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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offended?
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Quoting ElConando:


For someone not of Japanese descent, I am offended.
I don't sense the sarcasm flag...you for real?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
What do you expect...it's the Japanese! LOL!


Hey Miami, how's the weather down there? (all of 60 miles from here)

Here's a link to a page full of rice field art.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
What do you expect...it's the Japanese! LOL!


For someone not of Japanese descent, I am offended.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
2576. gator23
Quoting stormwatcherCI:
Moved here in 1973. My father is originally from here but he moved to Miami in 1949. I came here on vacation the first time in 1965 and fell in love. I swore when I finished school I was coming here to live. Two weeks after getting out of school I moved down here and been here ever since.

very cool!
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Quoting mikatnight:
OK, off the subject, but pretty cool.

Japan taking crop circles to a whole other level...


that does kinda rock..
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Quoting mikatnight:
OK, off the subject, but pretty cool.

Japan taking crop circles to a whole other level...

..really?
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Quoting mikatnight:
OK, off the subject, but pretty cool.

Japan taking crop circles to a whole other level...

What do you expect...it's the Japanese! LOL!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
OK, off the subject, but pretty cool.

Japan taking crop circles to a whole other level...

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Quoting gator23:

ouch. I oftern wonder what he does for a living considering he is on here all day and all night


You are a classy person. I am impressed
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Quoting FLdewey:


Where is that cheese I had earlier...
Haven't seen it...
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Quoting gator23:

the blow holes are simply amazing. When did you move there and why?
Moved here in 1973. My father is originally from here but he moved to Miami in 1949. I came here on vacation the first time in 1965 and fell in love. I swore when I finished school I was coming here to live. Two weeks after getting out of school I moved down here and been here ever since.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Hobart on target for warmest July on record


Hobart is having its warmest July on record, if this week's forecast maximum temperatures come true, according to weatherzone.com.au

The Tasmanian capital has been averaging close to 14 degrees so far this month, more than two above the long-term average maximum of 11.6.

The previous record for warmest July (in terms of maximum temperatures) was 13.7 degrees, set in 2002, 1993 and 1988.

This unusually warm July can be put down to a distinct lack of strong cold fronts bringing cold days - it has exceeded the average every day so far. The lowest maximum has been 11.7 degrees.

In the 129-year history of the Hobart site there have only been two previous Julys in which the lowest maximum has been as high as 10 degrees, 10.4 in 2001 and 10.2 in 1930.

It is highly likely that this will be a record warm July given that the next significant cold change is not due to arrive until early next month.

July 2010 has also been a very dry one, only about five millimetres so far, and potentially the driest in 30 to 40 years.

- Weatherzone
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2564. JLPR2
Quoting btwntx08:



ha! I knew it LOL! XD
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2561. gator23
Quoting stormwatcherCI:
You need to stay at least a week and tour the whole island. Many beautiful things to see and the clearest water you can swim in. I live about 1/2 mile from the blow holes in East End.

the blow holes are simply amazing. When did you move there and why?
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Dozens die in Japan heatwave
North Asia correspondent Mark Willacy.

A heatwave in Japan is being blamed for more than 60 deaths as more than 15,000 people have needed hospital treatment.

With temperatures soaring past 35 degrees Celsius in most of the country, sales of beer and air conditioners have skyrocketed.

But authorities say the heatwave has also caused at least 66 deaths.

Some died from heatstroke, while others drowned while trying to beat the heat.

More than 15,000 people have been treated for heatstroke in hospital.

Japan's meteorological agency is predicting the hottest summer in 100 years, with temperatures rising dramatically since the end of the annual rainy season earlier this month.

- ABC
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Quoting EtexJC:


did somebody do some hail hunting today???


Have these pics been posted before? Just showed up online...big suckers, eh?
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"I have argued that it is time to 'draw a line in the sand' and demand no new coal plants."

Just love days that I can help put coal electric plants out of business (note, even if you buy clean power the incremental power saved can be used by somebody else)

Picture of solar PV panels going up

Link

Of course perhaps this butterfly is cooler :)

Link
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Quoting gator23:

i cruised it up. But a flight from Flroida there isnt too expensive and you are making a good case.
You need to stay at least a week and tour the whole island. Many beautiful things to see and the clearest water you can swim in. I live about 1/2 mile from the blow holes in East End.
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2555. EtexJC
Quoting mikatnight:


did somebody do some hail hunting today???
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2554. gator23
Quoting stormwatcherCI:
Did you come on a cruise or stay over ?

i cruised it up. But a flight from Florida there isnt too expensive and you are making a good case.
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2553. xcool
yes 3 storms
Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15620
2552. gator23
Quoting xcool:

scary scenario.
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2549. JLPR2
Quoting btwntx08:

hope u didnt see the cmc run and also its been starting to consistency


Nope I haven't, thank you. LOL!

Since its the CMC it must be total doom. XD
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Quoting gator23:

Went swimming out on the reef there. the schools of fish swim right through you!
Did you come on a cruise or stay over ?
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Maybe old news for here, but made the news today...

Most hail that falls is pea to golf ball sized. But the stones that fell in the Dakotas on Friday was some of the largest ever seen. Preliminary reports indicated hail over 4” in diameter. But after the National Weather Service posted these pics, there needs to be a close examination whether any of these stones are a record breaker.

In 2003, the largest hail stone in US history was reported in Nebraska. The stone was 7’ in diameter, 18.75 in circumference and weighed just under one pound. Although not the heaviest ice rock from the sky, it is the largest and considered the record holder in the US.

In Friday’s storm, the large hail storm struck near the town of Vivian, SD, which is just south of Pierre in central South Dakota. You can see in these pictures the stones were flat out big. Hopefully continued information is being collected on these images. But in the meantime, we just need to thank our lucky starts we’ve never seen ice chunks like this anywhere in Iowa.




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2544. xcool
Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15620
2543. xcool
Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15620
Easy there PeeWee, I'm simply demonstrating some blog techniques perfected and demonstrated daily (sometimes every 30 seconds) by the subject of your fan club (ref. your post #2502)
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2541. gator23
Quoting FLdewey:


Now I'll drink to that!

::passes the rum::
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Quoting hurrkat05:
lol btwtex apparently you don't understand my posting..i said aug 2nd nothing will affect anything in the caribbean or the atlantic...if something does form no one will have to deal with it by aug 2nd and that's a fact jack..
Who died and made you God? The weather is a constantly changing thing so maybe you and others THINK nothing will develop but you don't really know.
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2538. Patrap
The Mad Potter of Biloxi
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2537. gator23
Quoting stormwatcherCI:
Cayman is beautiful and for the most part pretty quiet and although we have had some crime the last few months still no-where near the rest of the Caribbean. I would not live anywhere else in the world. They have a saying here "It takes two to make an argument." Like I said, everyone loves their hometown so nothing anyone says will change that. Good and bad anywhere you go in the world.

Went swimming out on the reef there. the schools of fish swim right through you!
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2536. IKE
Quoting gator23:

well at least the GW stuff died down.


That won't last long. They swarm like....I better not say it.
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2535. JLPR2
Quoting xcool:




look at that, Cape Verde galore, I do hope it drops it on the next run. :D
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there has not been a relevant post on GW or Tropics in quite a bit of time here peoples.
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About

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