- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 22, 2010



By James Hansen

Bloomsbury USA, $25

320 pages

Reviewed by Anthony J. Sadar

In 1968, just a couple of years before the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, Paul R. Ehrlich, in his book “The Population Bomb,” predicted that if the world continued to increase its population at a high rate, there soon would be a collapse of economic and social systems. James Hansen, in his new book “Storms of My Grandchildren,” warns that if the world continues to burn fossil fuels at a high rate, “there may be a threat of collapse of economic and social systems.”

Mr. Ehrlich’s prophecy was a total bust; Mr. Hansen’s is most likely doomed to a similar fate. Both scientists seem to suffer from the same narrow focus and internal certainty that excludes too many real-world conditions and rebuffs all reasonable challenges.

Mr. Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, is perhaps the leading scientific personality behind the claim that humans are about to destroy Earth’s future via fossil-fuel combustion. He is the veteran climate scientist behind many, if not most, of Al Gore’s outlandish claims.

In “Storms of My Grandchildren,” Mr. Hansen explains that his thesis is founded not upon models; rather, it is based on empirical evidence. The evidence is derived primarily from ice-core data that document greenhouse gas concentrations and corresponding temperatures going back hundreds of thousands of years. Ice-sheet coverage is also factored into his vision of past climate changes and their primary causes.

Apparently, because changes in these two climate “forcing” mechanisms - greenhouse gases and surface cover - seem to correlate well with changing global temperatures over past eons and appear crucial to continued warming in the future, there is no need to seriously consider any other causes.

In fact, reasonable contenders for possible major climate-forcing candidates, such as clouds and cosmic rays, are minimized or ridiculed by the author. Regarding the offering of a cosmic-ray effect on climate (by Henrik Svensmark of the Center for Sun-Climate Research at the Danish Space Research Institute), Mr. Hansen simply dismisses the carefully documented, straightforward proposal as “an almost Rube Goldberg concoction.”

Furthermore, it’s apparent that only those who agree with Mr. Hansen are “relevant scientists” or even “scientists.” He is kind enough to refer to those in disagreement as simply “contrarians.”

Additional support for the concept that greenhouse gases (especially carbon dioxide) are driving current and future climate changes comes from models. A model is a representation (typically computer-generated) of current or future real-world conditions based on an interpretation of current and past conditions.

Note, though, that the proper interpretation of what the real-world data set is indicating is paramount. Plus, for an exceptionally complicated system like climate, many and varied climate-observation points across the entire globe over a long duration are essential. Even Mr. Hansen agrees that the present amount and variety of climate measurements might be inadequate to get a thorough picture of the atmosphere.

Regardless of the lack of good climate information, the dire call to action in “Storms of My Grandchildren,” coupled with Mr. Hansen’s sincerity and persuasion, perhaps will all too soon move the United States to drastically curtail fossil-fuel energy supplies. Because Mr. Hansen apparently is absolutely sure of his own abilities to see “tragic certainty,” he would be happy to see fossil fuels, especially coal, eliminated as fast as possible. So would many, many folks who have placed their faith in his interpretive and predictive powers.

However, confidence in his thinking process falters somewhat with statements such as: “The present situation is analogous to that faced by Lincoln with slavery and Churchill with Nazism - the time for compromises and appeasement is over.” Tell that to Third World children and grandchildren who can be liberated from much disease and hardship with the help of inexpensive power supplied through abundant and inexpensive fossil fuels.

Conservatives can find much in “Storms of My Grandchildren” with which to agree, such as exposing the false impression that cap-and-trade is a good idea and encouraging energy efficiency and more advanced third- and fourth-generation nuclear power plants.

But the heartiest agreement with Mr. Hansen will come from this: When discovering that anti-nuke activists were being deceptive with dissemination of information that slammed nuclear power, Mr. Hansen exclaims, “That’s what began to make me a bit angry. Do these people have the right to, in effect, make a decision that may determine the fate of my grandchildren?”

Right. At least Mr. Hansen knows how the rest of us feel.

Anthony J. Sadar is a certified consulting meteorologist and co-author of “Environmental Risk Communication: Principles and Practices for Industry” (CRC Press/Lewis Publishers, 2000).

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