Dr James Hansen worked at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) for over 40 years. He was Al Gore’s climate science advisor for the discredited movie An Inconvenient Truth and named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2009. Hansen has received a number of awards for both his contribution to climate science and his communication of climate information to the public.
Hansen has given numerous public talks about what he sees as an urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by stopping the mining and burning of coal. He also wants oil exploration stopped, as well as the further exploitation of tar sands. He has encouraged citizens to block roadways leading to coal mines, coal-burning power plants and tar-sand sites. Although Hansen has been a practicing scientist throughout his working life, he is also well known as a prominent environmental activist. He unashamedly promotes alarmism about the trivial levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, relating these to the prospects of environmental disaster, saying:
“During the past few years, however, it has become clear that 387 ppm (CO2) is already in the dangerous range.”
“Every rock of coal and every ton of carbon we use makes it more likely we will cross the tipping point.”
In 2012 Robert Bryce quoted Hansen in the Dallas News:
“The trains carrying coal to power plants are death trains. Coal fired power plants are factories of death.”
Hansen sees himself as an activist and a scientist, but he can’t be both and remain credible. Scientists typically put forward hypotheses; moreover they acknowledge data that might refute those hypotheses or bring about their modification. Any scientist with a pet hypothesis who selects only data which support that hypothesis, whilst ignoring conflicting data, must lose the respect of their scientific colleagues. Real science actually looks for refutation whereas pseudoscience is intolerant of dissent. Hansen clearly ignores data which challenge his alarmist assertions and he continues to embrace the exaggerated predictions from unvalidated computer models which have repeatedly been shown to be wrong. This appears to be the modus operandi of a propagandist.
Hansen argues, without empirical evidence, that “positive feedbacks” and “climate forcings” will multiply any current mild warming we might experience until a climate “tipping point” is reached. He claims this will lead to a dramatic rise in global temperature and the destruction of life on Earth. He freely invokes the emotive scenario of what his grandchildren will have to face in a future warming world. In doing so he ignores that the Earth is not warming even mildly, despite rising levels of carbon dioxide. He also ignores evidence which suggests that a warmer Earth would likely be more hospitable to both flora and fauna.
Former NASA senior scientist Dr John Theon described his association with Hansen:“As Chief of several of NASA Headquarters’ programs (1982-94), an SES position, I was responsible for all weather and climate research in the entire agency, including the research work by James Hansen, Roy Spencer, Joanne Simpson, and several hundred other scientists at NASA field centers, in academia, and in the private sector who worked on climate research.”
Theon commented on the unreliability of computer models used by Hansen and GISS to simulate the climate system:
“My own belief concerning anthropogenic climate change is that the models do not realistically simulate the climate system because there are many very important sub-grid scale processes that the models either replicate poorly or completely omit. Furthermore, some scientists have manipulated the observed data to justify their model results. In doing so, they neither explain what they have modified in the observations, nor explain how they did it.” (My emphasis)
Astronaut and physicist Walter Cunningham expressed his concerns about how some climate scientists have been operating at NASA:
“In the last twenty years, I have watched the high standards of science being violated by a few influential climate scientists, including some at NASA, while special interest opportunists have abused our public trust.”
“Many of NASA’s retirees have grown increasingly concerned that GISS, a NASA organization located in a midtown Manhattan office building, was allowing its science to be politicized, compromising their credibility. Our concern, beyond damage to the NASA’s exemplary reputation, was damage to their current or former scientists and employees, and even compromising the reputation of science itself.”
Cunningham and many other NASA current and former employees sent two letters to the administration asking that they restrain NASA from including unproven claims in public releases and on websites. They pointed out that NASA statements asserting man-made carbon dioxide is having a catastrophic impact on global climate change are not substantiated, especially when considering the large body of conflicting empirical data.
Surely the letter to NASA wasn’t referring to Hansen or the 2007 statement by NASA scientist Dr Jay Zwally who predicted:
“At this rate, the Arctic Ocean could be nearly ice-free at the end of summer by 2012, much faster than previous predictions.”
“The Arctic is often cited as the canary in the coal mine for climate warming and as a sign of climate warming, the canary has died. It is time to start getting out of the coal mines.”
In fact, three of the last five Arctic summers have been the coldest on record, with Arctic sea ice extent in July, 2013, reaching 8.45 million km2 — 1.26 million km2 greater than at the same time in 2012 and passing the former record set in 1996.
Hansen has promoted dire warnings that global warming will lead to Arctic and Antarctic ice melt, although he seemed unaware of any such warming problems in 1999:
“Yet in the U.S. there has been little temperature change in the past 50 years, the time of rapidly increasing greenhouse gases — in fact, there was a slight cooling throughout much of the country.”
“Empirical evidence does not lend much support to the notion that climate is headed precipitately toward more extreme heat and drought.”
How things have changed! Perhaps Hansen has access to new data which show significant warming threatening the Arctic. Hansen’s current alarmist views about warming, Arctic melt and tipping points are not widely supported by other climate scientists. Dr. Vicky Pope, head of climate change advice at the UK’s Met Office, made clear that:
“There is little evidence to support claims that Arctic ice has reached a tipping point and could disappear within a decade or so.”
Arctic temperatures can be checked back to 1958 using data from the Danish Meteorological Institute. In fact the three coldest Arctic summers have all occurred in the last five years and were colder than summers of the 1960’s.
Curiously, NASA’s GISS temperature data for the Arctic show an apparent recent warming. Why the contradiction? The temperature trends for the Russian island of Ostrov Dikson (73.5N) are quite interesting, since these data show no obvious warming trend.
So why does GISS, which collates global historic temperature data show a warming Arctic? It appears that downward temperature adjustments of earlier temperature records have been made at almost every station near the Arctic Circle to show an overall and recent upward warming trend. Paul Homewood, of Junkscience.com, has discussed the disparity and commented:
“It has now been identified that similar adjustments have been made at nearly every station close to the Arctic Circle, between Greenland and, going East, via Norway to Siberia, i.e. 56 Degrees West to 86 Degrees East, about 40% of the circumference.”
It appears that someone at GISS made homogeneity “adjustments” to data from the Global Historical Climatology Network (GHCN), yet Trausti Jonsson, senior climatologist at the Iceland Met Office, has stated that he can find no reason for the adjustments to Iceland temperature data. He pointed out that any necessary adjustments for station moves had been made before the data were sent to GHCN.
Homewood notes that seven other Icelandic stations had experienced adjustments and the Iceland met office forwarded temperature data which show that those GHCN adjustments were actually incorrect.
Perhaps the Arctic isn’t reaching Hansen’s dangerous, human-induced “tipping point” after all. Former NASA chief John Theon commented further:
“Hansen was never muzzled even though he violated NASA’s official agency position on climate forecasting (i.e., we did not know enough to forecast climate change or mankind’s effect on it). Hansen thus embarrassed NASA by coming out with his claims of global warming in 1988 in his testimony before Congress.”
On a number of occasions, Hansen has used his grandchildren as props during his public presentations about the climate, saying that he didn’t want his grandchildren to look back and say he had not warned the public about the problem of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW).
Now retired from NASA, Dr Hansen has made clear his plans to be more active in challenging federal and state governments over their reluctance to limit carbon dioxide emissions. He knows he has failed to persuade politicians by his questionable data. He also knows that the media is aware of his failed predictions from the past.
In 1982 Hansen told a Canadian newspaper, the Leader-Post:
“If there were slow growth in the use of hydrocarbon fuels, the world in the middle of the next century would be as warm as it was 125,000 years ago, when lions, elephants and other tropical animals roamed a balmy southern England.”
Pursuing present plans for coal and oil, Hansen argued, the climate in the middle of the 21st century: “would approach the warmth of the age of the dinosaurs.”
In 1986 Hansen told the Milwaukee Press-Courier:
“The average U.S. temperature had risen from one to two degrees since 1958 and is predicted to increase an additional 3 or 4 degrees sometime between 2010 and 2020.”
In 1986 Hansen told the News and Courier:
“Within 15 years, global temperatures will rise to a level which hasn’t existed on earth for 100,000 years.”
In 1988 Hansen et al. made predictions for future global temperature based on unvalidated computer modeling and a number of emission scenarios up to 2012. He added the qualification:
“Principal uncertainties in the predictions involve the equilibrium sensitivity of the model to climate forcing, the assumptions regarding heat uptake and transport by the ocean, and the omission of other less-certain climate forcings.”
Undeterred by such “principal uncertainties” Hansen et al. offered a number of scenarios.
- For Scenario A, in which carbon dioxide emissions grew exponentially, Hansen et al. predicted a temperature rise of 0.9oC which was more than 4 times the actual 0.22oC rise.
- For Scenario B, which would see carbon dioxide emissions grow linearly, Hansen predicted a temperature rise of 0.75oC, more than three times the actual 0.22oC increase.
- For Scenario C, in which carbon dioxide emissions show no increase, Hansen predicted a rise of 0.29oC. Carbon dioxide levels have continued to rise, yet Hansen’s “C” prediction is still higher than the actual 0.22oC rise.
In fact all of Hansen’s predictions were wide of the mark, having based model predictions on a climate sensitivity (temperature resulting from a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide) of 4.2oC. In a 2007 paper titled: “Scientific reticence and sea level rise” Hansen complained:
“I suggest that a scientific reticence is inhibiting the communication of a threat of a potentially large sea level rise.”
He concluded that, with positive feedback, the climate would spin out of control, leading to a sea level rise of five metres before the end of this century. In 2009 Hansen actually revised this estimate, lifting it to 75 metres while pointedly ignoring NASA data from the JASON satellite which show a decrease in sea level rise at 1.5mm per year or 0.15 metres per century; ARGO and GRACE data which show a decrease in sea level between 2004 and 2009; NASA satellite data which point to negative feedbacks dominating climate change.
In 1989, Hansen predicted more extreme weather events in the future:
“By the year 2050 we’re going to have tremendous climate changes, far outside what man has ever experienced.”
Hansen is convinced that, since most politicians and scientists no longer embrace his alarmist stance, civil disobedience and breaking the law are now required to bring about change. He has been arrested several times protesting fossil fuel projects and has testified in defence of others who have broken the law to express their opposition to fossil fuel and their ongoing use.
As far back as June, 1988, we saw the lengths that Hansen would go to in order to promote climate alarmism as a political issue. He testified before a US Senate committee, arranged by Al Gore, telling the committee about a looming climate crisis. The committee was chaired by Senator Tim Wirth, who declared at the U.N.-sponsored Rio Earth Summit in 1992:
“We have to ride the global warming issue. Even if the theory of global warming is wrong.”
The 1988 Capitol Hill hearing was carefully stage-managed. Wirth later confessed how the Weather Bureau had indicated which day would most likely be the hottest so they scheduled the hearing accordingly. The night before, they opened all windows in the building to lift the temperature in the committee room. On that day in what was an uncomfortably warm chamber, Hansen made the following unsubstantiated points:
- The Earth was warmer in1988 than at any other time in the history of instrumental measurements;
- Global warming was now large enough that we could ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause-and-effect relationship to the emission of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide;
- The consequences are already large enough to begin to affect the probability of extreme events such as summer heat waves.
As expected Hansen’s testimony, conveniently delivered in that sweaty, stage-managed room, led to good coverage in the local and international media, just as Hansen, Gore and Wirth had hoped.
In a recent (2011) paper — Climate Variability and Climate Change: The New Climate Dice – Hansen continued to link carbon dioxide, global warming and extreme weather:
“There is no need to equivocate about the summer heat waves in Texas in 2011 and Moscow in 2010.”
“It is nearly certain that they would not have occurred in the absence of global warming.”
“We can say with a high degree of confidence that events such as the extreme summer heat in the Moscow region in 2010 and Texas in 2011 were a consequence of global warming.”
Hansen completely ignored the facts that there has been no rapid global warming over the last three decades and there is no evidence that the gentle warming of the late 20th century was the result of carbon dioxide emissions. Hansen made the outrageous claim:
“The increasing greenhouse gases will cause the rapid global warming of the past three decades to continue.”
As expected, Hansen’s 2009 book “Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity” was warmly received by radical environmentalists. His message, also to be expected, is alarmist in its claims, warning of extreme weather, again with no supporting evidence. In Storms of My Grandchildren Hansen says:
“A disintegration of the ice sheets has begun and we need to concentrate on forestalling a tipping point at which they would begin to internally collapse.”
He continues, allowing emotion and alarmism to override the facts, by saying:
“.. 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.”
“Humanity treads today on a slippery slope. As we continue to pump greenhouse gases into the air, we move onto a steeper, even more slippery incline. 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.”
Continuing with his poetic hyperbole Hansen warns that carbon dioxide driven global warming will lead to droughts, heat waves, and forest fires and to more extreme floods, tornadoes, and tropical storms:
“With the combination of a higher sea level, even of only a meter or so, and increased storm strength, the consequences of future storms will be horrendous to contemplate. The problems will not be restricted to those places commonly subjected to tropical storms. Other storms with comparable power will affect populations that are one or two orders of magnitude greater than the number of people displaced by Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans and the American Gulf Coast in 2005.”
Hansen provides no hard evidence for future weather extremes, ignoring the fact that pre-industrial history is teeming with examples of what climate alarmists now fashionably call “weird weather.”
When Hansen cited 2005’s Hurricane Katrina as evidence of global warming, he failed to mention that Katrina had been downgraded to a category 3 storm when it struck New Orleans. The levees failed, just as engineers predicted they would, because the officials had ignored 30 years of warnings by the US Army Corps of Engineers, which was adamant the flood-control system could not withstand a direct hit.
Chief Justice Burton, in the London High Court, found there was no evidence to link Hurricane Katrina with global warming.
When Hansen cited the 2010 Russian heatwave as evidence of global warming, he failed to mention that the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that the Russian heatwave of 2010 was due to natural variability in an area which has a climatological vulnerability to heat waves, such as those of 1960, 1972 and 1988.
Whilst the heat wave was centred in Western Russia, Hansen failed to mention the cooler-than-normal temperatures experienced in Siberia. He also failed to mention the 2010 peer-reviewed published paper by Dole et al. in which they concluded:
“July surface temperatures for the region impacted by the 2010 Russian heat wave show no significant warming trend over the prior 130-year period from 1880-2009.”
“No significant difference exists between July temperatures over western Russia averaged for the last 65 years (1945-2009) versus the prior 65 years (1880-1944).”
Hansen warned that carbon dioxide driven global warming will lead to more tornadoes. So what does the evidence show?
Greg Carbin, warning coordination meteorologist at the NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center, pointed out that higher temperatures can create more moisture to drive tornadoes — but higher temperatures also deprive tornadoes of wind shear. Dr Roy Spencer explained how tornadoes require strong wind shear (wind speed and direction changing rapidly with height in the lower atmosphere), the kind which develop when cold and warm air masses “collide”. In fact cool La Nina years seem to favour more tornadoes.
Asked if climate change would be “acquitted” in a jury trial if it were to be charged with responsibility for tornadoes, Carbin replied:
“I would say that is the right verdict, yes.”
In 2012, NOAA released data for US tornadoes, indicating that the current number of tornadoes is very low by historic standards.
NOAA’s Greg Carbin reported:
“After a busy start, tornado events in the U.S. in 2012 have dropped well below the expected norm. The preliminary total of 886 tornadoes through 30 November 2012 is nearly 400 tornadoes below what might be expected in a “normal” year.”
Hansen’s claim that global warming has led to an increase in extreme weather is not supported by evidence. Dr Roger Pielke Jr, testifying before the US Congress, said:
“It is misleading, and just plain incorrect, to claim that disasters associated with hurricanes, tornadoes, floods or droughts have increased on climate timescales either in the United States or globally.”
Pielke agreed with Greg Carbin, saying:
“Tornadoes have not increased in frequency, intensity or normalized damage since 1950, and there is some evidence to suggest that they have actually declined.”
Dr Roy Spencer also made the point:
“There is little or no observational evidence that severe weather of any type has worsened over the last 30, 50, or 100 years, irrespective of whether any such changes could be blamed on human activities, anyway.”
In terms of global tropical cyclone activity over the last 5,000 years, Nott and Forsyth (2012) conclude:
“Based on such findings, it is clear that something has orchestrated the ebbing and flowing of global TC activity over the last 5,000 years, but that something has most certainly not been changes in the atmosphere’s CO2 concentration, as it has remained quite stable over this entire period (with the exception of the past 100 years or so, when it has risen substantially, but without any demonstrable change in global TC activity). As a result, there is no compelling reason to believe that any further increase in the air’s CO2 content will have any significant impact on these destructive storms.”
In fact Tory et al. (2013) predict that tropical cyclone activity will decrease in frequency during the 21st century.
Even the IPCC’s (2012) report on extreme weather avoids alarmism over TC activity saying:
“There is low confidence in any observed long-term (i.e., 40 years or more) increases in tropical cyclone activity (i.e., intensity, frequency, duration), after accounting for past changes in observing capabilities.” [3.3.2, 3.3.3, 3.4.4, 3.4.5]
And that there is:
“.. only low confidence for the attribution of any detectable changes in tropical cyclone activity to anthropogenic influences. Attribution of single extreme events to anthropogenic climate change is challenging.” [3.2.2, 3.3.1, 3.3.2, 3.4.4, 3.5.3, Table 3-1]
“There is low confidence in observed trends in small spatial-scale phenomena such as tornadoes and hail because of data inhomogeneities and inadequacies in monitoring systems.” [3.3.2, 3.3.3, 3.4.4, 3.4.5]
IPCC contributing scientist Dr Indur Goklany has noted that global mortality rates from extreme weather events have declined by more than 90% since the 1920’s with:
“Deaths and death rates from droughts, which were responsible for approximately 60% of cumulative deaths due to extreme weather events from 1900–2010, are more than 99.9% lower than in the 1920s.”
“Deaths and death rates for floods, responsible for over 30% of cumulative extreme weather deaths, have declined by over 98% since the 1930s.”
“Deaths and death rates for storms (i.e. hurricanes, cyclones, tornados, typhoons), responsible for around 7% of extreme weather deaths from 1900–2008, declined by more than 55% since the 1970s.”
Sheffield et al. (2012) commenting on global drought say:
“… previously reported increase in global drought is overestimated because the PDSI uses a simplified model of potential evaporation that responds only to changes in temperature and thus responds incorrectly to global warming in recent decades. More realistic calculations, based on the underlying physical principles that take into account changes in available energy, humidity and wind speed, suggest that there has been little change in drought over the past 60 years.” (My emphasis)
Can we expect more drought and wildfires in the future? Roger Underwood, an expert on Australian bushfire management, says:
“The Australian climate has always been hot, windy and dry and punctuated by periodic droughts … I regard ‘climate change’ as a gutless excuse for failed land management by our authorities and their green supporters.”
Pausas and Munoz (2011), reporting on wildfires in the Western Mediterranean Basin observe:“… the change in the occurrence of fires that are recorded in the historical research cannot be explained by the gradual change in climate, but rather that it corresponds to changes in the availability of fuel, the use of sources of energy and the continuity of the landscape.”
Turning to floods, Wilhelm et al. (2012) reported that floods and extreme precipitation were more common during the Little Ice Age and less common during warmer periods.
The research findings of Wilhelm et al. are corroborated by the work of Zha et al. (2012) who examined paleoflood data from the Jinghe River in China, concluding the past, extraordinary floods recorded in the middle reaches of the Jinghe River were actually linked to global cooling events.
The work of Wilhelm et al. (2012) and Zha et al. (2012) calls into question Hansen’s alarmist claims that a warming world would result in more extreme precipitation and flooding.
Reading the views of Dr James Hansen gives the impression that past climate has been relatively stable and benign whilst extreme weather events are more commonplace today. Furthermore he predicts much more extreme weather ahead. Presumably Hansen thinks those who read his dire predictions of future weather extremes will be blissfully unaware of the many severe weather disasters our ancestors faced.
When the River Thames flooded in 48 A.D. it claimed 10,000 lives. If the same flooding occurred today, when there is more property to be lost and more people to be displaced, we can imagine what Hansen and other climate alarmists would say.
The Historian Tacitus reported a great drought in 70 A.D. which left much of Europe (“North of Gaul”) without water. The River Rhine was reduced to a trickle.
The Great Hurricane of 1780 swept over Martinique, St. Eustatius and Barbados, killing over 22,000 people between October 10th and 16th.
In 1899 a “Great Cold Wave” struck North America with a record low temperature of -18.9oC recorded in Florida. The Mississippi River froze along its entire length to the Gulf of Mexico.
Again, should similar events take place today, we know exactly what Hansen and other climate alarmists would say about this “global climate disruption.”
There are many documented cases of historic extreme weather events and these are easily located on the internet. A useful starting point can be found here.
Also, James Marusek continues to update his “Chronological Listing of Early Weather Events” .
Hansen’s suggestion that we are now experiencing more extreme weather and can expect even more extreme weather events and disasters because of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions is not supported by facts.
Our ancestors experienced extreme weather disasters. Our generation has experienced and will continue to experience weather disasters. It will be no different for our grandchildren.
People continue to build on flood plains, on eroding coastal areas, on subsiding coastal land, on karst topography, in valleys susceptible to avalanches, close to active fault lines and in fire prone bushland areas. Inevitably they will face future natural disasters.
We need to decide where to build and how to build. We need to anticipate and prepare for future natural disasters rather than childishly trying to control the Earth’s climate and extreme weather by the Hansen approach. Reducing our carbon dioxide emissions will not provide any protection from natural disasters whereas vigilance and preparedness will.