it will take its time organizing especially while it's still this far south. Once it starts gaining latitude it may have a better chance, but even then it may wait until it's past 60W before really trying, assuming it doesn't fall apart completely before then, but I don't think it will.
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And Invest 91L within the next 24 hours. :)
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What does a ridge do?
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Quoting extreme236:
Please don't quote fallinstorms...they only post because people pay her/him attention.
Thank you! Not only are they quoting her but wasting blog space talking about her. Report, ignore, move on.
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Quoting fallinstorms:
scott, im not a troll

i been preaching the truth and they don't want to hear

I'm like NOAH!

No one wants to listen when I speak the truth

i see nothing this year


Yeah, we hope you're right about that. But if you recall 2004, active and deadly season. By this date, we had no storms and we have 2 as of today this year. However, if you can recall 1997 we had 5 named storms by this date and in total we only had like 8. Still, we're gonna have an active-ish season at the least. Not exactly 2005 but something like '04 or '08 maybe just a little bit more so yeah very active.
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6277. SLU
July's not over yet afterall.
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Quoting CybrTeddy:


I think initialization issues, models are off until this separates from the ITCZ. The 12z ECMWF shows this crossing the Atlantic as a 1013 mb low, and at 0 hours shows it as a 1013 mb low also when its been initialized as a 1004 mb low.


It's only 1010mb, but I'm sure the ECMWF will pick it up eventually...it's just showing nothing now.

AL, 90, 2010072918, , BEST, 0, 85N, 300W, 20, 1010, DB
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Quoting Relix:
Well, seems like 90L will miss the antilles. Or so the models say.
Way too early to tell. How many times have we seen the models call for a system to go north of the Antilles and pass straight through the central Caribbean.
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6273. xcool
ridge stronger now
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6272. Levi32
Quoting sammywammybamy:


Where are the Models taking it? looks like an Florida,Carolinas Hit or a Fwish


The models are flopping around like they always do in the early stages. It's nearly impossible to gauge this system's movement after it gets past 60W right now.
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6271. SLU
INVEST 90L

GAME ON! DEFINITELY GAME ON!

Where's IKE when u need him?


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Quoting ElConando:


The ocean works a bit differently than land. Though land may cool off a couple of hours before sunset. The ocean and the atmopshere above it, is still warming and gathering heat up until sunset.

Remember the reason D-min is so detrimental to developing strong thunderstorms over the ocean is because the atmosphere to too warm for it. During the night the atmosphere cools off alowing for stronger and stronger thunderstorms.


In other words, it is all about the instability factor... steeper lapse rates with the relatively cool airmass over the warmer waters... lesser lapse rates with warmer airmass over waters of nearly the same temperature (or even slightly warmer than the water).
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Can anyone say if teh storm will develope anytime soon?
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Please don't quote fallinstorms...they only post because people pay her/him attention.
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Quoting Snowlover123:


How so? Convective feedback issues?


I think initialization issues, models are off until this separates from the ITCZ. The 12z ECMWF shows this crossing the Atlantic as a 1013 mb low, and at 0 hours shows it as a 1013 mb low also when its been initialized as a 1004 mb low.
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6000 commets in this blog lol



whats go for 10,000
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6217. If that forecast versifies Looks like by 60 hours it will a out of the ITCZ.
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Wow you see in the future I wish I had your super powers.
Member Since: February 12, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 479
Quoting fallinstorms:
90l looks horrible, i never seen such a weak invest
Quoting fallinstorms:
if 90 develops it will go out to sea


Congratulations Invest 90L, you have your first downcaster and fishcaster 5 minutes and 6 minutes respectively after you were initialized.
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6260. scott39
hey xcool
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Just had time to take a look at the NHC home page. Its about time these AOI have been mentioned on the map!!
Member Since: February 12, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 479
Quoting xcool:
imoimo "Way Too Early know where go


Exactly. Anywhere from the Gulf Coast, up the East Coast, to Bermuda, should watch this system.
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6255. xcool
hey scott39
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6254. scott39
Thanks- Levi
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6253. xcool
imoimo "Way Too Early know where go
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6252. scott39
Please do not quote trolls! Please!
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6251. Levi32
Quoting scott39:
Will this be a potential SE Coast TC or is going to turn back W later?


Hard to say at this point, but it will make it west of 60W. The MJO coming back into our area of the world over the next couple weeks will favor ridging redeveloping over the eastern US which would tend to direct stuff westward towards land, but it's too far out to say yet where it will go.
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6247. Relix
Well, seems like 90L will miss the antilles. Or so the models say.
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I've gotta say I'm surprised. An hour ago I was expecting the NHC would say "TC Formation is not expected within the next 48 hours"

Now we have a 20% and a 10%, along with invest 90L being designated for the 20% disturbance.
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Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
We got 90L. ECMWF might be having some issues on the 12z run.


How so? Convective feedback issues?
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Quoting jeffs713:

I was always under the impression that Dmin was when there was the most heating, which is actually slightly before sunset. (it starts cooling down a bit an hour or two before sunset, due to the lower angle of the sun) You are correct about dmax, tho.


The ocean works a bit differently than land. Though land may cool off a couple of hours before sunset. The ocean and the atmopshere above it, is still warming and gathering heat up until sunset.

Remember the reason D-min is so detrimental to developing strong thunderstorms over the ocean is because the atmosphere to too warm for it. During the night the atmosphere cools off alowing for stronger and stronger thunderstorms.
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6241. scott39
Quoting Levi32:
Will this be a potential SE Coast TC or is going to turn back W later?
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Quoting jeffs713:

Ask again in a week, once it has (or hasn't) actually formed.

Asking where its going to hit now is like asking prospective parents if its a boy or girl before conception.


I am not a chemist so it is difficult for me to understand all these things about tropical L's and 90's and 91's like you all mention.
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What caught my eye is the 1004 mb estimated pressure. The ECMWF says at 000 hours its a 1013 mb low, not a 1004 mb low. I believe now that there are coordinates to base off of and a lower pressure when they feed into the models that the ECMWF will lock onto 90L.
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6238. Levi32
All models will struggle initializing this correctly as long as it remains embedded in the ITCZ. Once it gains some latitude it will be easier for the models to lock on.
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6235. xcool
cmc hmm
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6234. Levi32
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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.