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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Could we at least wait untill we have actual tropical cyclone development in the Atlantic and then look back at which model did what with it?
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4233. Drakoen
Quoting sailingallover:

Looks like shear will keep it from developing starting day after tomorrow until it is past the islands though. concur?


Yes, when it gets into the Caribbean particularly the central and western Caribbean is may have more of a chance.
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Quoting reedzone:


I take it by that you don't seem to find me as a serious person.. :/


I was joking with ya. You still have alot to learn, but I was like that at your age. At least you put it out there, and are not afraid to be wrong sometimes. Thats good!! BTW, hows the singing coming along??
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Quoting NttyGrtty:
Evidently, polar bears can swim Mr. Gore

Link


So can humans....but not forever
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Agreed about these long range models giving a general idea of a pattern developing. I too have seen models do this pretty consistently. One run it shows something and the next nothing. Heck look at how wild the CMC was on the earlier runs and this latest run it barely shows a tropical storm. You can look at the satelite imagery and see that things are beginning to look suspicious and should be monitered for potential development. I expect a return of showing something on the models again.
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Quoting weatherguy03:
But IKE it is only July, still a long way to go. And yes Reed, as it pains me to say this..LOL, is correct this season could extend alittle longer and be active through a good part of October.


I take it by that you don't seem to find me as a serious person.. :/
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Quoting NttyGrtty:
ten year average is 16/9/4...amazing how all of the forecasts eventually settle down to that...statistics, it's a math thing


Good point!
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4226. IKE
Quoting weatherguy03:


Just keeping it real IKE. That why its called forecasting, sometimes we get it wrong.


No one's perfect.

Quoting weatherguy03:
But IKE it is only July, still a long way to go. And yes Reed, as it pains me to say this..LOL, is correct this season could extend alittle longer and be active through a good part of October.


That's what I figure may happen...a later fall here in the panhandle of Florida and an extension of the tropical season along the northern and NE GOM coasts.
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4225. Levi32
Quoting Diplomacy:
bob, the ecm will begin to lose credibility, big time, if it continues to behave this way. it'll no longer be our impeccable and elite model. wish is sad, of course it failed on bonnie, and now its recognizing colin, what gives? lol


It did not really fail that bad on Bonnie. Bonnie was a glorified tropical wave and never got very strong. ECMWF was correct in not really developing it. It was so small it was barely recognizable anyway.

Also, Euro is not God. It was scary to see the 0z run last night which is why I mentioned in my blog that we have to wait for consistency. Other models are in the game too so this wave has a shot, but as always we have to have patience.
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4224. SLU
Quoting SeniorPoppy:


Wow. The storm went poof lol. I don't put much stock in any long range models.


I'd blend the 2 runs and come up with something inbetween.
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ten year average is 16/9/4...amazing how all of the forecasts eventually settle down to that...statistics, it's a math thing
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Models are to give us a little guidance on weather possibilities, however they are never 100 percent accurate. Most of the time there are quite a bit off until the system is a few days in the ocean.
I think this wave has the makings of a possible TS in the future, my question is will it stay out in the open atlantic or affect land.
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4220. Drakoen
Quoting Levi32:


What? It's at 22W and there is a wave.


Incorrect. The wave is at best still over Western Africa. To start, one would have to question why the NHC has not marked a wave in the Eastern Atlantic. There is no evidence of wave passage based on the upper air observations from Dakar, Senegal. The observations do indicate that there may be a wave east of the station. Looking at the wave tracking winds, we can see those southeasterlies/wave-like curvature to the east of the system so the wave may be over extreme western Africa or just off the coast. MIMIC-TPW does not feature a peak moisture surge but it does show a perturbation within the ITCZ near 22W, which is what you guys are observing.
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Quoting Diplomacy:
bob, the ecm will begin to lose credibility, big time, if it continues to behave this way. it'll no longer be our impeccable and elite model. wish is sad, of course it failed on bonnie, and now its recognizing colin, what gives? lol


Well it didnt totally fail on Bonnie, it kept Bonnie an Open Wave thru the GOM, while the other models had it developing some. Actually all of the global models did very good with Bonnie.
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Quoting weatherguy03:

The best move I ever made was taking time away from WU and looking for other options. They came my way and now I can make some money doing what I love. It was the best thing I ever did!! I doubt WU is paying any of their featured bloggers..LOL

I know Wendy's was hiring not that long ago. Makes sense... LOL!!!!...jk :)
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But IKE it is only July, still a long way to go. And yes Reed, as it pains me to say this..LOL, is correct this season could extend alittle longer and be active through a good part of October.
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4213. SLU
Quoting CybrTeddy:


Yep. The 00z will probably have the system again.


Based on the trends it should show the system again. What you think of the new GFS?
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Quoting CybrTeddy:


You mean south right? Yea, its still there just much weaker.


No, that wave NE of the bahamas (same latitude as JAX) is the wave the Euro was sending into the Caribbean as a hurricane. So the Euro still sees it which is important, this time tomorrow the Euro should be locking into development, just depends on to what degree...
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Quoting IKE:


I figured they were getting paid...none of my business though.




I'm surprised to hear you say that.


Just keeping it real IKE. That why its called forecasting, sometimes we get it wrong.
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15-18 storms, 9-10 Hurricane, and 5 Majors in my forecast by December. La Ninas like to create later season development.
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Quoting PRweathercenter:
Based on the latest steering currents, do we a have general idea where this wave is headed to?


Its heading...somewhere :)

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4206. JLPR2
This doesn't seem to be going POOF at all. :S

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Quoting Levi32:


What? It's at 22W and there is a wave.

a very large wave
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Quoting CybrTeddy:


Yep. The 00z will probably have the system again.


Exactly, did the same thing with Alex..
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
I am still going for 13-7-3 by November 30, Ike.


Wait...you're only calling for 11 more named storms, and just six more hurricanes? That'd be, what, three in August, five in September, and three in October? I'll wager against those numbers. :-) (FWIW, I think your numbers will be met by, say, September 20th. Write that down, would you?)
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4202. Levi32
Quoting weatherguy03:


I would hope that the extended models finally show something cooking in August or this season could really be a bust!..LOL


Oh they will....GFS's grand finale run already showed us what can happen in this pattern. A foreshadowing of the potential for a whole parade of storms one after another during late August and September. This next MJO burst in a couple weeks I think will be the real start of things. This wave in the eastern Atlantic has a chance but will need to see how it looks tomorrow. Otherwise, July is closing quietly.
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4201. IKE
Quoting weatherguy03:


The best move I ever made was taking time away from WU and looking for other options. They came my way and now I can make some money doing what I love. It was the best thing I ever did!! I doubt WU is paying any of their featured bloggers..LOL


I figured they were getting paid...none of my business though.


Quoting weatherguy03:


I would hope that the extended models finally show something cooking in August or this season could really be a bust!..LOL


I'm surprised to hear you say that.
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Quoting SLU:
The ECMWF is having some serious consistency issues.

Meanwhile the new GFS seems to have been "over-updated" since it tends to downplay the weather in the tropics a bit.





A downcaster's dream.


Wow. The storm went poof lol. I don't put much stock in any long range models.
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Quoting Floodman:


Not too bad...I came to the realization that it's all pretty ridiculous; in a hundred years we'll all be dead and the daily average temperature in the US will be 98 anyway, so why worry? LOL

How's things w'you, d'fly? By the way, I've been meaning to tell you for about two years: your avatar rocks!


LOL... I took that shot of myself while I was looking at the Brooklyn Bridge.. That is the reflection in my glasses. And thanks...

Been good just keeping cool. watchin the swirls.. I might get some lightning tonight and that is my gig! Hopefully get some good shots of them and they get none of me...
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Based on the latest steering currents, do we a have general idea where this wave is headed to?
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Quoting TankHead93:
That doesn't mean it wont develop...


Agreed.
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Quoting Drakoen:
Wave nearing 50W in the Tropical Atlantic should be monitored for possible development in the Caribbean.

Looks like shear will keep it from developing starting day after tomorrow until it is past the islands though. concur?
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Quoting Levi32:


Exactly....entertainment purposes only lol. Long-range models give clues and hints as to what the pattern may bring us, but the specifics of the run should not be trusted.


I would hope that the extended models finally show something cooking in August or this season could really be a bust!..LOL
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4194. hcubed
Quoting Floodman:


Now THAT'S funny!


Yeah. I can imagine the old westerns being re-written:

"So, Tex, how many rump of cattle do you have?"
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Long range models are for comedic purposes only.
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Quoting Ivanhater:
12z Euro still shows a strong reflection of this wave, just a lot further north. Give it time to lock in.



You mean south right? Yea, its still there just much weaker.
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 24021
Quoting SAINTHURRIFAN:
Well bob its was good seeing you and getting your opinion which i agree 100%.I like many others thought should have been a feature blogger on this blog it would have been great,.But what this blog has turned into i bet your glad you are not lol.WEll ike see you later got a meeting to hold and i see the romperoomers are poofing me for telling the truth lol.Once again good to see you bob take care ike.


The best move I ever made was taking time away from WU and looking for other options. They came my way and now I can make some money doing what I love. It was the best thing I ever did!! I doubt WU is paying any of their featured bloggers..LOL
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Quoting Hurricanes101:


I think you spelled the 1st word wrong JFV


No, he meant preciously
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4188. Levi32
Quoting weatherguy03:


Most models will on the long range. But to show something rather substantial on one run of the Euro and then nothing on the next is not that normal. But I gave my reasoning before on why it may be doing that. Again, long range models are for entertainment purposes only..LOL


Exactly....entertainment purposes only lol. Long-range models give clues and hints as to what the pattern may bring us, but the specifics of the run should not be trusted.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:


It doesn't develop the system anymore.
That doesn't mean it wont develop...
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Quoting SLU:
The ECMWF is having some serious consistency issues.

Meanwhile the new GFS seems to have been "over-updated" since it tends to downplay the weather in the tropics a bit.





A downcaster's dream.


Yep. The 00z will probably have the system again.
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 24021
Quoting Drakoen:


There is no wave at 25W.


Well, 22 W.
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4184. IKE
Quoting weatherguy03:


Most models will on the long range. But to show something rather substantial on one run of the Euro and then nothing on the next is not that normal. But I gave my reasoning before on why it may be doing that. Again, long range models are for entertainment purposes only..LOL


I agree...that's a drastic difference.
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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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