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 KarenRei:


So... you're saying that there will be a new invention that detaches houses from their foundations and all of their wiring and plumbing, reinforces them to withstand the stresses of movement, moves them at the required incredibly slow speeds (since houses aren't built to withstand relocation), then does all of that in reverse at the destination, and can handle an entire city at a time at low cost?

I think Leprechauns are more likely ;)


I'm sure if our gentleman from the past was asked of the possibility of horseless vehicles traveling over 100mph, he would have been equally skeptical.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
2482. gator23
Quoting ElConando:


I live north of NMB. Downtown Miami isn't the nicest down town but that could change about a decade from now.

Btw you native to Miami?

consider this though while most cities just have their downtown Miami has Downtown, South Beach, Coconut Grove, South Miami, and Coral Gables.
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2481. CJ5
Quoting weatherwart:
A recent study by Tulane and Xavier University notes that 51% of New Orleans is at or above sea level, with the more densely populated areas generally on higher ground. The average elevation of the city is currently between one and two feet (0.5 m) below sea level, with some portions of the city as high as 20 feet (6 m) at the base of the river levee in Uptown and others as low as 10 feet (3 m) below sea level in the farthest reaches of Eastern New Orleans.

Excerpted from the Times Picayune, April 21, 2007


No need to post factual information, it gets lost in the da riddles.
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Quoting Surfcropper:
The people of New Orleans won us the war of 1812. I don't care if that town is a foot above hell, its a fine town and the people there can hang with any other party city in the world. Hoorah


Now that was a classic post, well said sir!
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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, it's been mentioned several times in the past hour. It's something to watch.
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A recent study by Tulane and Xavier University notes that 51% of New Orleans is at or above sea level, with the more densely populated areas generally on higher ground. The average elevation of the city is currently between one and two feet (0.5 m) below sea level, with some portions of the city as high as 20 feet (6 m) at the base of the river levee in Uptown and others as low as 10 feet (3 m) below sea level in the farthest reaches of Eastern New Orleans.

Excerpted from the Times Picayune, April 21, 2007
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Quoting Surfcropper:
And for the record, I live in Miami and like any other megacity, it sucks too. At least in New Orleans you can understand the person at the Burger King drive-thru .


I live north of NMB. Downtown Miami isn't the nicest down town but that could change about a decade from now.

Btw you native to Miami?
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2473. tkeith
Quoting Surfcropper:


There's no reason to get defensive of our hometown. Miami is hated by everyone outside (and even inside) of Dade County. We're used to the haters. All bets are off in January when its 70 degrees and sunny outside while the rest of the country watches their pools freeze over. Its all good!

:)
It's all Labron's fault Surf...
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2472. 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????
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2471. Patrap
Quoting ElConando:


I've seen him do it before as well. I don't mind, it. I've heard far worse things said about my hometown.


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.
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2470. gator23
Quoting NttyGrtty:
Ex-marine, ex-oil man, ex-baker, now ex-fire chief? Or did you steal that white radio hat off of a real one?

ouch. I oftern wonder what he does for a living considering he is on here all day and all night
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Ex-marine, ex-oil man, ex-baker, wanna-be weather-man, now ex-fire chief? Or did you steal that white radio hat off of a real one?
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Quoting Patrap:
Show me a Port above sea Level and Ill sell ya a Bank in Bangkok.



LOL


Maybe what we need is a port on rails, as the sea rises we just "toot toot toot on the horn and head for higher ground?
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appernrtly you maybe need your eyes checked the shear is dying in the caribbean I have just checked it like just 25 sec ago
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Quoting mikatnight:


An inherent problem with predicting the future has always been the subject projecting their present world paradigm onto a landscape which probably won’t exist in that yet-to-come time. Like the dude who said back in the late 19th (or early 20th) century that judging by the current trend, the streets of London would eventually be buried in horse manure. He didn’t count on new innovations and inventions to change the situation.


So... you're saying that there will be a new invention that detaches houses from their foundations and all of their wiring and plumbing, reinforces them to withstand the stresses of movement, moves them at the required incredibly slow speeds (since houses aren't built to withstand relocation), then does all of that in reverse at the destination, and can handle an entire city at a time at low cost?

I think Leprechauns are more likely ;)
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Quoting Patrap:


Keep da hardhat handy Ike.

I upgraded to a er, Fire "Chief's Helmet".

I Like da white Shiny Ones..and mine has a radio too.

As someone who used to wear a "white shiny one" all I can say is...Ooooh they make them with radio's built in too, now? Meee Wants....
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2460. gator23
Quoting ElConando:


I've seen him do it before as well. I don't mind, it. I've heard far worse things said about my hometown.

its all hate and envy. $$$ makes people say crazy things. that said I dont mind it either. But he dishes it and he cant take it.
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Quoting Patrap:
New Orleans is way above sea Level less Informend one..esp the Port areas.


....which have never flooded.

You should visit. Millions do.

A 1999–2001 study using LIDAR technology found that 51% of the terrestrial surface of the contiguous urbanized portions of Orleans, Jefferson, and St. Bernard parishes lie at or above sea level, with the highest neighborhoods at 10–12 ft (3.05–3.66 m) above mean sea level, while 49 percent lies below sea level, in places to equivalent depths.[8]
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Quoting gator23:

haha! with him its like he always takes pot shots at Miami as if those two cities were competing. Go figure.


I've seen him do it before as well. I don't mind, it. I've heard far worse things said about my hometown.
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2456. gator23
Quoting Surfcropper:
And for the record, I live in Miami and like any other megacity, it sucks too. At least in New Orleans you can understand the person at the Burger King drive-thru .

who said you didnt live in Miami? I was talking about Pat.
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2455. tkeith
Quoting KarenRei:


And thus below a Katrina-style storm surge by 16 feet ;)
...not if the levees hold
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2453. CJ5
Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
CJ5 how much in taxes are you prepared to pay to relocate New Orleans and all its people and the port facilities then?


I think we all have pay plenty of taxes to keep NO and its ports viable. I don't think anyone here is arguing that the Port and the City is indispenable either.

If you guys would stay on the topic and not veer off onto unrelated tangents this GW conversation would be much better (though I think we all have reached the end of our rope)

But to be more specific, I have paid plenty of taxes to relocate people already. I have spent plenty of time and money in NO. No to mention the employing and helping of several NO residents after K. In fact, two have stayed and still work for me. So I am not lost in this subject matter and no one indivdual owns the rights to NO or the Katrina disaster.
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Quoting tkeith:
I live in New Orleans...My house is above sea level by 11 feet...



And thus below a Katrina-style storm surge by 16 feet ;)
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2450. gator23
Quoting ElConando:


The Miami trice will represent us so nice :)

haha! with him its like he always takes pot shots at Miami as if those two cities were competing. Go figure.
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yellow circle SE of the windwards at 8pm, I think the CV is getting to kick off.
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Quoting gator23:

your Miami bashing is stale material


The Miami trice will represent us so nice :)
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2447. tkeith
now we're rollin...on the rivah
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Quoting KarenRei:


Have you seen how much it costs to move a mere house down the block? If Miami's citizens leave, Miami itself will stay behind.


An inherent problem with predicting the future has always been the subject projecting their present world paradigm onto a landscape which probably won’t exist in that yet-to-come time. Like the dude who said back in the late 19th (or early 20th) century that judging by the current trend, the streets of London would eventually be buried in horse manure. He didn’t count on new innovations and inventions to change the situation.
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2445. gator23
Quoting ElConando:


Eh?

hes back to his Miami bashing. Which i never understood.
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Well, I see the Department of the Navy Grand Freak'in PooBaa is still sitting on his throne, making friends and influencing people. Gotta admit, it is entertaining...
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2441. gator23
Quoting Patrap:
And were the first city below sea Level CJ..to Win a Super Bowl.

Where was that..


O yeah.

Miami.

LOL

Where Floridicy Flourishes dey say here.

your Miami bashing is stale material
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2440. Patrap
Quoting CJ5:


That is what I thought. Maybe if you didn't talk in riddles you could speak more in fact.


It aint a riddle to me.

Oh,and Buh bye as well,

LOL

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2437. CJ5
Quoting Patrap:





Go be all you can be,.




I certainly havent kept you from any Misguided posts.

Feel free to continue.


"Live Long and Prospa"..



That is what I thought. Maybe if you didn't talk in riddles you could speak more in fact.
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2436. IKE
Quoting tkeith:
I live in New Orleans...My house is above sea level by 11 feet...

This blog needs more Dudeism...


This blog needs more rock and roll....relieves the stress....way too much bickering on here.

Think I'll join A Flock of Seagulls....
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2435. Patrap
Quoting tkeith:
smoke em if ya got em...


O yeah,double U betcha's..

Phewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.......

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.......
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Quoting Patrap:
And were the first city below sea Level CJ..to Win a Super Bowl.

Where was that..


O yeah.

Miami.

LOL

Where Floridicy Flourishes dey say here.


Eh?
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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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