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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awwww man we have yellow circles now

you mean the TWO isn't empty?
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6083. Levi32
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Apparently the models are developing the area under 20% chance, not the wave in back of it.. This was my thinking all along.
Member Since: July 1, 2008 Posts: 13 Comments: 7340
NHC website is down.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21091
Quoting ElConando:
I dunno about a blog post limit but the blog may crash from the amount of posts were about to get.

Batten down the hatches!
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Quoting will45:
6040. 1900hurricane

thats what i was saying no matter how strong a storm is it wont break through a strong high. That being said it can also recurve and go E. You agree?

At this far out, pretty much anything can happen. Everything at this point is little more than speculation.
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6078. will45
there they have them up now
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OOOOOOOO!!!!!


YESS!!!!

http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/gtwo/two_atl.gif
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I dunno about a blog post limit but the blog may crash from the amount of posts were about to get.
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6074. Levi32
There we go....the two most obvious threats are getting attention from the NHC and they did a perfect job assessing their potential this morning. 10% and 20% is perfect and is what I would have given them.
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Quoting CybrTeddy:
The TWO ought to wake people up.


Time for a new blog on tropics.
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Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
10% for the Lesser Antilles wave and 20% for the EATL disturbance. I very much agree with those numbers.


for the next 48 hours? Absolutely correct! The NHC has finally woken up and 90L should be here this evening.
Member Since: July 1, 2008 Posts: 13 Comments: 7340
Quoting reedzone:
I believe the NHC will "wake up" at 8 p.m. tonight, 2 p.m. should still be nothing.
TROPICAL WEATHER OUTLOOK
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
200 PM EDT THU JUL 29 2010

FOR THE NORTH ATLANTIC...CARIBBEAN SEA AND THE GULF OF MEXICO...

SHOWERS AND A FEW THUNDERSTORMS ASSOCIATED WITH A TROPICAL WAVE ARE
MOVING ACROSS THE WINDWARD ISLANDS. ANY DEVELOPMENT OF THIS SYSTEM
IS EXPECTED TO BE SLOW TO OCCUR AS IT MOVES GENERALLY WESTWARD AT
10 TO 15 MPH. LOCALLY HEAVY RAINS AND STRONG GUSTY WINDS COULD
AFFECT PORTIONS OF THE LESSER ANTILLES OVER THE NEXT DAY OR SO.
THERE IS A LOW CHANCE...10 PERCENT...OF THIS SYSTEM BECOMING A
TROPICAL CYCLONE DURING THE NEXT 48 HOURS.

AN AREA OF DISTURBED WEATHER IS LOCATED OVER THE EASTERN ATLANTIC
OCEAN ABOUT 600 MILES SOUTHWEST OF THE CAPE VERDE ISLANDS. SOME
SLOW DEVELOPMENT OF THIS DISTURBANCE IS POSSIBLE DURING THE NEXT
COUPLE OF DAYS AS IT DRIFTS TOWARD THE WEST OR WEST-NORTHWEST.
THERE IS A LOW CHANCE...20 PERCENT...OF THIS SYSTEM BECOMING A
TROPICAL CYCLONE DURING THE NEXT 48 HOURS.

ELSEWHERE...TROPICAL CYCLONE FORMATION IS NOT EXPECTED DURING THE
NEXT 48 HOURS.
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The TWO ought to wake people up.
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6068. will45
according to outlook there may be 2 circles but none up yet
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Now, we need a NEW blog - please!!!
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Seems like the NHC had an early wake up call, time for 90L to get tagged.
Member Since: July 1, 2008 Posts: 13 Comments: 7340
Quoting MWH:


Reed - Given I live in Morehead City, NC - I could done without that comment!!


I hear you, I lived in southern VA during Isabel, I got some pretty heavy damage (check my blog pics)
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Should see 90L shortly, they usually declare invest at 20%.
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Holy moly!
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6062. MWH
Quoting reedzone:


Absolutely right, the GEM shows somewhat like Floyd (1999) or Isabel (2003)..


Reed - Given I live in Morehead City, NC - I could done without that comment!!
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10% for the Lesser Antilles wave and 20% for the EATL disturbance. I very much agree with those numbers.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21091
,
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WOW! 10% and 20%!
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Quoting Levi32:


Mmm I dunno 92L was massive, this is very small, and not as well-defined right now. More often than not, a system with this presentation right now opens up and dissipates, but since this will be regaining latitude in a few days it will have more of a chance to be a problem later.
True, 92L was very large and defined. It will be interesting to watch and track as it gains and latitude.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21091
EPAC TWO out.. ATL TWO isn't.
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I believe the NHC will "wake up" at 8 p.m. tonight, 2 p.m. should still be nothing.
Member Since: July 1, 2008 Posts: 13 Comments: 7340
Quoting Levi32:
Well-defined circulation, but embedded within the ITCZ.



That's looking beautiful for this point in time. Whether they give it a 10% or not, it sure looks like it deserves attention.
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Levi, you pointed out on your video that a cyclonic turning is the W of the disturbance, I seem to recall Felix developing in a similar manner.
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6052. will45
6040. 1900hurricane

thats what i was saying no matter how strong a storm is it wont break through a strong high. That being said it can also recurve and go E. You agree?
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All this talk about 92L is killin me. What was it, exactly? Anyone have a nice pic? Was the only invest I've missed this season as I was gone from June 10th - 23rd
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6050. Levi32
Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
Reminds may very much of 92L...


Mmm I dunno 92L was massive, this is very small, and not as well-defined right now. More often than not, a system with this presentation right now opens up and dissipates, but since this will be regaining latitude in a few days it will have more of a chance to be a problem later.
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Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
Reminds may very much of 92L...


Agreed.
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yes TankHead93 maybe we might see a yellow on the 12Z TWO or the 18Z TWO
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Quoting Levi32:
Well-defined circulation, but embedded within the ITCZ.

Reminds may very much of 92L...
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21091
Quoting 1900hurricane:

When you have deep layer ridging like what was observed for Dean in 2007, nothing is going north, no matter how strong.


200 mb height anomalies from August 17-23, 2007


Same, except @ 500 mb.


Same, except @ 700 mb.

Impressive.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21091
6044. augfan
Quoting Snowlover123:
Prediction: Next TWO for the African Wave Disturbance

A)No TC Expected @ this time
B)0-10%
c)10-20%
D)20-30%
E)Greater than 30%


No TWO unless SAL leaves because that's blocking the convection. NHC says SAL to at least 80 degrees north, which is just about everything.

And Africa is basically inert anyway.

SAL is gonna be a major problem down the line, GW or not.
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6043. Levi32
Well-defined circulation, but embedded within the ITCZ.

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Quoting Portlight:
Check out what y'all make possible
Link


Great job!
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Quoting Jeff9641:


If there is a weakness or trough to kick it out which based on the pattern so far this summer that's hard to believe that a recurve will occur.


You are correct, I'm surprised that no one has made aa animation that demonstrates how these storms travel around the perimeters of the high pressure systems. If anyone has seen such a thing I would love a link.
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Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
Exactly.

When you have deep layer ridging like what was observed for Dean in 2007, nothing is going north, no matter how strong.


200 mb height anomalies from August 17-23, 2007


Same, except @ 500 mb.


Same, except @ 700 mb.

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Quoting jasoniscoolman2010x:
Eastern East Pacific




Heck, the African Wave, and the area of disturbed Weather in the Carribean look better than that!
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12z NOGAPS develops 2 systems, the tropical wave by the Antilles and the possible ITCZ disturbance near 30W. The tropical wave near the Antilles goes through the Caribbean, through the Yucatan, and into the BOC as a strong system. The disturbance near 30W goes north of the Greater Antilles as a TS.

NOGAPS 12z 180 hours.

Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21091
Quoting TankHead93:
It appears that the ITCZ disturbance may be gaining more of a mid-lower level spin to it as it is gaining more curvature and rotation. It also appears to be gaining some slight latitude. Anyone else seeing what I am seeing?


Yes.
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6035. EtexJC
Quoting Waltanater:
Post 6000! Yay!


I just got on and never thought we'd hit yeah for WU Blog! Now to make our day lets see an invest or something in the ATL pop up!!!
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It appears that the ITCZ disturbance may be gaining more of a mid-lower level spin to it as it is gaining more curvature and rotation. It also appears to be gaining some slight latitude. Anyone else seeing what I am seeing?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:

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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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