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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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?
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6033. will45
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.


it has happened many times
Member Since: July 18, 2009 Posts: 1 Comments: 994
shoot...missed post 6000. i woulda won somethin'
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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%


It could either be A or B. Knowing how the NHC has been handling things, probably A.
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Check out what y'all make possible
Link
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Anyone here good with photoshop msg me please!
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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%


A
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting ElConando:


Take a step back there isn't a Depression yet.
....OR even a invest for god sake!!!
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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%


A,
Possibly B if they go by the models.
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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%


A-B
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I dont know about anyone else but I think Im starting to see an inverted V feature in the 35w-30w convection.
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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%


A
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
well this sucks noaa's SSD TC prob is down



it a good thing that they partnered with RAMMB

this is theirs



either way it looks very good for development
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6019. will45
Quoting Jeff9641:
Frances, Jeanne, and Andrew were all powerful storms that didn't go north. If the high is blocking it then it will go west no matter strength.


not always sometimes they recurve
Member Since: July 18, 2009 Posts: 1 Comments: 994
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%
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
6017. Levi32
Quoting mcluvincane:


Levi can you post your tidbit again? Thanks


Tropical Tidbit for Thursday, July 29th, with Video
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Doc might not update till tomorrow.. we could see 8,000 posts.
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Quoting 1900hurricane:
We've passed 6000!

Isn't there a limit of # of comments per blog?
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Over 6000 posts!! We didn't fall out of the sky into a black hole? Yay!!

Oooops! Didn't want to go off topic on this one.
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6010. will45
Quoting SavannahStorm:
Almost to 6k....


you passed it lol
Member Since: July 18, 2009 Posts: 1 Comments: 994
Quoting 1900hurricane:

Dean and Felix from 2007 are other good examples. Dean was a Category 4 hurricane or greater for the duration of his track through the Caribbean Sea, but he still didn't gain any latitude at all.
Exactly.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194
Quoting Levi32:
Good morning all.

Tropical Tidbit for Thursday, July 29th, with Video

Thanks Levi. Good afternoon WUnderbloggers.
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Quoting Waltanater:
Post 6000! Yay!


I love it when a CANE comes together!
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6,000 posts here we come.LOL!
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Quoting reedzone:
The ITCZ blob, or wave could become 90L at ANYTIME, according to Levis video, which was awesome btw!
Quoting Levi32:


It may not even be a tropical wave. I was pretty convinced that it was a low-amplitude wave yesterday but it is taking on the looks of just an ITCZ disturbance now, though still well-defined and may be a threat down the road. It will have a hard time winding up out in the Atlantic, but should be watched..


Levi can you post your tidbit again? Thanks
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Yay no bug!
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We've topped 6000!
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6k broken!!
Member Since: September 22, 2005 Posts: 18 Comments: 2343
Post 6000! Yay!
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6000 posts? In about 2-5 minutes, there will be over 6000 posts, a level not seen in Weather Underground blogging history.
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Are we going to have a

Comment error???

C6k... Chicken little the sky is falling... LOL All that dad gum GW talk waste of space that went no where...
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Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
A powerful system would go northward if it has no other forces acting upon it. If there is a high that will deter it, it won't be able to go poleward. A great example is Andrew (1992).

Dean and Felix from 2007 are other good examples. Dean was a Category 4 hurricane or greater for the duration of his track through the Caribbean Sea, but he still didn't gain any latitude at all.
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Quoting jasoniscoolman2010x:
we are not getting invest 90L TODAY


I wouldn't be surprised if NHC labeled the disturbance that most models have picked up on 90L today so they can run the GFDL and HWRF on it.
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Blog is moving slowly...
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Quoting SaintPatrick:
6k posts?
In the event that we can't post I'll be at my blog.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194
Quoting Hurricanes101:
how can the GFDL and HWRF be latched on when they are only run when we have an invest in the ATL or EPAC; which we don't


They may be research versions run on university computers, not the operational versions run at NCEP.
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6k posts?
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GFS forms something at around mid August
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Quoting jasoniscoolman2010x:
we are not getting invest 90L TODAY


Why do u think that?
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Quoting Levi32:


It may not even be a tropical wave. I was pretty convinced that it was a low-amplitude wave yesterday but it is taking on the looks of just an ITCZ disturbance now, though still well-defined and may be a threat down the road. It will have a hard time winding up out in the Atlantic, but should be watched..
Could be the reason that 12z surface analysis shows it as a trough.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194
I'm awaiting 4 Invest 90...
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Quoting zoomiami:
Nice synopsis of the models Reed.


Thanks, just some food for thought, the blob has a nice circulation, I find no reason for it not to be tagged 90L today, especially when it has more model support.
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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.