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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Quoting DestinJeff:


Since it is on the 48-hour clock, it may get the NEAR ZERO loving. But I agree that we may see a circular mention of it.


If it persists through morning, then definitely warrents some kind of colored circle :P
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4482. xcool
Wave Train toot toot all aboard





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4480. angiest
Quoting DestinJeff:
Oh, Man.... I have been remiss in my obligations to the blog. During my time in Wundertraz I'm not sure if the most important graphic of all was posted.

I present to you "The Chart"



Others were filling in for you. ;)
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Sometimes I wish the NHC would extend the TWO from 48 hours to 72 hours but imo its perfect where it is.
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some of you may have mail plz look up if i have sent you some in
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X cool mail for you
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4473. xcool
SAL NOT BIG DEAL..
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SAL will not be an issue with this one..

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4470. xcool
Weather & the media show for August 1st
Chris Hollis from http://www.tropicalatlantic.com & creator of canetalk.com will be my guest on August 1st at 8:00PM ET. Chris will be live in video via skype on http://www.hurricanecity.tv to talk about his work on the recon program & tropical info he provides. Over the past year or so there have been several request's to have Chris on the show so we can get to know him better. We will take calls & emails throughout the show and who knows maybe we will have a system to track .

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This is far enough away from Africa to at least warrent a yellow circle 10% chance by 8 p.m.

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4467. xcool
BIG WAVE..WOWWW
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Quoting xcool:


Check out the low over Africa.
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Quoting angiest:

Eyeballing the system NOGAPS moves through the northern Caribbean the track is quite close to the best track for 1900. Even the crossing of Cuba. Of course, it will be different on the next run. Just a curio.

I see what you mean. It has something tracking right along the spine of the Antilles, much like the infamous storm (and Hurricane Georges from 1998) did.
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4464. IKE
SYNOPSIS FOR THE GULF OF MEXICO
430 PM CDT WED JUL 28 2010

.SYNOPSIS...HIGH PRES 1021 MB AT 30N89W WITH RIDGE TO NE TEXAS
COAST MOVE TO NW GULF FRI AS TROUGH CLIPS FAR NE PART OF GULF.




SYNOPSIS FOR CARIBBEAN SEA AND TROPICAL N ATLC FROM 07N TO 22N
BETWEEN 55W AND 65W
530 PM EDT WED JUL 28 2010

.SYNOPSIS...WEAK HIGH PRES N OF AREA SHIFT E FRI THROUGH MON.
TROPICAL WAVE ALONG 64W/65W MOVE W AT 12 KT TO 66W TONIGHT...70W
EARLY THU...74W THU NIGHT...80W LATE FRI NIGHT...ACROSS REMAINDER
OF WESTERN CARIBBEAN SAT AND W OF AREA LATE SAT. TROPICAL WAVE
IN CENTRAL ATLC EXPECTED TO APPROACH 55W THU...CONTINUE ACROSS
TROPICAL N ATLC ON THU...ENTER FAR EASTERN CARIBBEAN FRI AND SAT
AND CROSS CENTRAL CARIBBEAN SUN AND MON.

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4463. xcool
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So much for a 20% chance of weak showers in central Florida today.... LOL

numerous thunderstorms today, some down right violent with powerful microburst damage around the area, got over 2.46 here!

man its still amazing though, we had a huge subsidence inversion over us today, I guess surface instability from such deep low level moisture and so much heat over powered high pressure today!
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4459. calder
Quoting KerryInNOLA:
Thank God we are off the GW kick. The AGW crowd is basically the same bunch who support teaching creationism in the schools. Plain ignorant.

And yes this season is turning out to be fortunately very slow.

I hear Dr Masters is preparing his next blog topic for tomorrow. ILLEGAL IMMIGRATiON!


LOL! Somewhat like sending kids to sunday school and starting the indoctrine early?
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4458. angiest
Quoting 1900hurricane:

Hmm, I guess I haven't checked the NOGAPS in a while. I think I might do that right now!

Eyeballing the system NOGAPS moves through the northern Caribbean the track is quite close to the best track for 1900. Even the crossing of Cuba. Of course, it will be different on the next run. Just a curio.
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Quoting angiest:


I am still curious why NOGAPS is trying to recreate the 1900 Galveston storm.

Hmm, I guess I haven't checked the NOGAPS in a while. I think I might do that right now!
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4455. angiest
Gulf ridging building west again:


The upper ridging over
the Gulf will move west tonight and be south of Galveston Thursday
then slow move northwest bringing an end to the rains. Afternoon
temperatures in the middle 90s to around 100 will be commonplace
Friday through Monday during the afternoon hours with the hottest
temperatures likely on Saturday and Sunday. Dewpoints should mix out
during the afternoon so limiting heat index to the 105-107 range.
Rain chances start to come back up to a measly 10-20 percent range
Monday through Wednesday as upper ridge stretches out to the north
of the area and weak impulses roll west along the Gulf Coast...but
don't get your hopes up as these 10-20 numbers may well be too
high. Looks like the very wet July will be coming to an end today
and August is going to start out hot and dry.
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Here's a bigger image of the GOMEX 'mischief' (hope its not to big)
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4449. SLU
2003 - hyperactive




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notice a spin near Florida??
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Quoting SeniorPoppy:


The tropical Atlantic needs it's MOJO back.. not the MJO lol.


Lol. It will though, unfortunately.
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4445. angiest
Quoting DestinJeff:
Man, I honestly was hoping to have the 12Z ECMWF continue with a TC to further supress the "other talk".

An invest, anything? Come on. You're killin' me, Smalls.


I am still curious why NOGAPS is trying to recreate the 1900 Galveston storm.
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Blog Update!!
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4443. breald
Just wondering has anyone on the blog been to Cape Verde? I have always wanted to go.
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Quoting StormW:


2004


lol I know 2004 exists. :P I was making a general statement (and a true one at that). If we don't have a named storm by August 1st we WILL be below average in term of named storms at that point. Doesn't mean it won't be active though.
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Quoting WeatherNerdPR:

I noticed that. But I would have sworn 2003 was active.


2003 had 16 named storms so yes it was.
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Quoting HurricaneSwirl:


I noticed the pattern as well, but it begins in 2004. 2003 had 21 depressions and 16 named storms. How do you call that inactive while calling 2004, 2007, and 2008 active??


Ooops...fixed.
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Quoting HurricaneSwirl:


Bust? July on average only has one named storm form. We've had a storm and a depression, no bust there.

However this year in general is about to go below average if we don't get a named storm by August 1st. Very weird considering we were supposed to have all the ingredients. Obviously something is missing.


The tropical Atlantic needs it's MOJO back.. not the MJO lol.
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Quoting DestinJeff:
Man, I honestly was hoping to have the 12Z ECMWF continue with a TC to further supress the "other talk".

An invest, anything? Come on. You're killin' me, Smalls.


Yep.. a moderate TS in the Gulf from a trough split. Look at post 4341.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Anyone noticed this?

2003: Inactive

2004: Active

2005: Active

2006: Inactive

2007: Active

2008: Active

2009: Inactive

2010: Expected to be active

2011: Following the pattern...active (Just a guess)

I noticed that. But I would have sworn 2003 was active.
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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.