Storms of my Grandchildren by James Hansen

Subtitled "The truth about the coming climate catastrophe and our last chance to save humanity," this might be a book you should read.

James Hansen is probably the world's best known climate scientist, partly because of his own work and his testimony before Congress, and partly because he has become a target of Global Warming denialists who seem to revel in every opportunity to accuse him of fraud, deceit, or incompetence.

In Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity, Hansen provides a message that is much more severe than what we usually hear. The Kyoto Protocol is not enough. Cap and trade will not work. The CO2 limit has to be 350 ppm, not higher has has been previously assumed, and all coal burning plants have to be shut down.

Hansen provides biographical insights from his own experiences in the science arena and in relation to his work as an expert tapped by the White House and Congress, but most of the book is a systematic laying out of the argument that it is already too late to ease into changing how things are done. Hansen calls for immediate and for the most part drastic action, but also makes the argument that such action can be economically beneficial.

This is "An Inconvenient Truth" on steroids. The book is well written, well presented, captivating, and depressing. The perfect Christmas gift for your favorite climate geek, or even your favorite denialist!

More like this

My observation is this: "Humans under stress become less intelligent."

We're seeing it now. George Bush and Sarah Palin were practically magicked into existence by the effect.

I expect there will be more, and louder. And as civilization ends, they'll have people believing it was all the fault of them snooty "perfessors" and educated types, and possibly that everybody who doesn't read the Bible and pray to Jesus should probably be killed, just to be on the safe side.

This is my way of saying there is a very high probability that We're Fucked.

And I kinda wonder if this is why we haven't heard from other civilizations. There's a roadblock built into the actual physics of intelligence as it relates to the environment that produces it.

The next 25 years are going to be interesting as hell.

Unfortunately, there is just no political will... or courage.

There is no political will or courage to make even limited, minor changes in policy much less will and courage to make the necessary genuinely difficult changes. Hank Fox is right. We're fucked.

You know, we babble on about how we're such an intelligent species, and to this day many people will argue you down that people are not animals (nevermind the impossibility of such a statement, many people still believe it), that we have some magical enlightenment (or endowment from a god) that keeps us from suffering the fate of "animals."

But every animal who has become 'too successful', overpopulating their ecosystem, and destroying their sources of sustenance, have suffered a mass extinction.

From what I have seen, the human animal is not doing anything significantly different from that.

Not only that, but the question of why we haven't heard from other civilizations is in my view, because those civilizations did not want to pass on the real reasons or history of why they collapsed. Where are the Roman accounts of why they failed? The ancient Egyptians? Even more recently - who teaches the real reasons why the British empire collapsed?

Those things don't get taught to succeeding generations, and in my view it is for the same reason we deny climate change, or blindly believe in free markets. It is because we are emotionally attached to our beliefs and we feel completely insecure and exposed when those beliefs are shown to be wrong.

No one wants to believe that the very systems we have put in place to run our society are eating us from the inside out, but that is exactly what is happening.

What if the blind belief that free market capitalism, operating completely outside of any restraining law or policies, will not solve all our problems, turns out to be wrong (Ok it already has...even so...).

I think America, as a whole will never admit that, even after our day in the sun is long past. We will still cling to old ideas of glory.

It is irrational, and no amount of Ivy League level education will ever change it. That is because it is an emotional attachment, and ripping those beliefs away from ourselves is the equivalent of ripping away the mother's milk from a baby.

People will die for wrong beliefs. They do so all the time. It's a big problem for the human species, aside from being a great boon for politicians and priests, who can then commandeer whole societies by preying on their propensity to believe in untruths and half-truths. This is not too different from the way that Wall Street has exploited the blind belief in deregulated capitalism.

You will never, ever hear an American President come out and say "our belief in capitalism has failed us in basic ways."
Instead, you will hear them worshipping at the feet of the marketeer-priests, in same way the kings of old would kneel down before the Pontiff. Even after the system collapses, and the truth is self-evident. Even then the emotional attachment to the lie is too strong to break.

They are smug that the intellectuals will never be able to combat this emotional attachment to beliefs. Why?

I don't know. Why can an extremely intelligent scientist fall stupidly in love and mess up his whole career for a love affair?

When it's emotions versus intellect, intellect is like a little three-inch tweeter speaker, and the emotional charge is like a 15-inch woofer. It becomes very hard to pay attention to the tweeter even after a short time.

That is why the emotionally charged true-believers find it so easy to blow out the rational skeptics. And every politician knows that win an election, you have to be riding that big woofer wave. The tweeter is not going to carry the public.

You see it all the time. Grandstanders beat policy wonks every time. The essential quality for a candidate to be electable is likeability, not policy expertise. The bumper sticker slogan drowns out the detailed analysis. "Vote against X because it will raise taxes!"; "My opponent voted against children!" etc, etc.

It's big problem. I don't see where 21st century society is any better at dealing with it than feudal society, or even tribal society was. There's been no progress in this area for all of human history.

An evolutionary leap would be that humans evolve the trait of looking rationally at their own belief systems.

They don't do that yet.

So I am not seeing what makes us so intelligent and higher than any other animal that overpopulates and destroys its own ecosystem.

Nothwithstanding the fact that we have, with our big brains, developed more tools to destroy ourselves with faster.

Ooo - the scaremongering starts in the title!

The storms claims is one of those which really pisses me off, so using it in the title of the book rather dissuades me from bothering with the book. Even the answer in the IPCC FAQ seems deliberately misleading. It is indeed difficult to establish if storms are becoming stronger and more plentiful, but not "difficult if not impossible" as the IPCC claims - that is a blatant lie which perhaps the storm scaremongerers would have people believe. It is a claim which is fundamentally in conflict with the claim that there will be more numerous and more powerful storms. So, people can either stop making the vacuous claims of "more and more powerful storms" or they can set out a regime for testing that claim. Surely they must have even a tentative metric if they are to have convinced themselves that there is any scientific merit whatsoever to the claim. Long-term campaigns have been conducted in the past, for example to establish ideas about cloud seeding improving overall rainfall. (The most positive studies concluding that there is a modest increase of statistical significance in some specific circumstances). Aside from that, Joe Ordinary is getting the impression that the signs to look out for are like something out of the movies where New York gets washed out by a giant tsunami. Going back to reality, what will happen is that agricultural areas become less and less productive over the years due to changing weather patterns. There will not be anything sudden and obvious. We're back to boiling the frogs.

By MadScientist (not verified) on 05 Dec 2009 #permalink

Of course, real frogs jump out of the pot when the water gets too hot.

@bad Jim: They sure do - but it's rather futile (and cruel) when the pot is large enough. Humans are essentially in one big pot - there is no place to jump to. Despite all the space fantasy on TV shows, humans have neither the collective resolve nor (at least currently) the technology to build self-sustaining ecosystems. We're stuck on this little rock. We struggle even to complete the various ISS sections and the space station must be provisioned from earth.

I agree with Hansen that the politicians are, without exception, making policies which sound nice but which are absolutely worthless. Playing silly games will lead to real catastrophes far worse than the melodramatic mega-storms. However, there will be nothing terribly obvious at any point in time - it's a long slow change (well, slow for us humans - extremely fast on a geological scale). Who knows, it may be another 30 or 50 years before we can demonstrate deleterious rainfall figures on a global scale, and at that time it is far too late to do anything. The cynics would question if there is any point in doing anything now - and the answer is "of course, because you're damned stupid if you go on as usual and compound the problem for the future." The basic problem remains; more CO2 = more warming, we simply don't know the amount of the indirect warming effect (the 'enhanced greenhouse'). I hope Hansen is not opting for mindless rhetoric and scaremongering although I wouldn't be surprized after his Godwin Event making a pathetic analogy between coal transport and Nazi mobile gas chambers - is he taking lessons from PETA or something. Lying to scare the public can do no good; that is a tool of politicians and religious leaders, not of science.

By MadScientist (not verified) on 05 Dec 2009 #permalink

With this type of book one could simply reach the conclusion it is to late to do much, so lets enjoy what time we have left, before we are doomed. Folks like Hansen are fighting what has been called apocalypse fatigue, and having to shout louder and louder to get any attention. More and more may just say we are doomed, so who cares?

First off, denialist is a word no self-respecting scientist or student of science should ever use. Skepticism is the healthiest thing to have in science - ESPECIALLY when the stakes are high.

Number two, you all sound like a bunch of Malthusians, and in case you haven't noticed, in the last 200 years Malthusians have been predicting catastrophe, they have been wrong EVERY TIME.

The reason why is because technology and innovation have been ahead of our greed and our population curve. Scarcity is reduced by technology and progress, and with it allows us to accommodate more people and better standards of living. If left the hell alone, it will continue to do so.

This rubbish about climate change and the need to deindustrialize society to prevent environmental disaster will literally cause an artificial Malthusian disaster.

You are all looking at tomorrows problems with today's solutions - typical of "practical" minded people, but in case you didn't notice, practical people don't drive progress, imaginative and innovative people do. Please do what you do as eggheads, and let braver men do what they do.

The elite realize that advances in technology, especially computing and manufacturing technology, are no longer benefiting them as much as the average person. Their monopoly over wealth and power is waning and the only way to stop this is by stopping progress. Global warming gives them a pretext and the mechanisms to do just that.


(1) Denialist is the correct word, because like Creationists they are not open to reason and evidence; they have their convictions and that will not change. Calling them 'skeptics' not only lends some credence to their lunacy by associating them with legitimate thinkers, but it is debasing to genuine skeptics.

(2) Malthus was no fool despite what some weird-headed economists may bleat and we have seen many "Malthusian Collapses" through history, one of the more recent ones on the news being the violence in Rwanda which has been irresponsibly sold by news agencies as a racially motivated war when it was in fact based on resource scarcity. For over 50 years agronomists and other scientists, as well as technologists and engineers, have put a phenomenal effort into improving food production simply to maintain availability and avoid a collapse. Contemporary agriculture is not sustainable; it is absolutely dependent on a number of limited resources such as ground water (many sources are ancient and not replenished) and oil. Those resources will eventually dwindle; the economists who chant the mantra that technology will miraculously save us are imbeciles of the lowest degree; they have no clue what it takes to keep the modern world running and they are doing absolutely nothing beneficial to encourage technological development.

"This rubbish about climate change and the need to deindustrialize society to prevent environmental disaster will literally cause an artificial Malthusian disaster."

I don't know of any intelligent person suggesting deindustrialization. Hansen's ignorant remarks about immediately shutting down all coal fired power plants is simply unethical and I don't know of anyone else making such demands aside from ignorant self-professed greenies who would starve to death or freeze to death without those power plants. Many large oil companies spend a few hundred million each year developing technology to reduce CO2 emissions to the atmosphere. However, until such reductions are mandatory, any further progress will be slow; after all, they're bleeding money at the moment and having a hard time convincing their boards and stockholders that this money is well spent. This is a very real example of how your blind faith in that bullshit economist mantra fails - there was technology developed, but politics cannot adapt and further necessary development is being held back due to lack of market interest.

"Please do what you do as eggheads, and let braver men do what they do."

Well, I'll have to call you an ignorant ass then because I just spent a whole week with a large number of people hell-bent on working on solutions. On top of that, nothing in the Status Quo offers a solution - the only candidates for solutions will be what people can make up, so there is no "do what you do as eggheads", you pompous ignorant ass. While they've got some things to work with, they certainly have nothing extraordinary and are doubtful that there will be any extraordinary fantastic solutions. These are guys with mountains of money and a diverse range of very clever people who have developed numerous things you can't even imagine. These are real people and many of them are among the most brilliant in their fields. Where do you think your magic messiah will come from? Worse still, that group represents only a fraction of different interest groups which need to get involved and develop their own specific solutions and they're probably the group that spends the most money on research. If they're struggling as they are, it's difficult to imagine that anyone is doing much better.

"Their monopoly over wealth and power is waning and the only way to stop this is by stopping progress."

Jesus F'ing Christ, where do you get such commie bullshit? That sort of thing only happens when you have no competition (for example, with Microsoft) or if you have an effective cartel (the tobacco industry). Screwing the world in general is bad for profits. If there were a plan to do so, you'd at least expect the Big Guys to have some well-armed and very large fortress islands out there with complete ecosystems. I just can't see any nor is there any evidence that they have excavated to build entire cities underground to hide away from us filthy customers.

By MadScientist (not verified) on 05 Dec 2009 #permalink

Sorry but Rwanda? They aren't exactly employing modern science and technology to solve their problems. They are murdering each other with 40 year old Soviet weapons and run their society with not a single semblance of order. That is an example of how numbers minus technology = disaster. Thanks for making my point in spades.

As illogical as it would seem to burn books, imprison scientists, destroy technology, and round up all your nation's educated (and be-speckled) workers and murder them, there are examples of men with power doing this. And they didn't even have a secret island to hide out on!

Concerning global warming - the air in both Japan and Singapore is very clean. Mass transportation is magnificent but there are still improvements being constantly made. There is no national "global warming" campaign being pushed here to achieve this ... just excellent education, pure innovation and progress which seems to naturally favor cleaner, faster, better, stronger, and more efficient.

" the last 200 years Malthusians have been predicting catastrophe, they have been wrong EVERY TIME."

Only in the timing. The principle is still good. One day we'll run out of something crucial and there will be no alternatives.

By Katkinkate (not verified) on 05 Dec 2009 #permalink

ok I'll leave you guys to your masturbatory pats on the back, your obviously not interested in opening your minds to new ideas, when anyone disagrees you circle the wagons and say people that don't agree with you are so dangerous they should be arrested. Sounds like a reinvented Catholic Church to me, and that you're all atheists is very ironic indeed!

Aww, did Tony the Troll give up so easily? Heere troll ... I might have my ass handed to me on a platter by the blog owner for doing this, but here's some nice troll food for you.

By MadScientist (not verified) on 05 Dec 2009 #permalink

I love how denialist like Tony the Troll always proclaim that "tecnology will solve all our problems! Dont change a thing!"

All the while bashing science, the same science that is suppose to create this tecnology.
Denialist are never part of the solution.

ah, Tony with the poor reading comprehension is having a fit. Perhaps a quality troll will take his place

By ursa major (not verified) on 06 Dec 2009 #permalink

The number of hungry human beings has just crossed a billion for the first time in human history. It's here, now. At what point do you declare a prediction verified?

@Russ Finley: Well, obviously facts don't matter. As Tony put it, the Malthusian collapse in Rwanda wasn't really a Malthusian collapse, it was a simple matter of the folks there not having the latest and greatest in agricultural technology. At any rate, dat's dem po' bakwurdz people, dat ca'int happen to us cuz we got de magik tekno-golly.

By MadScientist (not verified) on 06 Dec 2009 #permalink

Uh ok, I never said "don't do a thing." I said improve education, focus on technology and innovation. Not on sitting in labs for 20 years cooking numbers.

The number of hungry human beings is one billion. How many of those billion are employing modern technology, have proper educations, and a functioning local government and still can't feed themselves? Zero.

There is definitely disparity, financially, educationally, and politically - that is the problem we need to address. Imagine if that trillion dollars that went to Iraq and Afghanistan instead went to MIT professor Neil Gershenfeld's personal manufacturing project ... then sent to build economies worldwide at a local level?

What if the trillions that went to bailout the bankers went to improving primary and secondary education in the US along South Korean, Japanese, Singaporean, or German lines?

Finally, I believe the final outcome of the AGW debate is moot, a waste of time, energy and resources all in its own. Its obvious we need to do better than what we are doing now. We have been depending on fossil fuels for over 100 years! Its an artificial monopoly, there are better alternatives, just like highway and air traffic enjoys an artificial monopoly over other forms of mass-transportation in the US. The railroads were literally regulated out of business.

I could write a book about what we NEED to do. What we don't need to do, is send a bunch of lawyers and bankers to Coppenhagen to figure out the best way to parasitically exploit this problem.

Hey, Tony, who do you work for? Tell us. I know where you live, but I'd love to know where you work.

I work for a design school/firm in Singapore. Before, I worked as an English teacher and freelance web designer. I am an open source software/hardware advocate, and own a self-sufficient estate in Thailand. I make all my own fuel through gasification, grow all my own food, and manufacture (when I am in Thailand) all my own furniture, plastic and metal products in my own workshop - as well as for neighbors with whom I trade, tax-free no less.

I believe self-sufficient localized economies can and will replace globalization as technology improves, Singapore and some provinces in Thailand have many aspects of this already. The only obstacle is poor education and government protected monopolies.

I believe that globalization and top heavy, centralized governments, are immensely wasteful, insanely corrupt and no matter what the problem is, they are going to find a way to pervert it and exploit it.

So again, while I am skeptical of AGW, I do not discount our responsibility to both progress and the benefits it has for the environment. I despise corporations, banks, and specifically the media, defense and oil industries - and I don't see how they are going to be affected by Coppenhagen besides charging us more, and collecting more taxes.

Hope that answers your questions as to where I'm coming from.

Who do you work for Greg Laden? Besides being formally under the very people pushing AGW, over there at the Belfer Center, where John P. (the prophet) Holdren used to work - and is now directed by a RAND corporation, Council on Foreign Relations, Trilateral Commission, Brookings Institute member!!!

Boy, you sure turned out to be a reliable and objective voice in the mix, didn't you? I was wondering why you were so belligerent and irrational. The truth never entered the equation for you did it?

Well just so you know, other people are catching on. They know what the CFR, RAND, Trilateral, and Brookings Institute are, and today, thanks to you, I now know what the Belfer Center is.

Hey looky here! Former notable member of the Belfer Center - direct quote from your former employer's website ... "Robert Zoellick is the 11th president of the World Bank. He was previously a vice chairman at Goldman Sachs and Deputy Secretary of the US State Department."

Isn't that sweet. Wold Bank - no doubt the greatest institutional purveyor of social and economic disparity in human history. Thailand is still thanking them and the IMF for their generosity!

Tony spoke of "masturbatory pats on the back."

Tony, I'm pretty sure you're doing it wrong.

@Tony -- your spirit and energy is admirable, keep up the good work. The only thing I would question is your previous comment as follows:

> Concerning global warming - the air in both Japan and Singapore is very clean.

How can you make such a statement without having quantitative data to back that up objectively? Haven't you heard of the Asian brown (soot) cloud? Do you really believe that the nasty air quality (which I have personally experienced and breathed in, in Shanghai and Beijing) suddenly ends magically in the sky between Japan and China? You did yourself a discredit when you made that statement. Also what does global warming have to do with the air being "very clean" or not? See also:…

CIFEX (Cloud Indirect Effects Experiments) is a campaign sponsored by the Scripps Institution for Oceanography (SIO) that will focus on the Asian brown cloud and the relationship between aerosol microphysics and cloud microphysics and will investigate the impact of particles on cloud properties and precipitation efficiency.

To all deniers, growth advocates and population boosters, ask yourself, how do I benefit from having more people on the planet. Unless you're a major property developer, business mogul or myopic politician it's unlikely that you have simply embraced the myth that GDP growth is a sound measure of your prosperity and wellbeing.
I'm glad I skimmed the pages before parting with any money for this book....My cynicism has taught me that any climate book heavily promoted through mainstream media is unlikely to offer any meaningful commentary, and this book has reinforced this smacks of corporate endorsement. One small paragraph suggesting population growth may have played a role in anthropogenic climate change......let's wake up!. Anthropogenic climate change + every other environmental catastrophe has it's root cause in human population and average consumption levels (ie Aggregate Demand). Full stop. There are no other quantifiable factors and technology will ultimately only represent a blip on the current trajectory. Everyone enjoying a Western standard of living emits approximately 4 - 5 tonnes of C02 p.a. Can we save this by recycling/ implementing energy efficiency measures? very temporarily. 1 additional person living our lifestyle will negate the lifetime recycling effort of 80 people. Any strategies for sustainability must address the twin evils of population growth and rampant consumerism.
To fellow bloggers, you are all intelligent enough to understand the issues and sufficiently concerned to log a commentary. Whether you endorse my comments or not, I encourage you all to undertake your own research on these root causes and consider all arguments in balanced way. Stay vocal because it is only through collective outrage will politicians divorce their corporate puppet masters and make a tangible effort at reform.

By PostGrowthWorld (not verified) on 01 Jan 2010 #permalink