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 NotCircumventing:
One thing about this +240 image from the ECMWF ... notice the 1016 isobar is well of the east coast, and the 1014 is just barely nipping the coast of FL. And there is a trough moving off the east coast.

That system may, if 240 verifies, may end up getting curved back out if the trough picks it up. Otherwise wouldn't expect a huge westward path with the A/B high cenetered way up there in the Atlantic.



You got a link to that? does it have loops?
Member Since: July 1, 2005 Posts: 10 Comments: 1681
3233. gator23
Quoting earthlydragonfly:
Door squeaks......


Pops head in.......


(Thinks......wow would you look at what happened in this place)

Morning........... anyone still here that like to talk about tropical weather?

walks in...... tripping over fallen soap boxes everywhere....

Geez this place is a mess.....

my sentiments exactly
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
3231. IKE
Quoting NotCircumventing:
I hope Dr Masters will update the blog today, but probably not since the development suggested by the ECMWF is not within the next seven days.

I wonder If he will begin his next entry with a "dressing down" of us bloggers about the insane day we had yesterday? That was the worst display of civility that I have seen on here since I began blogging (commenting) in 2006.

Never thought restraining orders would have to be issued as a result of an opinion!


I skipped over every GW post and missed all of the lack of civility.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
I'll tell you one thing.... I'll bet dollars to donuts that there was more than one sprained or cramped typing finger yesterday... Along with a lot of saliva on some computer monitors from yelling at the monitor.... LOL
Member Since: July 1, 2005 Posts: 10 Comments: 1681
3229. IKE
This is an oldie, but goody.....Good Morning Starshine!

74.8 outside my window...right now...
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
Quoting earthlydragonfly:
Door squeaks......


Pops head in.......


(Thinks......wow would you look at what happened in this place)

Morning........... anyone still here that like to talk about tropical weather?

walks in...... tripping over fallen soap boxes everywhere....

Geez this place is a mess.....


lol ya i know what you mean- i just got here about 10 min ago wondering if anyone was even on
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Door squeaks......


Pops head in.......


(Thinks......wow would you look at what happened in this place)

Morning........... anyone still here that like to talk about tropical weather?

walks in...... tripping over fallen soap boxes everywhere....

Geez this place is a mess.....
Member Since: July 1, 2005 Posts: 10 Comments: 1681
3223. WxLogic
Good Morning...
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3221. IKE
Quoting KoritheMan:


I agree with you there. Hence why I never do.


My point...just be honest about yourself. I'm one of the biggest downcasters on here.

Operational(for a few more hours), 6Z GFS shows a system heading north of the islands.

Parallel(for a few more hours), 6Z GFS shows a system in the eastern ATL and then weakens it north of the islands....@ 180 hours...

Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
Quoting IKE:


You're right, it doesn't matter. But don't put a sad face on something you're on here every night, wanting to develop.


I agree with you there. Hence why I never do.
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3219. IKE
Quoting KoritheMan:


IKE, I don't see why it matters. I will also admit that I love to experience tropical cyclones first hand, but I also realize the catastrophes they bring, and I would never wish for that. I doubt xcool would either.

In a sense, we're all "wishcasters". Some of us just prefer to wish them away, rather than the other way around. But we all share a common morality, I think, and that entails caring immensely about what our fellow man has to suffer through because of hurricanes, and because of that empathy and compassion, take action to help them out.

The important thing to remember is that, very few of us actually want to experience a hurricane so badly to the point where we forget about the suffering of others. I know that isn't true for me, and I'd bet for many others as well.

As you've said before, it's the weather and there's nothing any of us can do about it. The only thing we can do is hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and assist others in any way we can during and after these catastrophes.


You're right, it doesn't matter. But don't put a sad face on something you're on here every night, wanting to develop.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
3218. aquak9
Quoting Diplomacy:
anyone care to speculate on its potential track beyond PR, given' the pattern shown on the ECM? any takers?


fish storm!

g'morning WU-Bloggers worldwide. WHOA to see m'beloved surfmom in here.

Was fun last night, to see SAINTHURRIFAN, he's an elder from way back. The banter between him, hurrkat05, and the kids was silly, yet stress-relieving.

As long as Lefty doesn't show up, we oughtta be ok. If Lefty shows up, we're all doomed.
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Quoting IKE:


Like anyone on here believes that makes you sad? You're one of the biggest wish-casters on here.

Latest 00Z ECMWF gives you your wish.

Here's the eastern ATL view....Link


IKE, I don't see why it matters. I will also admit that I love to experience tropical cyclones first hand, but I also realize the catastrophes they bring, and I would never wish for that. I doubt xcool would either.

In a sense, we're all "wishcasters". Some of us just prefer to wish them away, rather than the other way around. But we all share a common morality, I think, and that entails caring immensely about what our fellow man has to suffer through because of hurricanes, and because of that empathy and compassion, take action to help them out.

The important thing to remember is that, very few of us actually want to experience a hurricane so badly to the point where we forget about the suffering of others. I know that isn't true for me, and I'd bet for many others as well.

As you've said before, it's the weather and there's nothing any of us can do about it. The only thing we can do is hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and assist others in any way we can during and after these catastrophes.
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Quoting pottery:

Doing Excellent!
Hope you are too!
A lovely morning here. Looks like it will continue for a few days too. Nice.
But work calls.........
BAH!!

Yes we are good here. All ready at work. Have a great day!!!
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3215. pottery
Quoting severstorm:

Wow I haven't seen you for awhile, How are you. oh weather 78 in z-hills this fine morning

Doing Excellent!
Hope you are too!
A lovely morning here. Looks like it will continue for a few days too. Nice.
But work calls.........
BAH!!
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Quoting pottery:
Hi Mom!
Early flight to Tobago.
zoooom!!

Wow I haven't seen you for awhile, How are you. oh weather 78 in z-hills this fine morning
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Quoting surfmom:
Morning Early Birds
Dream or Nightmare : )


Dream, that's 4 sure! :)
Member Since: April 1, 2010 Posts: 9 Comments: 2699
3212. pottery
Hi Mom!
Early flight to Tobago.
zoooom!!
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3211. surfmom
Morning Early Birds
Dream or Nightmare : )
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Good very early morning! ECMWF 00Z now jumps onboard with this situation... or am I still dreaming? ;)
Member Since: April 1, 2010 Posts: 9 Comments: 2699
3209. IKE
Quoting xcool:
i guess active august ;(


Like anyone on here believes that makes you sad? You're one of the biggest wish-casters on here.

Latest 00Z ECMWF gives you your wish.

Here's the eastern ATL view....Link
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
3207. JLPR2
Quoting KoritheMan:


D:

You wuss!

j/k, obviously. I understand. :P


XD
Could you imagine me loosing my camera in the storm?
That's a secured depression right there LOL
I love my camera :D
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Quoting JLPR2:


I dont want to end up inside a flying trash can or squished by a palm tree so... XD
I want to live! LOL


D:

You wuss!

j/k, obviously. I understand. :P
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3205. xcool
lol
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3204. JLPR2
Quoting KoritheMan:


Oh, be a man. I was standing outside during Gustav's landfall, and he still packed 90 mph sustained winds when he neared me. :P


I dont want to end up inside a flying trash can or squished by a palm tree so... XD
I want to live! LOL
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3203. xcool
;)
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In all seriousness though, we do need to have an actual system before we jump on this too heavily.

It does look like we're likely to have at least an area of low pressure in that general area in about 5-7 days, however.
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3199. xcool
i guess active august ;(
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Quoting JLPR2:


haha! XD
Well if it forms and comes here, yeah, sure, I'll take some pictures and maybe a minute or two of video from the window. :P

Sorry guys I dont love you enough to go out in the storm. LOL!


Oh, be a man. I was standing outside during Gustav's landfall, and he still packed 90 mph sustained winds when he neared me. :P
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3197. JLPR2
Quoting KoritheMan:


Film the hurricane? :P


haha! XD
Well if it forms and comes here, yeah, sure, I'll take some pictures and maybe a minute or two of video from the window. :P

Sorry guys I dont love you enough to go out in the storm. LOL!
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Quoting Hurricanes12:


I don't know if this is only me but I do love watching previous hurricane videos!


Same.
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Quoting KoritheMan:


Film the hurricane? :P


I don't know if this is only me but I do love watching previous hurricane videos!
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Quoting JLPR2:


No, but its a Saturday and I would be completely free from college, so its painful. XD

I think I could think of something to do by then. :P


Film the hurricane? :P
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Quoting Relix:


Thanks. Wow pretty bad for PR there. It's still far away so I am not worried at the moment, and the ECMWF missed Bonnie so it's not perfect =P


Given that the GFS, NOGAPS, and CMC are all indicating some type of development in this area beginning in about five to seven days, it certainly bears watching. Those three models are much slower with the system, however, in terms of speed. Which is interesting.
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3191. xcool
JLPR2 .not good you need planned..
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3190. Relix
Quoting KoritheMan:


ECMWF (click South America on the left to see the eastern Atlantic).


Thanks. Wow pretty bad for PR there. It's still far away so I am not worried at the moment, and the ECMWF missed Bonnie so it's not perfect =P
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3189. JLPR2
Quoting KoritheMan:


Do you have something planned?


No, but its a Saturday and I would be completely free from college, so its painful. XD

I think I could think of something to do by then. :P
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Quoting Relix:


Can you link me to it JL? I lost my weather bookmarks by accident and I am rebuilding them


ECMWF (click South America on the left to see the eastern Atlantic).
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3187. xcool
Diplomacy imo it's hard to say
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Quoting JLPR2:
I'm not happy with the ECMWF's solution, that would be a ruined Saturday for me. :(


Do you have something planned?
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3185. Relix
Quoting JLPR2:
I'm not happy with the ECMWF's solution, that would be a ruined Saturday for me. :(


Can you link me to it JL? I lost my weather bookmarks by accident and I am rebuilding them
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3184. xcool
JLPR2 soso sorry.;(
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About JeffMasters

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.