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."

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 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 It is the most effective and responsible leadership in the public struggle for climate justice."

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 Dr. Hansen's web site is

Jeff Masters

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Quoting aspectre:

Has there been a NorthAtlantic TropicalCyclone that hit any of the Americas (including Bermuda) with any portion of its recorded track either east of 21.5degreesEast or south of 8.8degreesNorth ?

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Quoting tkeith:
2864. Chicklit 8:45 PM CDT on July 27, 2010

Thank you Chicklit :)

you betcha...glad you enjoyed it. (me2.)
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2878. KYDan
Quoting StormW:

Strong easterly winds in the Equatorial Pacific...will allow La Nina to get stronger, and aid in reduced shear on our side, for one.

The cooler the PAC gets, the more Mother Nature "sees" the heat in the Atlantic.

Is this what you are talking about?

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Quoting KarenRei:

Duisburg. Handles an average of 70 million tonnes of goods and over 20,000 ships per year, with 21 docks and 40 km of wharf -- all at ~30m altitude.

There are many more examples, but they're the world's busiest inland port. :)

The town of Duisburg itself is at 30 meters, in the article you quoted it does not give the altitude of the port. This is also an inland port.
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Quoting btwntx08:

hell yeahs they will kill those pesky little saints that came marching in hahaha
Cowboys will need to get by the Vikings before they worry about the Saints
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2875. gator23

Quoting sammywammybamy:

Hes talking about a NFL (Professional Football) team that resides in Tampa florida.

there is an NFL team in Tampa?
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I see the Loonies still have control of the Blog :(

I am sure Jeff does these GW Blogs just to sit back and watch the posts, to see how long it takes rational thought and objective criticism to be thrown out the window.
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2872. tkeith
2864. Chicklit 8:45 PM CDT on July 27, 2010

Thank you Chicklit :)
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Feel free to join me on my blog if things get out of hand.

As J.B would say..."Ciao for now!"
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2867. Ossqss
Quoting Surfcropper:
lay off pat please. great men have rough edges sometimes. he has helped his fellow man more than you probably care to know. have a heart.

I second that !
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Has there been a NorthAtlantic TropicalCyclone that hit any of the Americas (including Bermuda) with any portion of its recorded track either east of 21.5degreesEast or south of 8.8degreesNorth ?

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2865. gator23
Quoting NttyGrtty:
Patrick Pearson, you have been referenced by name by the owner of this blog, Dr. Jeff Masters, on this blog. Threaten me again, on this blog and we'll deal with law enforcement, again...

WUMail NttyGrtty
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img src="" alt="" />
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2863. tkeith
Quoting skkippboo:
I didn't break the blog this time.
you're doin fine long as you dont post no pics.
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Quoting StormW:


I'm starting to question whether there even is downward motion in our basin telling from that pop of moisture across the Caribbean and GOMEX. Dry air slowly diminishing in the Caribbean too.
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Quoting KarenRei:

Not to mention that he goes and discredits his own point. Remember his examples of "ludicrous" things, like that if you could use 1,200 km, you could judge the weather in Monaco relative to that of Birmingham, or Death Valley and Portland? Check out his 250km (high resolution) smoothing chart. Notice anything? Both Monaco and Birmingham are right near the 1C anomaly color boundary. Both Portland and Death Valley are solidly in the 0.5-1C anomaly color. ;)

Seriously, who thinks a heat wave or cold snap affects just a couple miles? Yes, Portland and Death Valley have very different *temperatures*, but their *anomalies* are correlated. Although, to be fair, by using the full 1200km, he is straining the bounds of the correlation, and thus will average more variation. How well correlated different geographical sites' temperatures are is very well studied.

But wait My Monaco is solidly 0 where my Birmingham is +2
You can prove anything you want scientifically if you handpick your data and cherry pick you results...
oh wait MY data was invalid..but it is your data with a few different parameters...
And the base data is VERY suspect..look at that small hot spot on antartica by the tip of South american. with 1200KM smoothing it is a massive hot spot..with 250 it is smaller. But you are telling me there is a 250km spot in Antartica that stays 6 deg C above the surrounding areas? That I am not buying.. it's a sensor next to a hut or something...
Go get more data and come back when you have a mature dataset.
Continuous global data of at least 2 points for every degree lat long grid
Continuous trends in non urban areas which should be subject to less variability.

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I didn't break the blog this time.
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Blocked again, Patrick...coward, see you in the morning.
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Quoting Birthmark:

Congratulations on confirming the 0.2C/decade trend over land for yourself! That puts you in good agreement with just about every piece of research on the trend.

Of course, six years isn't much of a baseline and I doubt that that was your intent, but it's kind of interesting.

Not to mention that once you account for the Mercator distortion in areas, you'll find that even with the 250km smoothing, you still have about 80% of the planet covered, and it's virtually impossible to come up with a cooling trend even if you went and filled in cold anomalies in all the missing spaces. And it should also be noted that the biggest chunk of missing data is in the arctic. Satellite data shows the *most* warming in the arctic (which is, by the way, the reason that GISS returns lower amounts of warming than some of the other datasets)
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Quoting sailingallover:
I love this! Change a few parameters to get a more current look and actual data and POOF!
All those gray areas show we don't have squat for data. That 1200km smoothing technique is like seeding storm models with a bogus center to get a track before the storm has even formed. Judging by comparison to the earlier maps it looks like a small hot spot can be extended a long ways. And since we have more temperature data from urban areas that get warmed more perhaps the "data" get skewed?

This is my issue with "global" warming. Urban/industrial heating is a given. No doubt we are adding heat. Green house effects from gases tentative yes. O MY GOD MY GRANDCHILDREN ARE DOOMED... you don't have the data you only have a cause and as always everyone is jumping on the band wagon. You would have to be crazy to try to publish a paper negating global warming right would be like Galileo and the inquisition..look at this board and how insane it has gotten...really all very funny until they pass Cap and trade and destroy what little is left of Americas industry...

Your peer-reviewed refutation to the statistical temperature correlations between locations over distances is....? Heck, your *non-peer-reviewed* refutation to the statistical temperature correlations between locations over distances is...?

Your explanation for the matching between the different datasets collected using different instrumentation is....?

And what the heck is up with your parameters -- one month of data? Versus a 1995-2000 baseline?

Quoting sailingallover:
Green house effects from gases tentative yes.

Tenative? Pop quiz: What's Earth's radiative equilibrium temperature? What's Venus's?

And if your answer is "Yes", then next, combine your answer with this:

Quoting sailingallover:
You would have to be crazy to try to publish a paper negating global warming right would be like Galileo and the inquisition..

First off, to correct the record, Galileo was published because he dared to reinterpret scripture to match his observations. And he was not punished by the scientific community, but the church. And furthermore, the reason you've heard of him is because he published a contrary opinion that was later proven right. That's the only way you make a name for yourself in science. And in today's climate, there's not only a "name for yourself", but a huge paycheck, since industry has pumped a massive amount of cash into funding denier groups, and some companies outright offer cash prizes to deniers who publish papers.

Quoting sailingallover:
look at this board and how insane it has gotten...really all very funny until they pass Cap and trade and destroy what little is left of Americas industry.

The GAO strongly disagrees with you on the impact of Cap and Trade.
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2849. gator23
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Quoting Surfcropper:
"Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity"

Let's analyze the title and subtitle:

Storms of My Grandchildren

a. The author seems to be predicting storms that will affect his offsprings' children. My local weathermen can't even predict next week's storm potential, so why does this NASA bureaucrat think he can? Or take it another way...I predict my niece's grand daughter will get caught in the rain at least once in her vague. OR, perhaps this science major thinks his future kin will be able to make storms themselves...sorry but I think Dr. Hansen got caught day dreaming in the NASA louge watching Mickey Mouse conjour up nonsense on a Fantasia DVD.

The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe

b. Not only is there truth about events in the future, they are dire. How many prophets have there been in history that predict catastrophe. And then when something happens they say "SEE! I told ya so! I predicted it!". Again, how vague. Catastrophe is a way of nature. No one would be here if not for some sort of chaos int he past. The future follows the same path.

and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity

c. Last chance? Is the Sun going to die one day? Yes. I'd say we have thousands of chances to save humanity but odds are our species won't survive another 200 million years at most. I'd guess Dr. Hansen believes in evolution, so, chances are humanity won't be what we know it as today. Its hard to believe a NASA figure head is conceited enough to think humanity can dictate its inevitable natural doom.

My suggestion:

Go buy a comic book instead.

The title 'Storms of my Grandchildren' sure rings a bell......hmmmmmm.....oh yeah 'Dreams of my Father'....that's it. Who wrote that book? Barry Obama!!!
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I understand, kinda wish i would not have ask now (LOL) Thanks for the reply
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SOI is the southern oscillation index ... Generally, values below zero indicate potential El Nino while values above zero indicate potential La Nina. it is a measure of relative pressures between Tahiti and Darwin compared to normal.
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Evening Storm! heres a MJO chart I pulled up from the site you and 09 gave me...Link.. I dont think this is ezact chart you show on your blogs is it??
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well all in fun football debate is great it was a hell of lot better than that gw nonsense goodnight angd god bless
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Quoting StormW:'s just running rampant.

So if I'm understanding this correctly, the SOI is an indicator of the strength of an el nino event if it's negative and the strength of a la nina event if it's positive?
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brownsville your way to young to remember the cowboys when they had class you are what about 12?
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You, Sir, should not have made a threat, again, on line...good luck, Department of the Navy, Grand Freak'in PooBaa
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Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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