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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Hi Haha -- long time no see.

Are you getting ready for the storms to start popping?
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Quoting stillwaiting:
not sure if its been posted,global warming undeniable report


I did see it, and posted on it. Got a few interesting responses, but folks don't seem to want to talk about ther actual blog topic, I guess. (And please don't pay any attention to those telling you not to talk about GW anymore; it's the Doc's blog, and the Doc brought it up, so it's fair game. They can always skip the commenst they find uninteresting, as I myself do.)
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Thank you Taz!
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:


Thats JFV
where what is his user name to ignore him QUICK
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Quoting CyclonicVoyage:
Troughs, Ridges, Timing, Strength, ULL's

Fun Fun. Looks like a tricky forecast shaping up down the line should 90L decide to pull the trigger.


No such thing as an ordinary track, the good old days are gone! lol
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7178. hydrus
Quoting Tazmanian:



Trop weather olny Plzs
Forgive me Taz. I posting here for three years and maybe twice I posted on the subject of global warming. I wont do it again.
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7177. hahaguy
Quoting zoomiami:
I don't normally get into the who said what on the blog - but several people have made the comment that Pat makes derogatory comments about Florida and/or the Florida bloggers. To my knowledge, I have never seen Pat make such blanket comments. He also goes out of his way to post information that is relevant for many areas, not just his. Hate to see people blamed for something that aren't guilty of.


Well said zoo.
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 2838
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:


I live in Tarrant County...The county to the west of Dallas County. Yes, its still dry, b ut some places have been getting heavy rain lately. Pattern change is taking place though, and we'll hit the 100-105 degree range this weekend and next week, with head indicies in the 105-110 degree range.
I can relate to that..I live northwest of Austin, and it's been wet here, too. We are plus 4 inches on the year for rain...but we are expected to break 100 degress on Sunday for the first time this summer. Last summer we had 40 days of 100+ degree temp. Brutal.
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Satellite imagery shows that 90L has a pretty well-defined MLC near 7.5N and 31.2W.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194
Quoting Neapolitan:


Says who?


Says the people of the blog!
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I don't normally get into the who said what on the blog - but several people have made the comment that Pat makes derogatory comments about Florida and/or the Florida bloggers. To my knowledge, I have never seen Pat make such blanket comments. He also goes out of his way to post information that is relevant for many areas, not just his. Hate to see people blamed for something that aren't guilty of.
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i think we will have a name storm evere other day in AUG
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Troughs, Ridges, Timing, Strength, ULL's

Fun Fun. Looks like a tricky forecast shaping up down the line should 90L decide to pull the trigger.
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Quoting BenBIogger:
ECMWF

240Hr
Me and CybrTeddy have noted that the 00z ECMWF is more aggressive on the development of 90L while the 12z ECMWF is weaker. Watch the 00z run tonight trend stronger.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194
Thanks Sky! I'll look at that also. Wish I could have it up and runnin' now, but it'll probably be a stockin' stuffer if I'm lucky the way this year's goin'
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Quoting Tazmanian:



90L plzs where not talking about GW today


Says who?
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Quoting StormW:

Davis would be the one to go with, however they are pricey. Go here, or on Ebay

PROVANTAGE


Davis Vantage Weather Pro 2 here... I love it.. I connected it to the site and have owned it for over 4 years...
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Quoting Dakster:


Weatherplug?
http://www.rainmanweather.com/site/catalog/WeatherPlug
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Quoting muddertracker:
Exactly! lol..btw, is Dallas county still dry?


I live in Tarrant County...The county to the west of Dallas County. Yes, its still dry, b ut some places have been getting heavy rain lately. Pattern change is taking place though, and we'll hit the 100-105 degree range this weekend and next week, with head indicies in the 105-110 degree range.
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Quoting hydrus:
I thought they already proved, that it is an established fact the the Earth is warming. The real issue was how much of the global warming is being caused by mankind?



Trop weather olny Plzs
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Quoting galvestongal:
Hi Taz what is the link to the models you look at? I'd like to bookmark them .


here

Link



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7159. hydrus
Quoting stillwaiting:
not sure if its been posted,global warming undeniable report
I thought they already proved, that it is an established fact the the Earth is warming. The real issue was how much of the global warming is being caused by mankind?
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12Z ECMWF

240Hr


12Z GFS

240Hr
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Thank you Storm! From what I've researched, it sounds as if the Davis is the way to go. I really do appreciate your advice.
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Quoting gator23:

how do you know his name?


Thats JFV
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:


Reminds me of the highway between Dallas and Fort Worth. No curves.
Exactly! lol..btw, is Dallas county still dry?
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Hi Taz what is the link to the models you look at? I'd like to bookmark them .
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7153. Dakster
Quoting Skyepony:


Liked my Tycon PWS so far. Been running it through a Weatherplug so it's online 24/7 for 5watts a day.


Weatherplug?
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7149. Levi32
One should keep in mind that 90L isn't even guaranteed to develop. It may remain weak for many days yet before getting into an area where it can ramp up, and whether it can will depend on how it holds together over the next few days. You likely won't see this rapidly strengthening during the next few days.
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7148. gator23
Quoting Congress:


I know, Rob, my bad.

how do you know his name?
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:


Reminds me of the highway between Dallas and Fort Worth. No curves.

You mean I-30?
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7146. Drakoen
General consensus on the models taking 90L towards the northern Lesser Antilles

Nrt, I will look at that.
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90L models thus far:

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7143. gator23
Quoting DestinJeff:


Basil Marceaux (.com) in your Wunderbox.


priceless
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Quoting stillwaiting:
not sure if its been posted,global warming undeniable report



90L plzs where not talking about GW today
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7141. Skyepony (Mod)
Quoting ChillinInTheKeys:
I'd like to install a quality weather station w/computer interface hopefully for under $500.00. Would love some input. Davis? Oregon Scientific? Don't want something that's gonna die @ 90kts. No reply. I'll try one more time. Also plan to link a webcam as needed.


Liked my Tycon PWS so far. It's no Davis but much cheaper. Been running it through a Weatherplug so it's online 24/7 for 5watts a day.
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Nice mid to low-level spin associated with 90L.

Floater
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not sure if its been posted,global warming undeniable report
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7135. scott39
Quoting Levi32:


Well the track will naturally be much clearer by the time it reaches 60W. Right now the track beyond 60W is largely unknown. It should arrive there, near the northern Antilles, in 5-7 days.
thanks
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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.