Thursday, December 22, 2011

From Prairie State Protector

storms_grandchildrenDecember 2011 Book Review

Storms of My Grandchildren
By James Hansen

Reviewed by: Jeff Gahris, Glen Ellyn Cool Cities Coalition (630) 853-5505

James Hansen, as you might recall, is the climate scientist at NASA who accused the Bush Administration of muzzling the work of climate science a few years ago.  In his latest book, he gives us his perspective on what happened with climate change politics in America and abroad, and why positive action on the issue does not seem imminent.  What is important about Hansen’s book is this:  he argues how climate change is a much bigger problem than we generally realize, and that it will have enormous impacts in the near future.  He is also part of a small but growing group of scientists who have a sense of urgency and are willing to engage in politics.

 A large part of Storms of My Grandchildren covers the science itself.  A major point he makes is that we are well served by looking at the natural history of the planet to see what climate change has occurred in the past.  For example, we have good information about how carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere changed over time, and we know how that correlates with past changes in the earth’s temperature, and how that affects the rise of sea levels as the ice sheets melt.  Another major point is how human impacts are having an “explosive” warming effect (in terms of geologic time) that greatly exceed the “forcings” of earth’s natural cycles.  The implication here is we could be on the verge of a tipping point, after which the ice sheets will collapse, coinciding with an abrupt and catastrophic global warming.  He covers well the issue of what “dangerous” climate change means, and explains how he arrived at the goal of keeping the carbon dioxide concentration under 350 parts per million to avoid the really bad effects.
About the Reviewer:
"As a scientist Jeff Gahris has an insider's appreciation of the dilemma Hansen found himself in - identifying an alarming environmental issue, not being heard in the policy sector and having to widen his talents to include advocacy within the realm of politics." Lonnie Morris
This is not a doom and gloom book; he does offer solutions.  He starts by saying we must phase out our dependence on fossil fuels immediately, especially coal.  He decries the popular “cap and trade” as a shell game involving “offsets,” popular because politicians and big business will allow it.  Hansen instead promotes the simpler and honest “fee and dividend” approach to encourage an efficient transition away from coal.  He suggests we assess a substantial fee on fossil fuels and then redistribute the money equally to the public.  Unfortunately he glosses over the details; for example, how does the business sector participate?

He also suggests we need to expand the use of nuclear energy, particularly a move toward fast-breeder reactors.  This, I submit, will not be popular in the environmental community, but he is advancing a discussion about better technologies to address the problems with nuclear energy.

Hansen is raising issues and offering solutions that will not be politically popular.  In my opinion, what he is saying is that we have no choice but to move forward decisively with real solutions that work – or else there will be hell to pay.  This book is a compelling call to action.  Appropriately, he dedicates his book to his grandchildren Sophie, Connor, and Jake, who will inherit the results of the moral decisions we make today.

Bloomsbury USA; Reprint edition (December 21, 2010), ISBN-10: 1608195023, ISBN-13: 978-1608195022 , 8.2 x 5.6 x 0.9 inches, 336 pages, paperback

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