(Book Review) James Hansen’s “Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity” (alarmism on steroids)
Many scientists are concerned about the future and continue to study various aspects of our environment, including the climate. But, for Dr. James Hansen there is no doubt. Our world is headed for disaster unless we take immediate and drastic action to control greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide (CO2).
You have to give the man credit: He actually believes what he preaches. He shows pictures of his wonderful grandchildren and his concern for them is certainly evident. There is only one problem with what he shares: There is little evidence to support what he says.
Take this example:
Planet Earth, creation, the world in which civilization developed, the world with climate patterns that we know and stable shorelines, is in imminent peril. The urgency of the situation crystallized only in the past few years. We now have clear evidence of the crisis, provided by increasingly detailed information about how Earth responded to perturbing forces during its history (very sensitively, with some lag caused by the inertia of massive oceans) and by observations of changes that are beginning to occur around the globe in response to ongoing climate change. The startling conclusion is that continued exploitation of all fossil fuels on Earth threatens not only the other millions of species on the planet but also the survival of humanity itself—and the timetable is shorter than we thought. (Emphasis Added P. IX)
Now, the one thing that Dr. Hansen is not going to share with us is the “clear evidence” of a coming crisis. In fact there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. Dr. Hansen may understand some scientific principles but he seems to lack any common sense. He talks about plants becoming extinct because they cannot migrate because cities and farms are in the way. Yet, any person who has ever planted a garden knows that seeds find a way of getting where they want to go.
Dr. Hansen, along with a number of other climate change alarmists (like Al Gore), believes that man is the chief cause of global warming, and that warming is generally harmful. In fact more people die from cold than die from heat. Not only that but increasing levels of carbon dioxide are generally beneficial to plants, enabling them to survive with less water.
Dr. Hansen knows that people who live day to day on this planet are not going to be easily fooled so he offers this to convince us:
How can we be on the precipice of such consequences while local climate change remains small compared with day-to-day weather fluctuations? The urgency derives from the nearness of climate tipping points, beyond which climate dynamics can cause rapid changes out of humanity’s control. Tipping points occur because of amplifying feedbacks… Climate-related feedbacks include loss of Arctic sea ice, melting ice sheets and glaciers, and release of frozen methane as tundra melts. (Ibid.)
Tipping Points: Things gradually reach the point of no return. While the day to day change may be small the point is reached where through what he calls “forcings” and “positive feedbacks” the temperature skyrockets and the planet is destroyed with everything on it.
During the past few years, however, it has become clear that 387 ppm (CO2) is already in the dangerous range. It’s crucial that we immediately recognize the need to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide to at most 350 ppm in order to avoid disasters for coming generations. (Emphasis Added P. XI)
The title of the book implies we are headed for a catastrophe or a disaster. But, is this really the last chance to save humanity? Anyone who spends time out in nature (and not just writing about it) knows that our old Earth is able to heal rather quickly. Old highways are reclaimed by natural vegetation, land covered by hot lava soon has ferns and other plants growing on it, and even oil spills are quickly oxidized and “eaten” by micro-organisms that render it harmless.
Dr. Hansen talks about species extinction, yet with none of the examples he gives did the species become extinct because of global warming. In fact, one example, the Dodo bird, became extinct simply because the Dutch sailors ate them all.
There is much evidence that with increasing temperatures species move farther north or higher in elevation while maintaining their original lower elevation limits.
The limit on permitted global warming, if we wish to preserve the great ice sheets on Antarctica and Greenland, and thus preserve the coastlines that have existed for the past seven thousand years, is much less than has generally been assumed. Halting global warming is still feasible—but requires international cooperation in taking urgent, unprecedented actions, which would have additional benefits for human health, agriculture, and the environment. (Emphasis Added P. 34)
The truth of the matter is that if the world reduces the use of fossil fuels there will be starvation on a broad scale, and many more people will die simply because they lack the energy for clean and safe living. Not only that, but while sea level rose rapidly after the end of the last ice age, most of that ice is now gone. There is some melting at the edges of Greenland and Antarctica, but the interior is actually getting thicker.
Dr. Hansen continues to beat on his alarmist theme:
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. (P. 70)
He goes on to say:
You may say, “Surely you are joking, Mr. Hansen!” Would that I were. Human-made climate change is, indeed, the greatest threat civilization faces. (Ibid.)
So what is his goal, actually?
Our goal is a global phaseout of fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions. (Ibid.)
Why do we then keep using fossil fuels if there is such a great need to stop?
Why do fossil fuels continue to provide most of our energy? The reason is simple. Fossil fuels are the cheapest energy. This is in part due to their marvelous energy density and the intricate energy-use infrastructure that has grown up around fossil fuels. (Ibid.)
Dr. Hansen understands that fossil fuels represent highly concentrated energy; energy deposited by the sun over very long periods of time. Yet in his discussion he leads us to believe that solar and wind can take the place of all that.
So what is his solution? Increase the cost of fossil fuels so that alternative sources of energy will appear cheaper. Again, he notes the urgency:
The difficult part is that we must make the transition with extraordinary speed if we are to avert climate disaster. (P. 209)
His program is called “fee-and dividend”:
With fee-and-dividend, in contrast, [to cap and trade, which he opposes] we will reach a series of points at which various carbon-free energies and carbon-saving technologies are cheaper than fossil fuels plus their fee. As time goes on, fossil fuel use will collapse, remaining coal supplies will be left in the ground, and we will have arrived at a clean energy future. And that is our objective. (P. 114)
This program misses two important points: The use of fossil fuels is pretty inelastic: People continue to purchase gasoline even when the price doubles. The second thing that he seems not to consider is that wind and solar represent only intermittent power and require some sort of backup such as coal, gas, nuclear or etc. This standby energy, then, becomes very expensive.
THE ABOVE SCENARIO—with a devastated, sweltering Earth purged of life—may read like far-fetched science fiction. Yet its central hypothesis is a tragic certainty—continued unfettered burning of all fossil fuels will cause the climate system to pass tipping points such that we hand our children and grandchildren a dynamic situation that is out of control. (P. 269)
Few things in life are “certain” except “death and taxes”. Now Dr. Hansen is no longer a scientist, but a politician. His goal is to build so much fear into the average American that he will choose this poorly thought out program. We would not even give his treatise second thought except for the obvious fact that many government officials will take what he says very seriously.
If we expect to continue to improve the living conditions of the poor of the world, and maintain our own then we must reject what men like Dr. James Hansen are preaching. Recognize that the earth has warmed and cooled over the ages, but life has gone on.