On Hansen’s “Storms of My Grandchildren”

Just finished Hansen’s Storms of My Grandchildren.

I referenced this book in a previous blog, and I return today for a final book review.

Overall, the book is engaging and very readable.  But, as I mentioned then, Hansen’s style reflects deeply his linear logic, especially as he attempts to explain the science behind his thesis.  He rarely skips any significant fact behind his conclusions, and frequently spends tedious side ventures on dispatching erroneous arguments from contrarians, as he calls the rather small but vociferous league of climate change deniers he always encounters.

For many readers that will be a game stopper.  For most of them, that’s simply because they’ve made up their minds and prefer to ignore good arguments based on anything other than confirmation of what they already believe.

That’s particularly easy to do when the arguments are presented as Hansen presents them.  Ironically, the diversions are viewed by such readers almost as an admission of uncertainty.  Those who either don’t want to or can’t follow the thread frequently slide into this form of sel-delusion.  It’s as if the scientist’s tradition of speaking to all legitimate points is being interpreted as an endorsement of those points.

For me reading Hansen was much like reading mathematics: every sentence a challenge in its following, every conclusion rigorously reached, and every counter argument addressed.  Plus it needs to be read slowly and with a constant awareness of the reader’s role of confirming the validity of each statement as you proceed.

In keeping with that role, I should warn you that, in the area of political savvy, Hansen reveals a level of naiveté unbecoming the rest of the book.  This shows itself mainly in regard to his estimation of how easily the special interests will be dislodged.

Using the more scientific impulses, he concludes that a carbon fee on fossil fuel at the source and corresponding rebate to the general citizenry is the only effective way to stop carbon loading to the atmosphere.  His critique of cap and trade as a smokescreen for business as usual is compelling.

Then, like a math professor who’s just written a proof of the mean value theorem on the blackboard, he puts his chalk down, says “QED,” and assumes the students will have no difficulty on the test.

Perhaps his most salient point in his numerous frightening predictions is the observation that the extreme weather events of the last decade are merely the start of much greater effects that will take place only after the glacier melt rate reaches its maximum expected in the next decade.

What Hansen predicts is nothing short of chaos.  He doesn’t use that term, but that is what it is.  What he does do, finally, is reintroduce the terminology originally used some 60 years ago when we first became aware of humanity’s impact on global atmospheric CO2, “runaway greenhouse effect.”  The term was abandoned a few years after the discussion began for unknown reasons.  In fact, so did the discussion.

I’ve come to think it was probably just too depressing for most people to contend with.

Hansen warns of reaching a tipping point very soon beyond which runaway greenhouse becomes inevitable and likens the effect to conditions on Venus.  He is the closest  of all the authors I’ve read to make a strong scientific case for my own view of what the consequences of humanity’s impact on the environmentwill be.

The only thing I’ve been trying to promote he doesn’t go into is the “we’ve got to get off” bit.

The topic is a uniquely important one, so I urge you to read through the hard stuff.

I, of course, highly recommend him.

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2 Responses to On Hansen’s “Storms of My Grandchildren”

  1. Brad Keyes says:

    “Perhaps his most salient point in his numerous frightening predictions is the observation that the extreme weather events of the last decade are merely the start of much greater effects that will take place only after the glacier melt rate reaches its maximum expected in the next decade.”

    But extreme weather events haven’t become any more frequent with, or during, or due to, the age of anthropogenic global warming, have they? So what exactly are you worried about?

    • George says:

      Brad:

      I really don’t have reliable figures on whether events have gotten more severe or not. All I can rely on that way are my own anecdotal impressions. From my general impressions the number and severity of extreme weather events have, indeed, increased in my lifetime (I’m 69). But I honestly can’t say for sure because my awareness mazy be distorted by the grreater availability of communicaion from one place on the globe to another.
      My greatest reason for worry, though, comes from a belef science. It makes sense, and the monied interests are prevalently for denial, not false promotion.

      btw: this is a very late comment. How did you find the post?

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