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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there has not been a relevant post on GW or Tropics in quite a bit of time here peoples.
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Quoting gator23:

this is fair. For the record though he bashes Florida even if no one bashes Louisiana. I love the Cayman Islands by the way.
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.
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2529. gator23
Quoting FLdewey:
I'm not your son, and I'm not a kid. It's an obvious attempt to make yourself feel important and I'm okay with that. Keep on hacking at Pat, don't let me distract you. ;-)

well at least the GW stuff died down.
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Quoting btwntx08:

??? i understand what he said lol dont know about u
Ok, please don't blow it out of proportion, just leave it how it is and move on...
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2525. gator23
Quoting btwntx08:

??? i understand what he said lol dont know about u

i understood it. Just wanted more context thats all.
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2524. gator23
Quoting drj10526:


It's funny how I always read what he has to say but have never noticed you until this nasty comment. I like people that are proud of where they are from and i am think you are the type of person try and avoid.

please do.
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what insult? nice hack kid...are you really that good? (I was a Eagle Scout too, by the way)
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Quoting gator23:

???
Don't worry...something happened in the morning.
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Quoting gator23:


CJ dont argue with Pat it is useless. He thinks he is the blog god. He knocks every other state that isnt Louisiana and he gets very defensive when you talk about anything that ISNT Louisiana.Like you said he makes these off hand quick witted comments that add nothing to discourse.


It's funny how I always read what he has to say but have never noticed you until this nasty comment. I like people that are proud of where they are from and i am think you are the type of person try and avoid.
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Quoting gator23:

this is fair. For the record though he bashes Florida no one bashes Louisiana.
good point!
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2518. gator23
Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
Earlier today I got a little flustered and caught up with things when I stated that I knew Grothar. This evidently is not true as I don't know anyone on this blog in person. He doesn't know my age either. I'm sorry about the inconvenience, it was a tough morning for me.

I have to go...have a great evening everyone!

???
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Earlier today I got a little flustered and caught up with things when I stated that I knew Grothar. This evidently is not true as I don't know anyone on this blog in person. He doesn't know my age either. I'm sorry about the inconvenience, it was a tough morning for me.

I have to go...have a great evening everyone!
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2514. gator23
Quoting stormwatcherCI:
Do you really think he cares. Pat is a valued blogger on here and seems to me that some folks like you and a few more just can't take the heat. I am also a Miami native and guess what, I was too glad to get away from there to my little rock in the Caribbean as soon as I was old enough to leave. Everyone loves their home town and going back and forth about whose is better gets you no-where and neither does arguing with other bloggers. Don't really see what this has to do with the weather or the topic of the blog today. BTW, high today was 91F in Grand Cayman.

this is fair. For the record though he bashes Florida even if no one bashes Louisiana. I love the Cayman Islands by the way.
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2513. xcool
keep eye on that wave
Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15684
2512. xcool


Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15684
Quoting gator23:

betcha he didnt know he got on so many peoples nerves though.
Do you really think he cares. Pat is a valued blogger on here and seems to me that some folks like you and a few more just can't take the heat. I am also a Miami native and guess what, I was too glad to get away from there to my little rock in the Caribbean as soon as I was old enough to leave. Everyone loves their home town and going back and forth about whose is better gets you no-where and neither does arguing with other bloggers. Don't really see what this has to do with the weather or the topic of the blog today. BTW, high today was 91F in Grand Cayman.
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Quoting FLdewey:


LOL. Well I guess it's fun to pick on the guy who you perceive as the leader.

Which is why I pick on DestinJeff.
DestinJeff does exhibit some leadership qualities...ever since Homer got dressed and picked up the gun
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2509. gator23
\\
Quoting FLdewey:


LOL. Well I guess it's fun to pick on the guy who you perceive as the leader.

Which is why I pick on DestinJeff.

LOL! Pat is on my ignore list I perceive him as a troll.
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2507. xcool
JLPR2 i think so
Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15684
Who's talking about Pat?
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2505. gator23
Quoting FLdewey:
Who knew you had a fan club Pat?

betcha he didnt know he got on so many peoples nerves though.
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2504. JLPR2


So this is the wave the models are picking on?
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Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
Same here. I like Bal Harbor too.


Miami is my home town, unfortunately I did not live in a very nice part of it. As a kid I liked Coral Gables and the gardens down on Old Culter Road the best.
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Quoting gator23:

good point. im 28 and I work so I blog mornings and afternoons. Thats it.
sorry, look up, modified...LOL
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2498. gator23
Quoting NttyGrtty:
My Daddy always said, if they're quot'n you, they're listen'n...Daddy was a smart man

It just irks me, that he acts like the blog god and then knocks everything that isnt Louisiana related.
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Quoting CybrTeddy:
Crow me if I'm wrong.. no circle on the 8 pm TWO.


Most likely. The E ATL wave may develop. However, I don't think it has any chance of forming in 48 hours just yet.
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Quoting gator23:

good point.
My Uncle Bill always said, never fish with your mouth open...Uncle Bill was a smart man
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2495. gator23
Quoting NttyGrtty:
You're assuming there's a living somewhere in there...

good point. im 28 and I work so I blog mornings and afternoons. Thats it.
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Quoting ElConando:


South Beach and Coral Gables are my favorites.
Same here. I like Bal Harbor too.
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Crow me if I'm wrong.. no circle on the 8 pm TWO.
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 24576
2492. gator23
Quoting ElConando:


South Beach and Coral Gables are my favorites.

I like Downtown and South Miami myself.
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Quoting Patrap:


Only when the finely tuned ones chime in about my Home.

U betcha Ill call a dime a penny.

So get over it.

No city takes mo flak for being us than us.

But hey..come Mardi gras and Jazz Fest.

I see most of yas here.


So relax,,the Fresca's are in the coola..

Beer in the Locked one.


Pat, yer such a good citizen!
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2490. gator23
you do it without prompting. You bash Miami anytime anyone mentions it and I really do not know why.
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Quoting gator23:

consider this though while most cities just have their downtown Miami has Downtown, South Beach, Coconut Grove, South Miami, and Coral Gables.


South Beach and Coral Gables are my favorites.
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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're assuming there's a living somewhere in there...35 and on a blog all the time, quite a few, but 50? Only one...
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2486. hydrus
Quoting java162:
am i the only one seeing that most of the models are developing something in the middle of the atlantic in just a few days????
No. A few of us noticed it on some of the models this morning. There might be a storm in the vicinity of Puerto Rico in 6 days.
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you know hurrkat05 I AM SORRY FOR YOU yes I see that there is shear and yes if anything was there NOW yes NOW then it would go poof but it WILL yes WILL not be that way for long


KEY: ALL THE BOLD AND CAP WORDS YOU NEED TO UNDERSTAND AND GET IT INTO YOUR HEAD OK :)
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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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