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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What's wrong with StSimons's picture?
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Quoting palmpt:


You need to change your picture!

I tried putting a summer picture, without any success..
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4932. JLPR2
look at that its closing in on the CATL view

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Quoting floridaT:
my bp went to $32

Cool, I wish I had some BP stock :o)
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Quoting Bordonaro:

The dizziness is finally starting to subside, my BP is staying below 150/90, mostly in the 130/80 range. I am doing lots pf praying and trying hard yo let nothing bother me.
my bp went to $32
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Quoting JLPR2:


Looking healthy still


do have the link to that? thanks
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Quoting JLPR2:


Looking healthy still
i agree
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4926. 7544
yep yep
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4925. palmpt
Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
Bordonaro, sounds like good progress, best wishes for a complete recovery!


You need to change your picture!
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
Bordonaro, sounds like good progress, best wishes for a complete recovery!

Thanks,I have my 5 grand kids here for a little while, they're playing nicely for the moment.

Just can't walk more the 30 feet without getting short of breath and feel like my muscles are on fire.

After they open that blocked artery in my neck on 8-11-10 I will feel alot better.
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Quoting extreme236:
This is just one of those wait-and-see things at this point in time.


Correct.
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4922. JLPR2


Looking healthy still
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4921. hahaguy
stillwaiting , those are some nice pics.
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4920. jeebsa
Quoting beell:


Should look ok till it passes 40W. Then it may move out of the good low-level convergence in the ITCZ trough and become embedded in the easterlies. Like most of the nice looking features we have seen this year. Thank You

This one may stay pretty a bit farther west than the others at the least.

No hard data, no odds, just a guess.
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4919. beell
Quoting jeebsa:
Anyone have any reliable data of this monster coming off Africa? Anyone want to put odds on this bad boy?



ADDED: Re the 30W ITCZ feature.

Should look ok till it passes 40W. Then it may move out of the good low-level convergence in the ITCZ trough and become embedded in the easterlies. Like most of the nice looking features we have seen this year.

This one may stay pretty a bit farther west than the others at the least.

No hard data, no odds, just a guess.
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some pics of tropical seabreeze thunderstorms at sunset over the GOM taken about 90 minutes ago
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Quoting futuremet:
CyberTeddy,

Despite the fact that the ECMWF is a revered model, I disagree with its forecast this afternoon. I think something will likely form within the next six days.


Look in the Gulf of Mexico between 192 - 240. It develops a moderate TS off a trough split. Wouldn't be a shocker if the 00z has it back on board with a caribbean system however.
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This is just one of those wait-and-see things at this point in time.
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4913. jeebsa
Quoting futuremet:
CyberTeddy,

Despite the fact that the ECMWF is a revered model, I disagree with its forecast this afternoon. I think something will likely form within the next six days.
I agree
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Good evening folks,

Given that its quiet in the Atlantic tropics, I have a new blog post I made reflecting the 2010 Atlantic Hurricane Season thus far that y'all might find intersting.
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4911. fishcop
Quoting jeebsa:
I guess pick one the environment is starting to look more favorable in my opinion.I believe these guys are a bit more organized than the rest.What do you think?


The leader looks like its forming pretty well. I'm not sure if it's moving into favorable waters or not. Number 2 looks healthly too.
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CyberTeddy,

Despite the fact that the ECMWF is a revered model, I disagree with its forecast this afternoon. I think something will likely form within the next six days.
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4909. jeebsa
Quoting CybrTeddy:


Yep, this was this mornings ECMWF run (our most reliable model) it has since backed off on it but every 00z run and a few 12z since the 25th have shown a system approaching the Caribbean or in the Caribbean.



NOGAPS, CMC also show development.. GFS shows hints at it.
Very interesting Thank You. The wait and see game.
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
Bordonaro hope you're feeling better.

The dizziness is finally starting to subside, my BP is staying below 150/90, mostly in the 130/80 range. I am doing lots pf praying and trying hard yo let nothing bother me.
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4906. Ossqss
Interesting, and off topic, but we currently have a G1 Geomagnetic Storm in process.

http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/

Nice movie on this page of some of the activity recently from SDO. 12 meg file so use your connection accordingly :)

http://spaceweather.com/swpod2010/28jul10/eruption.gif?PHPSESSID=p4l3anr5am69u9cikmh5mviar1

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Quoting jeebsa:
Anyone have any reliable data of this monster coming off Africa? Anyone want to put odds on this bad boy?


Yep, this was this mornings ECMWF run (our most reliable model) it has since backed off on it but every 00z run and a few 12z since the 25th have shown a system approaching the Caribbean or in the Caribbean.



NOGAPS, CMC also show development.. GFS shows hints at it.
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This is turning out to be a BLOCKBUSTER HURRICANE SEASON!!! WOW so much activity
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4902. jeebsa
Quoting earthlydragonfly:
Are we talking about the wave in the drink or the one on the beach still in Africa??
I guess pick one the environment is starting to look more favorable in my opinion.I believe these guys are a bit more organized than the rest.What do you think?
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4901. 7544
it only takes one in your backyard thats it
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Quoting 7544:
ok wave at 30 will be a invest soon just comming into view on the rainbow and looks hot to trot its way across the atl

also most of the dry air is way north of this wave . so this is the one that will be in the spotlight as early as as tom. we could could even see it as td by 48hours or sooner stay tuned the fun is about begin.


There isn't a wave at 30W
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4899. fishcop
I'm looking at the leader but Number two looks immpressive too
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Quoting sonofagunn:


Pretty much everything so far that comes off Africa has gone poof. What makes this one different? This isn't a challenge, but a legitimate question - IANAM.


None of those waves had model support, this one does.
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Quoting Chucktown:


No, just don't need to get into a pissing contest about how many storms we're gonna have. Andrew was a memorable year with only 7 named storms and so was 2005 with 28. Which one was worse? Make sure the folks in Homestead are included in this query.
i was there and i was on the beach 5th floor marco island wilma
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4 seasons in the 70s had 20 tropical cyclones with below average amounts of named storms. Its probable that 1973, 1974, 1975, and 1979. Its silly to think that none of those 40 depressions had at least 40 mph winds. Satellite technology was weak. Its probable that those seasons had 17-18 named storms.
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Are we talking about the wave in the drink or the one on the beach still in Africa??
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4894. isuxn2
I think the blob in the E atlantic needs to be watched. Some say it can't develope in the ITCZ but I disagree. Ivan in 2004 formed in about the same area.
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Quoting earthlydragonfly:


I dont think that one is going poof


Pretty much everything so far that comes off Africa has gone poof. What makes this one different? This isn't a challenge, but a legitimate question - IANAM.
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Quoting CybrTeddy:
This sucker coming off Africa is the one we're going to have to be worried about.


The wave off Africa looks healthy :o)
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4890. jeebsa
Anyone have any reliable data of this monster coming off Africa? Anyone want to put odds on this bad boy?
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4889. fishcop
Quoting CybrTeddy:
This sucker coming off Africa is the one we're going to have to be worried about.



and away we go
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Quoting CybrTeddy:
This sucker coming off Africa is the one we're going to have to be worried about.



Thats the actual wave I was saying earlier is the one we have to watch. It's the one their pouch-tracking.
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Quoting KoritheMan:


1974, as well.


That season also had 20 depressions. 1975 had 25, 1979 had 26. I strongly suspect that at least 6 of those would have been tropical storms now a days with SAB and TAFB. They're on wiki, and there are pictures of almost every single depression from satellite.
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4885. 7544
ok wave at 30 will be a invest soon just comming into view on the rainbow and looks hot to trot its way across the atl

also most of the dry air is way north of this wave . so this is the one that will be in the spotlight as early as as tom. we could could even see it as td by 48hours or sooner stay tuned the fun is about begin.
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Quoting CybrTeddy:


Had like, 23 depressions though (with 70's satellites, no quikSCATs or anything I'm fairly confident that 1973 had 15-16 tropical storms)


Are you sure you aren't perhaps thinking of 1979?
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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.