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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4134. IKE
Quoting IKE:
Just a slight difference on the 12Z ECMWF.

Sarcasm flag on.



Here's the eastern ATL view of the 12Z ECMWF through August 7th.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37860
bob good to see you. Now if you tell me this slow start is going to ramp up soon i will believe it.If you get a chance to reply id appreciate it.Good to hear from you Billy.
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Quoting hcubed:


What poster has a GOP avatar?

I haven't seen one...


exactly!
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Quoting SAINTHURRIFAN:
Well their is a voice of sanity and a real forecaster hey bob how are you.and Ike you get rid of brownsville tx the wishcaster now jfv wants you to sell shower curtains lol.as far as the tropics to quote the old 70"s song nothing from nothing is nothing 2-1-0 and the beat continues.


Doing well Saint. Glad to see you are still alive and well!
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4129. hcubed
Quoting Surfcropper:
I wonder why the comments from the guy with the GOP avatar aren't showing up..hmmm


What poster has a GOP avatar?

I haven't seen one...
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yes, bob. the itcz has been surpressed to the south, of late. however, its now back up to 10d egress north

Precisely, happy, 101.
Hi! I was gone for a little while. What does the 12Z ECMWF look like?
Member Since: April 1, 2010 Posts: 9 Comments: 2699
Looks like NHC ran a test to make sure SHIPS works with the new GFS. IMO they could have picked a better area to initialize at:)
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With that all being said I will still watch that wave out in the Eastern Atlantic as we go into the next 3 to 5 days.

Wave at 50W doesnt excite me unless it does something way down the road in the Western Car.
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That african wave won't be a wave for long..

(nervous laughter accompanied by restless leg syndrome)
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I'm kinda surprised their not pouch-tracking it yet...they usually have an early look on these things.
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lol littlesaint that wasnt a wishcast geeez something is wrong with u
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gang, im amazed at how it literally shows absolutely nothing for the next 10 days, i mean wow. It looked like a january run out there, lol, :). which is good news, great news ike
Quoting Diplomacy:
Ike, it was glitch, its gone. is it showing anything else?


It wasn't a glitch...
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Now this week its letting off a bit and pressing back to the NE. We can see convection starting to pop back up as the High retreats NE a bit...Link Stable/dry air moving back North.
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Pretty impressive MLC spin with this wave.
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Quoting Diplomacy:
Preciously, Drak. It's back to the drawing table for everyone.


I think you spelled the 1st word wrong JFV
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Well their is a voice of sanity and a real forecaster hey bob how are you.and Ike you get rid of brownsville tx the wishcaster now jfv wants you to sell shower curtains lol.as far as the tropics to quote the old 70"s song nothing from nothing is nothing 2-1-0 and the beat continues.
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Quoting StormW:


ECMWF



thank you sir!
Member Since: July 1, 2005 Posts: 10 Comments: 1683
4112. IKE
Just a slight difference on the 12Z ECMWF.

Sarcasm flag on.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37860
101 did u see the previous one lol
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Quoting Drakoen:


NOGAPS and CMC
looks good do you know where they have them headed to the carribean i assume
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Quoting Drakoen:


NOGAPS and CMC


What do you think about the 25W wave? TIA!
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Several waves bear watching now.
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Storm W,

Do you think the area near 25W might form?
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4105. Drakoen
Quoting Seflhurricane:
drak do we have any computer models developing it .


NOGAPS and CMC
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Quoting Diplomacy:
Bob, a little bit of Dust will not vanish a system that way, lol.


Not talking about dust. You can see how the Tropical Atlantic was cleared out this week. Stable air mass. What has been happening to waves when they have been coming off the African coast?? They have been sinking SW. That High has been strong and has been pressing alittle too far South.
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Preciously, Drak. It's back to the drawing table for everyone.
12Z ECMWF shows very little over the next 10 days
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4099. IKE
Quoting nrtiwlnvragn:


What HPC is talking about is straight line winds. There were very few tropical systems to evaluate during the ~6 weeks the parallel was run, so we have to see once we have actual systems in the Eastern Carribean and Tropical Atlantic. They have not gone in blindly with the new GFS, as it has been in testing for over a year.


Okay...thanks...just looks under what you should see in the open Atlantic as far as lows.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37860
4098. hcubed
Quoting Patrap:
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.


So is there any call to cap-and-tax sources of methane?

Usually, ranchers list how many head of cattle or horses they have.

Looks like they're lookin' at the wrong end...
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hey flood,

How is the blood pressure today?
Member Since: July 1, 2005 Posts: 10 Comments: 1683
Quoting Bigguy675:


Reed....no disagreement here. I threw the comment to show the rediculousness of worrying about something that won't happen for another 172 years and we'll all be rotted away.


well if we freeze bruce
Quoting Bigguy675:


Well, waiting until 2182 to hit may be nothing to worry about for humanity. If you believe the Mayans, life on Earth will end in December 2012. If you believe Harold Camping at Family Radio......Jesus' return will be on May 21, 2011.

So we have nothing to worry about.

Quick Freeze bruce Willis now so he can lead the mission to blow up the asteroid.
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Bob, a little bit of Dust will not vanish a system that way, lol.
4094. BFG308
Quoting Diplomacy:
Poll time:

At 3pm, what will the ECMWF Model show?


I'll take:

J. Dry humor layer as a result of SAL
F. Hot air and not much else
and
V. Upper Level Disturbances of the J and F sort
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Quoting Drakoen:
Wave nearing 50W in the Tropical Atlantic should be monitored for possible development in the Caribbean.



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4092. Drakoen
You can't stick to any model. Run to run inconsistency with the ECMWF
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ECMWF has been doing this for 2 days now.. hurricane on the 00z, not even a disturbance on the 12z.
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Quoting Drakoen:
Wave nearing 50W in the Tropical Atlantic should be monitored for possible development in the Caribbean.
drak do we have any computer models developing it .
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Quoting jurakantaino:
In this blog you see, how seriously polarized is the U.S. society. The owner of this blog writes an article providing and information about a serious issue for most of the nations of the world, GW. He is entitle to do so is his blog and is related to weather.If it touches some peoples sensibilities due to ideology, is a problem for the individual, to debate or solve it in the proper forums else where. The two sides should stop the bickering and hate comments! The United States has become a very divided society,two different tribes. Sociologically speaking very interesting and also very sad!


Yep, there are those of us that are producers and then there are the takers. For a long time us producers put up with the takers because it wasn't too painful. Then came along the economic collapse and giving to the takers became a real problem for us producers because at the end of the day we didn't have anything to give, in spite of what the media says, so we are now the unhappy energized people who just want a chance to become the people who make the decisions so that we can become builders again.
The sheeple, otherwise known as the takers, should just give us a chance and we will go back to giving.
And for all of you dumb butts out there I ask you if you think Haliburton is exploiting western civilization just how many jobs have you created?
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Ike, it was glitch, its gone. is it showing anything else?
4086. JLPR2
Quoting IKE:
168 hr. 12Z ECMWF....where is it?



that's good :)

Well good for the people in the islands, bad for the blog. XD
Member Since: September 4, 2007 Posts: 7 Comments: 8747
IKE..Gone!..LOL The surge Southward of the A/B High had me alittle suspicious during my video this morning. Could be another round of dry/stable air next week. We will see.
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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.