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Book review by Richard Douse
“Storms of My Grandchildren”
By James Hansen
Published by Bloomsbury USA 2009
James Hansen is a scientist. He has been all his life. He is generally regarded as the world’s foremost authority on global warming and climate change. Indeed, he has been called the father of global warming. But he is also a grandfather who sees a train coming down the tracks, and his grandkids are on that train. There’s a bridge out up ahead. Nobody seems to see it – what do you do?
Scientists are generally reluctant to state anything with 100% certainty. Unless, of course, you are in the pocket of the tobacco industry, the pesticide industry, or big coal. That kind of scientist does not hesitate. Their paycheck depends on speaking out aggressively and with certainty.
Dr. Hansen is not that kind of scientist. Never has been. Now however, in addition to being a scientist, he is also a grandfather who loves his grandkids and, based on a lifetime study on climate forcing and feedback loops, he knows full well what is in store for them. He has decided not to remain silent. He is speaking out, not for money, but for his grandchildren.
As he points out in “Storms of My Grandchildren,” climate change deniers (he calls them “contrarians”), as few as they may be, seem to get equal time to ridicule conclusions held by the vast majority of scientists throughout the world who are convinced we are headed for trouble. Indeed, perhaps the most well known contrarian, Richard Lindzen, takes a rather unique position for a scientist. As Hansen writes, “Lindzen’s perspective on climate sensitivity, as he told Richard Kerr, stems from an idea of the theological or philosophical perspective that he doggedly adheres to. Lindzen is convinced that nature will find ways to cool itself.” Politicians from both parties seem eager to listen to the deniers: following their view requires no action. Politicians don’t seem to understand the gravity of the situation we are in. “On the contrary,” Hansen writes, “they are pursuing policies to get every last drop of fossil fuel, including coal, by whatever means necessary, regardless of environmental damage.” Well, Dr. Hansen has had enough. He is speaking of the dire consequences of business as usual.
In this work Hansen speaks of efforts to silence him. Some years ago, all NASA press releases were being funneled to the White House for approval or changes. Under the influence of Vice President Dick Cheney, political appointees such as former NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe, with no scientific background, were put in charge of NASA and, Hansen notes, “by 2005, I was well aware that the NASA Office of Public Affairs had become an office of propaganda.”
In “Storms of My Grandchildren,” you will learn to understand the mechanisms of climate change. As the author says, “This is not difficult!” He shows the importance of understanding climate-related feedback loops that show how loss of ice cover in the arctic works to speed the release of methane gas locked in the frozen tundra. The release of methane from the tundra adds to the greenhouse effect in a way that will be totally out of our control once the tundra begins to thaw. He stresses the importance of getting the current level of CO² down from the present 387 parts per million (and climbing) in our atmosphere, to 350 ppm and below. This is a change for him, one that is based on new and disturbing data. Formerly he believed that civilization could handle and adapt to 450 ppm of CO² in our atmosphere. No longer.
“Storms of My Grandchildren” has a sub-title. It reads: “The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and our Last Chance to Save Humanity.” We have one last window of opportunity to save our civilization, but as Dr. Hansen shows, it will not remain open for long.
This is a book for those who are genuinely concerned about the health of our planet and our children and grandchildren, and can deal with hearing unvarnished truth about what is in store for them if we hold the course we are on. Hansen, with this book, also wishes to show his own grandchildren that he did everything he could to inform people of the dire consequences of their failure to keep coal in the ground, unused, and develop another, different, non CO² producing base load energy source immediately.
We must stop entirely all burning of coal. “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 (boiling away of our oceans) is a dead certainty.” He continues, “. . . the large ice sheets are just beginning to be softened up . . . once ice sheet disintegration begins in earnest, our grandchildren will live the rest of their lives in a chaotic transition period.” Further, “Business as usual greenhouse gas emissions, without any doubt, will commit the planet to global warming of a magnitude that will lead eventually to an ice free planet. An ice free planet means a sea level rise of about 75 meters (almost 250 feet).”
I would urge the reader to pay particular attention to what Dr. Hansen has to say about nuclear power plants. I must say that his argument turned my position 180 degrees. From someone entirely opposed, I now urge my elected representatives to support their construction. His reasons are compelling.
Hansen tells us we cannot depend on politicians in either party to act. Corporations hold sway over them with money and the power to decide elections. Our future depends upon citizens learning the truth, and then acting on that truth. Dr. Hansen put his reputation on the line in speaking out in this work. He has also placed his own personal freedom in jeopardy when he, along with thirty others, were recently arrested at Coal River Mountain in West Virginia for, “obstructing, impeding flow of traffic.” At the time of his arrest he was “… reading a statement in front of a Massey Energy facility, the statement being a demand that Massey (1) withdraw its plans to build a coal silo, which would emit tons of coal dust within 300 feet of Marsh Fork Elementary School; (2) fund the building of a new school to replace the one sitting 400 yards downstream of a three-billion-gallon sludge dam; (3) withdraw its permits to blow up Coal River Mountain, which would destroy the mountain’s potential for a proposed wind energy project that would provide permanent clean energy and jobs; and (4) halt mountaintop-removal operations, which are destroying the mountains, poisoning water supplies, and increasing the risk of devastating floods.” For speaking out and telling the truth, this grandfather is looking at a one year prison sentence if found guilty.
Images reprinted with author permission.
Richard Douse lives with his two favorite ladies, Tammy, his wife, and Ann Margret, his cat. They live off the grid in a home they built themselves. They grow their own food because they don’t trust corporations doing it for them. Douse thinks himself a liberal. He believes liberals are blue collar folk who know how to work and think for themselves. He believes that what we do, individually and collectively, in the next 10 years will determine whether civilization continues – or goes away.