Hansen Book

Press release:


The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity

by James Hansen

At the Copenhagen Climate Conference (December 7-18, 2009), one expected guest will be noticeably absent. Dr. James Hansen’s groundbreaking research on climate over the last thirty years has been startlingly accurate—research that is now accepted as irrefutable proof of global warming. But he has decided to sit out the conference in protest.

In his first book on the subject, STORMS OF MY GRANDCHILDREN, Hansen argues that we no longer can accept the greenwash of politicians and world leaders (i.e. those assembling in Copenhagen next month). Greater grassroots efforts must help mobilize the masses, even through acts of civil resistance, for the sake of our children and their children. STORMS is the blueprint for that action.

James Hansen is best known for his accurate predictions about global warming since the 1980s, as well as his advising Al Gore on An Inconvenient Truth. He is a frequent expert witness on Capitol Hill and the subject of numerous articles and profiles (including a recent feature piece by The New Yorker). He was also notoriously censored by the Bush administration for speaking out on global warming and the need to curtail carbon emissions. The book recounts this experience.

Though a vocal critic of public policy and author of several supporting papers, he has never before written a book on the subject of climate change. The title refers to his growing concerns about the world his grandchildren may inhabit if we do not do all in our power to address man-made pollution to the atmosphere. The book brings together three decades of research to explain for a general readership the science behind global warming.

It is also an impartial challenge to politicians globally—on either end of the spectrum—to accept the reality of the science and take the necessary steps to forestall further damage to the environment.

Dr. James Hansen is perhaps best known for bringing global warming to the world’s attention in the 1980s, when he first testified before Congress. An adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University and at Columbia’s Earth Institute, and director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, he is frequently called to testify before Congress on climate issues. Dr. Hansen’s background in both space and earth sciences allows a broad perspective on the status and prospects of our home planet. This is his first book.

“When the history of the climate crisis is written,

Hansen will be seen as the scientist with the most powerful and consistent voice calling for intelligent action to preserve our planet’s environment.”

— Al Gore on James Hansen (from Time magazine)

Note that Stephen Schneider has a new book out too (h/t Stoat).

An Interesting Gripe

Never one to shy away from sticking his neck out, Ray Pierrehumbert (aka Raypierre) has actually submitted a top level article to Dot Earth. Ray’s follow-up comment is especially interesting.

There is so much uninformed comment here I don’t know where to begin. So many people are complaining about the “open-ness” of climate modelling, when in fact it is just about the most open area of science there is — certainly more open than the economic modeling used to make trillion dollar decisions routinely. People complain about data sets not being released, when the data in question represents only a tiny slice of the total. You can get virtually all of the data from public sources. And do you want to see what’s in a climate model? The algorithms used in the models are all documented in the peer reviewed literature. For most of the key models, you can get the source code and technical documentation and look at it for yourself — many of the models even will run to some extent on a laptop.

So before you go on declaring a fatwa against climate scientists, why not take some time to get to know us? What we are like, and the way we do our work, bears no resemblance to the hateful cartoon you are pitching. And what do you think any of us would have to gain from a conspiracy to distort climate data anyway? If we were interested in making money, we could do it a lot more easily by just becoming investment bankers. Most of us are in this because we think the world is facing real peril, and we want to understand the nature of that peril better. A better world for my grandchildren to live in. Your grandchildren, too. Everybody’s grandchildren, everywhere. Is that something to hate us for?

Now it’s especially interesting to me because I do know Ray. I have confidence in his moral integrity and tremendous admiration for his intellectual capacity and domain knowledge. The trouble with this “getting to know Ray” (or someone like Ray) algorithm that Ray proposes is that, as any computational person worth his salt will immediately point out, it doesn’t scale worth a damn. It is an effective technique at small scale, though, and I heartily recommend it to those few people who get the chance.

But it’s also interesting what response this gets. “Biker Trash” replies

” There is so much uninformed comment here I don’t know where to begin. “

Well, let’s take a couple of specific examples that illustrate why this might be the case.

” So many people are complaining about the “open-ness” of climate modelling, when in fact it is just about the most open area of science there is — certainly more open than the economic modeling used to make trillion dollar decisions routinely. “

Let’s compare the open-ness of climate science with the degree of open-ness of the independent review and verification of, the Yucca Mountain Project, the certification of passenger aircraft by the FAA, construction of a nuclear power plant by the NRC, approval of a new drug by the FDA, construction of bridges, elevators, buildings, and many other cases that effect the health and safety of the public. This is the standard for the degree of open-ness required for all decisions that have the potential to effect the health and safety of the public.

Consider the Yucca Mountain Project. Every calculation, every piece of data, every detailed aspect of the independent review and verification of this project is online and accessible to anyone. Every nitty-gritty detailed part of every aspect without exception; http://ymp.gov/. Note that the basis of the Yucca Mountain Project is a natural process, directly analogous to that of climate science.

The same degree of open-ness is true for construction of nuclear power plants; check the NRC Web site; http://www.nrc.gov/reactors.html. The complete independent review and verification, not the extremely limited and incomplete information that appears in peer-reviewed literature, is publicly available.

Where is the documentation that the procedures and processes used to ensure that independent review and verification of climate science results have been properly applied. Where is the documentation of the procedures and processes that are required to be applied.

” And do you want to see what’s in a climate model? The algorithms used in the models are all documented in the peer reviewed literature. “

The phrase, “the peer reviewed literature” is not very specific and the climate science literature is enormous. We have been told several times the same thing that you say here. Several people have tried to find the following information without success. Because climate science is your field of expertise and experience you could save us hours and hours of additional time if you could give at least a hint or two having more specificity.

BT goes on a bit of a tangent about computational fluid dynamics; an understandable and informed error. Many people think of climate physics as primarily a classical problem in fluid dynamics; they are misinformed in some fundamental ways that few people are qualified to explain in a way that will be acceptable to those within the field and convincing to those outside it. I have tried with very limited success and I won’t try again just now. (In short, getting the fluid dynamics right to high order is not among the key problems. We aren’t trying to solve a well-specified system. We are trying to specify the system.)

But the part of the complaint above, as far as I am concerned, is perfectly valid. Given the importance of climate modeling, one would expect a more rigorous and contemporary development process. Steve Easterbrook (along with his student Jon Pipitone) is the first person I know from the software engineering community to really take the development process of these models at face value and understand the some of the constraints that make the codes work the way they do. But Steve is just scratching the surface. There are efforts from within the community to improve matters, but I am among those who find them misguided.

As matters stand, it requires weeks to understand how to effectively run a climate model on a supported machine, and typically months to get it working on a new one. The success rate closely depends on how well integrated into the community one finds oneself. An outsider downloading a few blocks of code with no guidance will get nowhere.

So Ray’s claim of openness reminds me of the part in the Hitchhiker’s Guide where the bureaucrat defensively stated that Arthur’s public condemnation had been duly publicized when the notice was in a locked cabinet in an unlit basement in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying “beware of the tiger!”

The thing is, climate scientists don’t expect better, and never have seen much better. The fact is that despite the endlessly inflating claims of billions of dollars going to climate science, the software engineering staff on the leading American climate model has been reduced from eight to six, with the cuts coming from user support and documentation. This is why CCSM, though on release 3.1, is only documented to 3.0, and that only badly.

Yes, it’s true, it’s a trillion dollar problem, but the annual budget for studying it (once you subtract all the impact studies and the ecological observation programs and the satellite launches and satellite base stations, all very valuable but not what most people think of as climate science, and get right down to what is actually climate science) is about that of a high-profile Hollywood movie, and that for model development and maintenance on each individual model is far less. From 2003-2008 NCAR had to lay off approximately 55 people and lost another 77 positions due to attrition, totaling roughly 16% of NCAR positions, because of sub-inflationary NSF funding and decreases in other agency support. (Statement of program reductions at NCAR).

Here’s a presentation of how NCAR is meeting a 9 million dollar shortfall this year. (PDF)

Yes, the support for the software used in climate science sucks. I promise you I hate it more than you do. Maybe if you all would stop treating climate science as a heinous enemy and supported improvements, or hell, even complete rewrites, things would get better.

What you see is what we get every bit as much as it is what you get. The climate community should stop pretending to any practical openness; in fact the only way to play is to sign up for a tour of duty. This is not because we are hiding anything. It is because we lack the resources (and to some extent the skills) to do any better. What is perceived as an intent to hide is mostly an incapacity to elucidate, exacerbated by some excesses of competitive zeal which come from a tightly competitive grants process.

Fighting Bad Science

One of the issues with how the UEA emails are perceived is whether the reader understands the context of the dubious pseudoscience and constant harassment the field faces. If you understand that, the emails are understandable and mostly excusable. If you don’t, if you think that normal science is being stymied, then you come away with a very different impression.

For some reason I’ve been bcc’ed on a conversation among scientists about a different controversy in climate science. I will go so far as to reveal text that says nothing about the underlying issue (about which I am not qualified to comment). I will say that the topic has bubbled up a little bit in the popular press over the last few weeks.

I have heard from several of you and there seems to be some support for going forward with a letter to ****[journal]. This will be foremost designed to correct the two reports’ critical and blatant errors, politely, while supporting the broad validity of most of what is contained in those reports. And furthermore, showing in general terms that ****[topic] is complex; it is not a simple picture, as many people have said. This paper will avoid details of ****[dataset] data analysis, and other analysis which is prone to be controversial, nuanced, complex in its own right, and not needed to correct the two reports’ errors. Finally, but importantly, this paper will be a call to buttress peer review in ****[field] literature, which has mostly been the usual course, but in too many cases has not been. We are all shocked by the errors. A key, however, I think is to not cast blame to any degree not required to explain what the errors are and how the errant statements relate to other components of these documents that are for the most part correct. This paper will not delve into the science details much, just enough to make the points. So people who have papers in prep or in review need not fear that they will be scooped. This will be as short a paper as possible, to the point. With team effort in writing, we can get it out.

I do think time is critical, because we cannot have a situation where politicians or the media are correcting our communal errors for us, then risking further blanket condemnation of otherwise very good (not perfect) and important documents, such as IPCC 4th Assessment.

Several points here. First, there is crap getting into real journals. I don’t think Oreskes’ unanimity holds anymore. Second, real scientists’ time is being taken up by the necessity for responding to the crap. Thirdly, responding to the crap is contrary to the scientists’ self interest (time, fear of being “scooped”).

Fourthly, scientists are still at pains to avoid “blame” and stick to genuine logical and evidence-based argumentation. No matter how egregious the nonsense, the rules require it be responded to in the same journal, and only the rebuttal rather than any concerns about the underlying process, may be represented there. This doesn’t mean the community remains unaware of the problems. It does mean there is no public record of what the community actually thinks. This ties into climategate directly. People in the field know real challenges from bullshit. Outsiders have no such context.

Also interesting is the unlevel playing field. Scientists’ time has always been divided and motivations have always had a multiplicity. Anti-science has no such constraints; its motivations are simple and easily measured.

Coping with anti-science is just one more log on the fire for real scientists. Among its other nasty attributes, anti-science functions as a filibuster technique. It appears that once a science comes up with a result that requires a social response, far from becoming more lucrative and pleasant, that field is going to become nasty and financially unstable.

Update: Another example of filibustered science. This paper would never have been written in a world where the greenhouse policy controversy either didn’t exist or had already been politically resolved. Nor would GRL have published it. From a scientific point of view it is totally redundant.

On another front

We’ll return to climategate and its lessons shortly.

Meanwhile, I know this is King of the Road bait, almost as much as if I’d mentioned Bill Maher, but James Kunstler starts the day making sense:

I’m not one of the economists that Mr. Krugman talks to (nor am I an economist). But it’s sure interesting to know that the ones palavering with Mr. Krugman imagine that that the US can possibly return to an economy based on the fraudulent securitization of reckless debt. Does Mr. Krugman think that the production housing industry can resume paving over the nether exurbs with half-million-dollar houses (to be bought with no money down loans by the sheet-rockers working inside them)? Does he think all those people receiving cancellation notices from their credit card issuers are in a position to flash their plastic at the Gallerias this Friday? Or ever will be again? Is he perhaps misusing the term “recovery?” After all, that is generally taken to mean resuming a prior state, which is, in turn, presumed to be a healthy prior state. Is that what the economy of the past decade was? And, incidentally, what exactly is a “consumer?” And why, at the highest levels of journalism in this land, do we refer to citizens that way? As if the American people have no other purpose except to buy things? Or is that that the only way an “economist” can imagine them?

I’m sorry to burden the reader with so many questions, but the idiots running the mainstream news media in this land are not doing it and somebody has to.

If a “recovery” is not in the cards, then what exactly is going on out there?

What’s going on in the US economy is a slow-motion convulsion from which we will emerge as a very different nation with a different economy. The wild irresponsibility of the media in pretending otherwise is only going to make the convulsion worse, more painful, more socially and politically destructive.

He then goes into lots of stuff I find dubious at best, much of it flat wrong, and sometimes quite objectionable. But the conclusion still resonates with me:

At the moment, going into Thanksgiving 2009, America’s leadership has dedicated itself to worst action it could take under the circumstances: a campaign to sustain the unsustainable. This is what’s embodied in the foolish term “recovery.” The way we try to explain things to ourselves matters, if we don’t want to be crushed by history.

Make no mistake. Geithner should get a ticker tape parade like John Glenn. Statues should be put up to him everywhere. He and Obama brought us back from what might well have been a vast and sudden catastrophe. The lack of appreciation for Geithner’s achievement is absolutely grotesque. He should be strewn with medals and prizes.

And then he should be fired. Summarily dismissed. The short term crisis is brilliantly resolved, and now the core economic problem is not about restoring the status quo, but about moving to a new, sustainable arrangement. Geithner has no way of knowing how to do this. He probably doesn’t even understand the problem.

For Science, Against Opposing Anti-Science

Too long for the quote of the week, the following is quoted verbatim from “The Religious Case Against Belief” by James Carse. I think it reflects very clearly on the difficulties we are having. It is crucial that science not be cast as a “belief system”, because that simply stiffens the spine of the anti-science movement. It is crucial (er, make that essential) that science be correctly seen as process, not incorrectly as allegiance.

If [Luther and Emperor Charles V] had agreed … or if the emperor had been indifferent … the trial would not have been held and we would have heard nothing about the views of the pope. There would have been no mention of this belief at all; it would not even have appeared to be a belief. In other words, the act of belief is always an act against; it requires an opponent who holds the contrary belief.

This feature of belief is hardly limited to Christianity. How could there be Sunnni Muslims if there were no Shia? Would Israeli settlers have been so vocal in declaring G-d’s promise considering the land of Judea and Samaria if Palestinians had not thought it was they to whom it belonged? Could American Patriots have flourished during the cold war in the absence of their Soviet counterparts?

Belief systems thrive in circumstances of collision. For every believer there is a nonbeliever on whom the believer is focused, whose resistance is carefully delineated. We could go so far as to say that belief is so dependent on the hostile other that it may need to stimulate the other’s active resistance. Belief has a confrontational element built into itself that is essential to its own vitality. If believers need to inspire fellow believers to hold firmly to their position, they need just as much to inspire nonbelievers to hold to theirs.

For this reason, belief systems are territorial. They stand off from all others and rarely do they overlap. (Note how often countries go to war, or threaten war, over disputed boundaries – Kosovo, Taiwan and Kurdistan, for example, or for that matter the American Civil War.) They act variously as factions, states, blocs, interest groups, parties, ethnicities, and schools of thought. Each of these has its comprehensive network of beliefs that offers a thorough analysis and assessment of itself and its opponents. Even self-defined ethnic groups have more than just a (presumed) shared genetic heritage; they have developed a convincing characterization of their persecutors, and they have elaborate explanations for their superiority or purity and detailed histories that justify it all. Just as they share with most other varieties of belief system a panoply of heroes and martyrs, sacred sites, scriptural texts, and binding rituals, their rivals fall under similar, but reversed characterizations. They are schismatics, breakaway groups, racists, apostates, fallen backsliders, subversives, false ideologues, forces of evil, aggrandizing powers, intolerant majorities, all of whom are dedicated to the repression and destruction of one’s own group of believers. They are in every respect other, but in this case a hostile other.

Second, because belief is always belief against, it is itself an act of unbelief. Itis the active refusal to take a rival position. To believe something, one must disbelieve something. Each belief must not only have an opponent; it must have an opponent whose disbeliefs are a perfect match. For this reason, each is largely defined by its opposite. If beliefs die when their opposition disappears, they are obliged to mimc any changes the opposition makes of itself. Belief and unbelief are therefore locked into mutual self-creation. Imagine if Luther, under the urging of the emperor and the attending theologians, shrugged his shoulders and said, “Fine. I can alter my position to accord with yours.” Should they still be determined to call him a heretic, they must then search out a new issue over which they can nourish their rejection of each other. Failing that, whatever the content or the intensity of their beliefs, the act of believing becomes meaningless.

What better example can we offer than the way that the great belief systems of our age have painstakingly elaborated a portrait of their rivals. The Nazis presented a detailed account of the worldwide domination of “Jewish bankers” whose only goal was the economic subjugation of the rest of the earth. Radical Muslim sects have an almost farcical view of the “Zionist” program against Islam. In the United States, radical underground military groups find evidence everywhere that the government is developing a hidden couterforce to steal their freedoms. Conspiracy theories often operate in the conflicted encounter of belief systems. In American politics the opposing parties are as much antiliberal and anticonservative as they are liberal and conservative. Even a Supreme Court justice, Antonin Scalia, dissenting in a case that rejected the Texas law forbidding sodomy, referred to what he called “the homosexual agenda”.

The point I wish to stress here is that in this case we have gone far beyond disagreement, even byond outright collision; both sides depend on the other to know what they believe. They are joined in a kind of compact that freezes them to a stable self-understanding consisting of a reverse image of the other. There is no middle ground, no dialogue that could result in modified doctrine and practice.

Do you see Marc Morano in there? I sure as Shinola do. Marc wants us to play advocate’s devil while he play’s devil’s advocate. It’s all too easy of a trap to fall into. Look at what the well-intentioned P Z Myers and Richard Dawkins do constantly in their ironic crusade for atheism. They play the game perfectly, making victory over superstition impossible by falling into the trap of absolutism and tribalism. (Of course, this dynamic is aided by the fact that they genuinely see nothing of value in their opponents’ position. I would say that anyone who sees nothing at all of value in their opponents’ position should refrain from arguing with them as they will thereby serve their opposition’s purposes as much as their own.)

Every time we fall into the polarization trap we abandon science and slip into antisocial politics. We can’t win the cause for reason by falling into unreasoned antipathy. We have to convince people that we are not who the opposition says we are, that indeed the position the opposition opposes does not exist. The first step is to avoid becoming who they say we are, regardless of the provocation.

Update: This is very much apropos why people on the fence find the UEA emails so off-putting.

Viaduct? Vy not?

Talk about playing “gotcha”.

Regular readers are likely to be aware of the release of a huge mass of illegally obtained emails among leading climate scientists of the observational stripe. RealClimate, I think, handled it nicely.

A lot of attention is being placed on Phil Jones’

Once Tim’s got a diagram here we’ll send that either later today or
first thing tomorrow.

I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps
to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd from
1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline. Mike’s series got the annual
land and marine values while the other two got April-Sept for NH land
N of 20N. The latter two are real for 1999, while the estimate for 1999
for NH combined is +0.44C wrt 61-90. The Global estimate for 1999 with
data through Oct is +0.35C cf. 0.57 for 1998.

I have never been one to defend the caginess about data and methods that the century-scale data folk are alleged to have; I don’t have enough information myself either to defend them or to accuse them.

But the purportedly damning quote is obviously being misused.

I don’t think anybody is hiding any evidence or tricking any audience. The word “trick” is to be understood as a programmer would understand “hack”; a clever shortcut. And the word “hide” is almost surely meant as “filter” meaning “the thing we want to do with this data is hard because there is another signal there hiding the one we are looking for, but we can subtract it out for the purpose at hand”. It would seem to be about the minutiae of data processing, not about hiding data for publication or subverting a published result.

There is a lot to think about here, some of it both subtle and important. But I think the words “trick” and “hide” are being taken out of context. I believe that they are used here as part of ordinary day-to-day innocent data processing back-and-forth, and do not mean what they are being taken to mean.

It’s a travesty that the fate of the world is being reduced to word games.
Update: Big hat tip to Greenfyre for noticing this, an excellent answer to this burst of noise:
Shocker! Isaac Newton’s correspondence examined: the final nail in the coffin of Renaissance and Enlightenment ‘thinking’!

Update: on a more serious note, an excellent comment by “Andrew” on RealClimate.