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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3334. aquak9
SAINTHURRIFAN, if you're still here, that was very touching. Yes we all cried together that year.

And if we hafta cry together again this year, so be it.

Peace, ya'll.
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3333. tkeith
Does anyone know (roughly) how deep a large Hurricane upwells water from below the surface?

The reason I ask is, BP and the CG seem to be having a hard time finding oil on the surface of the Gulf. There are millions of gallons still out there. I dont think any of them know where in the water column the oil is, but could a medium to large Cane upwell this oil?
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3331. IKE
Quoting 69Viking:


IKE, what satellite you using to see that?


You can see the spin and the sun reflecting off of it as it passes by...
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37860
Quoting IKE:


I wonder what run they switch it over on? 12Z...18Z? I think it's the next run.
not sure. anyone know?
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Good discussion from the Daily operations tab on the PREDICT website on Tropical Areas of Interest

It is issued daily under Tri-Agency summary.
Member Since: September 23, 2005 Posts: 15 Comments: 11343
Quoting NotCircumventing:
Wowzers! Anybody seen this yet?



Yup. Quite a few times now, and yet it never ceases to amaze me how tight the peak time is considering its 100 year range.
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Quoting Jeff9641:


Smaller eyes generally have lower pressure as the spin is tighter a bigger eye geranlly mean a little higher pressure as the circulation is bigger. Katrina was in a world of her own as she had a very large eye with 175 mph winds at one point.


ok thanks just took a better look at wilma her eye was a pin when the 882 was taken, it was only after when her eye became huge thanks
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3325. IKE
Quoting NotCircumventing:
Wowzers! Anybody seen this yet?



Never seen that...must be new.

Climatology is about to get going.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37860
Quoting IKE:
Another spin between 10-15N, east of 40W...void of convection, for now.


IKE, what satellite you using to see that?
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3321. IKE
Quoting thermoclined:
So we now have the new and improved GFS model to observe starting today


I wonder what run they switch it over on? 12Z...18Z? I think it's the next run.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37860
Quoting btwntx08:
btw dang its pouring outside


Outside "where" are you?
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Quoting Jeff9641:
Morning Guys, well it looks as if the tropics are about to explode by looking at the models this morning GFS and CMC the SE US should be concerned for the potential of a major event down the road in like 14 days or so if the models remain consistant. I have not looked at the EURO yet but the fact the GFS spits out 2 storms over the next 10 to 14 days is concerning as the GFS does very well with CV storms for whatever reason. Pattern that will be setting up starting later this week is a pattern that resembles that of 2004 with troughing in the east. This could be a pattern of storms hitting Florida and riding up the whole enitire eastern US.


Jeff - oh, yuck. As a matter of fact- ICK! Not that i got smacked by any of 2004's (except on their way out of town) but I spent that whole season watching/waiting/worrying. Been so lucky here in VaBeach - mostly we get the edge of something - and usually it's rain more than wind (except Isabel). Still, I'm really not liking the water temps - all the way up the East Coast and into the Chesapeake Bay...
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So we now have the new and improved GFS model to observe starting today
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3317. IKE
Another spin between 10-15N, east of 40W...void of convection, for now.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37860
Yes:) The blog is back to normal (hopefully stays that way). Have read this blog since 2004, contributed few times, mostly a lurker and a learner. Bring on the tropical weather discussions! Have a great day all!
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That low that just came off Africa look interesting
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3313. CJ5
Well, I think we beat the AGW issue to death yesterday. If things stay quite perhaps the Dr. Master can make the next blog update about politics. LOL
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3311. IKE
Quoting HurricaneGeek:
Does anyone know what the different leves of the vorticity signify like 200mb, 500mb, 700 mb, or 850mb,
when I look at a map like this? whats the difference between the 4
thanks

link


Higher up...like 200 mb's can be upper level features, where as the strong 850 mb's coming west off Africa is lower level.

I would say that blob of vorticity is what the ECMWF is picking up on.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37860
I've always wondered if large systems such as Wilma and Katrina had low pressures and what seem to be extremely large would a system of the same size with a smaller eye have a lower pressure or do bigger eyes=lower pressures or is the size of the eye and the pressure not related?
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alright have a nice day everybody...
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Does anyone know what the different leves of the vorticity signify like 200mb, 500mb, 700 mb, or 850mb,
when I look at a map like this? whats the difference between the 4
thanks

link
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Quoting IKE:


LOL! Please...no GW debates. I'm so sick of the arguing.

Heck...I'm wishcasting an invest just to avoid GW.


I agree with IKE, even while I'm lurking during periods of low tropical activity GW debates are the last thing I want to read! I am glad it's quiet though, going out of town this weekend and it's good to know I don't have to worry about a storm sneaking up on me while I'm out of town or at least I shouldn't have to worry about it with the current state of the tropics!
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Quoting earthlydragonfly:
Looking at the whole atl tropical basin.... Seems that the dry air is now on the run and being pushed north.....



I was just looking at that! Yesterday it seemed like that area of dry air had been pulled or enlongated more from west to east or vertical instead of being a massive wall for the storms off the African coast to hit and disappear.

This morning it looks like slowly but steadily that the upper level conditions are changning and along with that the amount of dry air over the Atlantic is either not growing any more or slowly dimishing.

StormW's blog was pointing this out yesterday that conditions are slowly changing. I think he is for sure on to it.
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Quoting Jeff9641:


I believe that maybe the low that just came off Africa.


Hi did you see the vorticity maps I posted in 3295?

Is that related?
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3301. IKE
Quoting HurricaneGeek:
Good morning...
I found THIS interesting....

I'm not sure what level, I should be looking at for a storm just leaving Africa, but it's the 850 mb vorticity map and look, where that wave is, bottom right corner, pretty strong.

Opinions?


Yeah...I think that's it.


Quoting SAINTHURRIFAN:
Good morning ike and aqua.I read the post stormtop made during the katrina days that a bloger was nice enough to post, brought back memories lol(lots of bad ones wife's breast cancer, house destroyed.Motherinlaw and sister in laws house destroyed, Daddy sick and failing health)posted this not to cry in my milk but it gave me the realization of whats important in life.After all Ive been through i still feel blessed.My wife is doing great my kids are are a blessing.All houses are rebuilt .I lost my dad who i sore miss.I guess someone would say why would he bring this drama to a weatherblog?Well iguess it really gets me how people get on here and stress out and waste thier whole day on a computer, are arguing about something as silly gw or anything else.Now i could understand spending more time on here if thier was a serious storm threat but thiers not.And all these teens that could be doing something constructive with thier time.Remember this youth wasted is a tragedy get out and enjoy life and be with friends and family for life is short and thier are no guarantees.God bless and aqua and ike thier are so few of the old ones left sad.


A lot of the posters on here haven't been through what you have been through with hurricanes. I haven't yet.

If and when they do, a lot of them wouldn't be so eager for storms.

I've got a few trees in my yard that need cutting down that are close to my house. Have a major cane come near or over me and my house is probably destroyed.

Just don't have the money to get them cut down. Have a nice day!
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37860
Mornin' all.
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Quoting btwntx08:
cmc continues to develop the african wave also begins to develop another one in the southern carribean


That's less than 7 days, out... it's just a little more than 5.
Interesting.
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Good morning...
I found THIS interesting....

I'm not sure what level, I should be looking at for a storm just leaving Africa, but it's the 850 mb vorticity map and look, where that wave is, bottom right corner, pretty strong.

Opinions?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Good morning ike and aqua.I read the post stormtop made during the katrina days that a bloger was nice enough to post, brought back memories lol(lots of bad ones wife's breast cancer, house destroyed.Motherinlaw and sister in laws house destroyed, Daddy sick and failing health)posted this not to cry in my milk but it gave me the realization of whats important in life.After all Ive been through i still feel blessed.My wife is doing great my kids are are a blessing.All houses are rebuilt .I lost my dad who i sore miss.I guess someone would say why would he bring this drama to a weatherblog?Well iguess it really gets me how people get on here and stress out and waste thier whole day on a computer, are arguing about something as silly gw or anything else.Now i could understand spending more time on here if thier was a serious storm threat but thiers not.And all these teens that could be doing something constructive with thier time.Remember this youth wasted is a tragedy get out and enjoy life and be with friends and family for life is short and thier are no guarantees.God bless and aqua and ike thier are so few of the old ones left sad.
Member Since: August 20, 2005 Posts: 5 Comments: 709
here they come, I am out, time for work....
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3269 aquak9 "global warming anyone ????????"

No thanks, I prefer to eat my planets straight outta the fridge.
Almost as good as leftover pizza that way.
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Quoting IKE:


LOL! Please...no GW debates. I'm so sick of the arguing.

Heck...I'm wishcasting an invest just to avoid GW.

Quoting aquak9:
global warming anyone ????????

(whacks hunkerdown upside the head with oily snapper)
just kidding all, just relating the senselessness of predicting 15 days out accurately from something that isnt even there to the BS that went on yesterday...believe me, I don't want to see anymore GW arguments (I would rather hear/see the infamous superhero, "shower curtain man").

Aqua, I will take an oily snapper over an oily grouper any day :)
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3288. IKE
May be the system that's coming off Africa now....Link
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37860
Looking at the whole atl tropical basin.... Seems that the dry air is now on the run and being pushed north.....

Member Since: July 1, 2005 Posts: 10 Comments: 1683
keep it goin' dragonfly. later.
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Quoting weathermanwannabe:


Some of us had to go ahead and "clock in" at 8:00........... :)



LOL
Member Since: July 1, 2005 Posts: 10 Comments: 1683

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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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