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Thursday, September 21, 2017

BOOK REVIEW Storms of My Grandchildren by James Hansen

Posted by steve on February 21, 2010


Storms of My Grandchildren by James Hansen, December 2009. In Storms of My Grandchildren, James Hansen, 68 years old and one of the world’s leading climate scientists,  gives us the results of his lifelong work to understand the climate changes that are now  occurring, and offers advice on how to minimize them. As a scientific description of climate science  and climate change, this book is one of the best, written in an accessible tone with excellent metaphors  and simple explanations that non-technical readers can easily understand. But Hansen also  provides the depth and detail that make the book interesting to readers with more background and  previous reading in climate science. What also makes this book both enjoyable and unusual is that it  reads almost like a suspense story, we are pulled along through the more detailed explanations by  Hansen’s teacher-like encouragements (“Bear with me a few paragraphs more, or if you don’t have  the patience, skip to the next section”) and by his candid accounts of a decades long effort to make  politicians aware of the seriousness of the climate problems facing humanity. Along the way, Hansen  takes up in the book, as he has done in real life, the major arguments of the climate contrarians  (sceptics), and puts them to rest with indisputable facts and clear logic. At the same time, he is ever  the honest scientist and teacher, taking pains to show where the data is poor (for example, concerning  aerosols, needed to accurately calculate the net heat balance of the earth) and where the models  lack realism (for example, in describing the melting of ice-sheets). On the whole Hansen argues  mostly from historic data, referring back to earlier geologic periods in the earth’s history when the  climate changed, and uses models only to study hypothetical events or special questions.

This empirical approach is highly convincing. Thus are we led to understand that the current  climate, with a warming of a 0,7 degree C, is near the highest of this interglacial period (the last  12000 years) and probably about like previous interglacial warm periods. Those warmings, however,  were caused by gradual, small changes in the tilt in the earth’s axis and in its orbit, and thus  were temporary, while our current warming, caused by mankind’s release of CO2 into the atmosphere,  is still on the rise and will not stop until centuries or millennia after we stop putting CO2  into the air. We find that the 2 degrees so much talked-about by politicians is not a safe limit, but  what Hansen calls “a disaster scenario”, since the last time the earth was that hot, around 3 million  years ago in the Middle Pliocene period, sea level was 25 meters higher than today and earth was “a  different planet”.

What is a safe limit, then? Hansen today argues for 350 ppm CO2 (note: less than the current  concentration of 387 ppm) corresponding to about a 1 degree maximum warming (0,7 already, the  rest will come gradually in decades ahead). The reason: the earth systems are non-linear and almost  certainly have tipping points, beyond which change speeds up, reinforcing itself, and taking the  climate to another state. The key factors affecting these tipping points are: 1) ice sheet melting 2)  methane hydrates on the ocean floor (and in the frozen tundra). These are wild cards, since the current  warming apparently is occurring ten or a hundred times faster than earlier warmings in earth’s  history. Research on these factors is scanty and current models do not include them. Their major  effects, however, are well known: a speeding up of the warming (the uncertainties concern the  temperatures at which they begin, how fast they proceed and the time needed to reach a final state).  Pointing to Arctic summer ice melting, mountain glacial melting, coral reefs dying and measured  warming on land, Hansen says: “Relevant scientists—those who know what they are talking about  —realize that the climate system is on the verge of tipping points.” Therefore are we strongly  advised to limit ourselves to 1-degree, only slightly above where we are now.

Interwoven in the scientific explanation of climate change, Hansen tells the story of his only  moderately-successful attempts to make the public aware of global warming and get climate change  put on the political agenda. Hansen’s experience indicates, sadly, that national governments, in the  U.S. and elsewhere, are largely uninterested in real, effective action. He attributes this to money:  special interest groups (coal, oil, …) use lobbyists to convince politicians that climate change is  uncertain, natural and not dangerous. And as with the tobacco industry earlier, vested interests seek  to keep the issue seen in the media and the public eye as an open issue to be debated, not an imminent  danger to be acted upon.

Time and again, Hansen urges young people to take charge of their  own futures by voting new politicians into the arena and putting new, transparent, politics to work,  going back to the original ideal of the American revolution: one man, one vote (in which special  interests could not rule). Young people yes, but this is something at which we can all work, regardless  of age.

What shall we work for, in the political agenda? First, to phase out coal until the emissions can  be successfully captured and safely stored—that means a moratorium on new coal plants today  since there are currently no capture and storage facilities in operation—it is only an idea. Second,  put a price on carbon, through taxes at the source (the mine, oil well, port of import, etc.). This will  work to the disadvantage of fossil fuels so that they gradually will be phased out. Such taxes can be  implemented nationally, then successively adjusted to be fair (in the sense of international business  competition) through bilateral and international agreements.

Hansen believes the Kyoto idea of cap  and trade is hot air—political greenwash intended to give the impression of doing something, while  not changing anything at all (emissions have in fact continued to rise since Kyoto was agreed upon  1992). Third, a crash program on fourth generation (breeder reactor) nuclear power that runs on  uranium waste from old reactors plus from decommissioned nuclear weapons, and generates almost  no long-lived waste. The purpose would be to develop a cost-competitive, standard reactor that  could be readily and quickly deployed around the developing world (particularly in China and  India) instead of building more coal-fired plants. Coal is currently the cheapest power source, and  the one that developing nations are using to build their economies on. Hansen’s plug for breeder  reactors may be hard to understand or swallow for many environmentalists, accustomed to thinking  of nuclear power as the costliest, most dangerous mistake of the past century.

But perhaps we  should read up more on this issue , and even supposing an unfavourable review, accept nuclear  research and development as one of many lines to pursue, in order to not prematurely close the door  on anything which might help us out of a the big bind we are in.  Regardless of how one feels on the nuclear issue, Hansen’s integrity and genuine concern for his  grandchildren and ours shine throughout this important book and make it probably the best available  work for understanding both the climate science and the politics behind the current state of  inaction at national and international levels. (A less technical description of the science, but not the  politics, can be found in Mark Lynas’ excellent Sex Degrees).

It is well worth reading, even if you  choose other political priorities on the details of how to phase out fossil fuels on a planetary scale.  Hansen’s main political message is that if we are to avoid dangerous climate change, most of the  oil, gas and coal must remain in the ground. Since we cannot expect the owners of fossil fuels to  stop selling them, we must tax and legislate them out of existence, and provide workable alternatives  for all of us to live on in the near and foreseeable future. Otherwise, our children and grandchildren  will see increasingly violent storms, exacerbated by rising sea level that will make life  more costly, more difficult and more unpredictable than it already is on this crowded blue planet,  third from the sun.  N.B.: Dr. James Hansen is a brave man who has fought censure and intimidation through much  of his career, and kept speaking out in the service of what he believed in. Now, with this book, he  writes for his and our grandchildren. Much of what he writes is available free online at his website: For a short description of his criticism of “politics as usual”, see the  November 2009 article: Is there any real chance of averting the climate crisis? listed on that  website.

Archie Duncanson, Stockholm, February 2010

The Exhibition: a story about investing in sustainability

Posted by steve on February 16, 2010

What would it look like if we set up the economy to drive the change towards sustainability? What would we invest in, what would we pay for? Would banks have another role?

I set myself the assignment of creating a vision of things to come, and decided to approach it using the techniques of imagestreaming. What follows is the imagestream tapescript re-written as a story. For more information on the units of trust instrument please see the UOT information page.


In this imagestream I wish to address the dichotomy between industrial thinking and sustainable thinking. Many have been brought up in the industrialized world and find it hard to imagine alternatives. And yet alternatives are needed; industrialization cannot go on forever. In industrialized thinking you are a worker, you own a house maybe, shares or funds. You are a citizen and can vote. To maintain your lifestyle you have to consume.

If someone wanted to use their money to invest in an organization or opportunity that would give them a sustainable return on investment what would be available to them?

I imagine this particular investment would be in real assets, generate energy, housing and food or transport in a sustainable way. Possibly, their value increases over time compared to fossil fuel powered alternatives or your investment would give a dividend in the form of these services.

Anyway, investing in these organizations and or instruments would give you food, housing or transport (energy) as well as an asset that increased in value over time.

THE QUEST is to visit a place where these kinds of opportunities, instruments and schemes are used successfully to offer individuals, though individual investment, the opportunity to sustainably generate their living standards and constitute an investment for their kids and the future. These investments themselves have monetary value that should increase over time.


I am in the arrival hall, looking for a lift. I’m attracted to a dark red exhibition stand. An exhibition booth. A sign over the entrance says “Investing in the Future”.

I go in, a man is standing at a table, he hands me a brochure.

“Are you interested in investing in the future?” he asks.

“I certainly am” I say. He chuckles a bit, which makes me feel uneasy.

The brochure contains pictures of wind power, water power etc. He invites me to proceed further into the stand. A few people are milling around with drinks and snacks. Screens are showing pictures of sustainable ventures.

I get a cheese on a stick to nibble and a glass of non-alcoholic cider.

It’s all very informal – it seems the idea is to entice passers-by into the stand.

Investment in the future – a DVD playing talks about oil, its depletion and the effects on everyone’s economy, about population pressure on the planet etc.

… However, there IS a way using renewable solutions, but we must construct them now while there is still time, for your children’s sake. Before it is too late

…We already have this place going and more examples. You are being invited to join, if you like.

I feel a sense of mistrust …maybe it’s too good to be true ….or the way the guy laughed. An oxymoron to invest in the future isn’t it – what about now?

Still, it seems to be well grounded. A paper talks about number of working hours, your work, how you use your time, what you can get from this use of time, with many tables and graphs. In fact, it looks rather like an investment brief.

I browse though it, looking at graphs of future price of oil contra renewables. (I know from experience that trying to read documents in an image stream is rather difficult so I concentrate on the pictures.) Another shows the number of hours you have to work to get your daily bread and the role oil plays in that. The higher oil prices rise, the less you can buy with your hour. And then it asks you what sort of life you want, and looks at the available choices.

I suppose this is a chance to browse the material and look at the videos showing places already functioning along these lines.

You can just simply sign up. I look at a paper, which says you can buy a unit or a number of units. The accompanying application form asks for your name, address and other details, and your signed request to purchase. That is all you need to get in the system.

I wonder what I would do with my unit when I have purchased it. Someone takes me aside to explain.

“What will I get for my money?” I ask.

“You become a unit holder, sir. The stands in the next part of the exhibition explain what unit holders get back from their investment.”

This stand extends into a larger, white exhibition space behind the red one. I take the investment brief and the form and move on. Each exhibitor has a table and exhibition space behind them, arranged around the outside and in the centre of the area.

People are milling around handing out brochures for various things.

At the first table someone is planning an eco unit. Depending on the number of units you have invested you can do different things in the eco unit. (Editor’s note see link to explain what an eco-unit is – an ecological village self sufficient in food.) You buy a unit for a certain amount of money. From there on there is no counting in money. You can always compare to monetary value, though. In this case, to put myself in the queue to live on an eco-unit I have to have a certain number of units saved.

This queue is not yet full, they are building a total of 80 houses. One of these trust units would give me a certain number of points which I could redeem for a share in their excess food produce for example. However, it is not enough to have purchased a trust unit. I must have it placed with this organization.

Depending on how many units I place, I get points back which I can redeem against holiday, produce and way in to buy and own a house on the eco-unit. I could also save points to contribute towards retiring to an eco-unit.

The next one is a sailing boat, a big beautiful boat. To join the scheme you place one unit with this organization. Its main purpose is to carry freight sustainably. This scheme is already going- The boat is long, wind powered, and if you invest in it you can join the crew. You can have a holiday on her or help out for good, physical, fun, If you crew you get points. These can be redeemed for produce from other organizations. A video is showing the boat … come on board… it’s beautiful … wonderful investment … just have a holiday … travel …crew .. we all need boats.

Continuing though the exhibition I am drawn to a table behind me about growing food.

A person on the stand explains the scheme provides a system for growing vegetables close to your home. Place in this scheme and you get a whole kit of pots and stuff.

If you invest in this scheme you get utilitas – that is to say, you do not own the equipment but you get the right to use it. (I have difficulty snapping up the phrase is it utitas or ulitas?) If you invest in the organisation you get the opportunity to enjoy some of the capital.

Over the other side of the hall, a wind farm catches my attention. You place your unit in the wind farm and get the right to have a wind turbine. You do not own the turbine but you have a right to use it.

I am picking up a principle here that seems to apply throughout the examples I have seen so far– one of not actually owning anything but having a right to use things.

In this case with the wind turbines, I will earn points by putting energy back to the grid. They install the machine in your house, on your property. The energy goes back to the grid for points.

The system is simple: a wind turbine and solar panels on your roof produce electricity. The electricity you do not use feeds into the grid to earn you points.

I start to grasp the significance of the whole unit trust set-up. One unit costs about 10,000 SEK (say 900 Euros). That is quite a bit of money, but many pay that for a TV so it is affordable. It is not as if you pay once and the money is gone. This is a very secure way of investing. Because if you remove your unit from the organization then they remove the things from your house, but you can still place the unit elsewhere.

That brings me to muse about the food bit, how home growing works. I notice a stand presenting “Local Food schemes” and walk over to it.

The stand looks like a market stall and demonstrates how the points system works across local organizations. If you invest in a Local Food Scheme, as a grower, you can sell your produce for points in the market. If a Local Food Scheme is effective and produces a lot of food, many points will accumulate. These can be swapped with the Local Housing Scheme. I start to see that although the Unit Trust organization is national, it is the local network of organizations that must “join up the dots”.

A Local Housing Scheme (LHS) can buy an apartment block, and instead of paying rent you redeem points. The reason for this is, in the future you may not have the money to pay rent or energy bills.

Or if you all own flats in an apartment block you can place units in the LHS and they will help to convert the block to low energy and take over everyday running, maintenance and upgrades.

Some advisors are walking around, I ask one:

“So can I check I have this right? I buy units, and then I have to choose where I place them. Placing my units gives me back sustainable goods and services.”

“That is correct,” she replies.

“But I never ever loose my unit. I can take it out and put it in another one?”

She smiles: ¨Where you place units depends on your state of life. You can buy units with points or use the points for consumption.”

I ask about tax but she thinks I should come back another time for that one.

She adds: “It is the unit trust (as she calls it), this organization, that puts on these events.”

“So you market yourselves this way in these exhibitions?”

She explains that they put on these exhibitions and market via traditional channels. They talk to existing organizations, cooperatives or companies and explain the benefits to them of joining. They these organisations join the scheme by purchasing units in the unit trust.

I ask for an idea of how my organization would go about joining.

She explains: “You get a number of points related to the number of people who want to invest in you. The unit trust does not invest in your company. Your organization gets a chance to meet a number of investors via us. You invest in us, and keep your unit placed with us.

Our role then is one of matchmaker.”

She explains that organizations come away from an exhibition with a local contact person, address to the website, and already an idea of how to place their unit.

I thank her and leave.


This is an extract from my new book, a follow up to INVENTING FOR THE SUSTAINABLE PLANET

Product development choices

Posted by steve on February 9, 2010

Energy is going to get more expensive unless you own your own renewable energy sources, like windmills or hydropower. Energy is needed for four major phases of a product’s life-cycle: extraction of materials, manufacture, operation and disposal/recyling.

This means that products developed will migrate into the two areas where energy use is less, over the life-time of the product.

This matrix divides products and services up depending on energy required to make and run them. What will happen as energy prices rise? Products that require a lot of energy to make and run will less affordable. These “make once, run expensively” types of products will migrate to the quadrants on the right. The “make once, run cheaply” or “make cheaply, use cheaply” will take over.

The same thing with products that are inexpensive to buy, but have a high running cost. Already oil lamps are being replaced in Bangladesh by solar panels, which cost more in the beginning, but pay off over a longer period. This is possible thanks to some clever financing from Grameen Bank, where users pay the solar panels in instalments equivalent to what they would pay for the oil. Instead of an empty lamp, they get a working solar panel.

Aim to migrate your purchase or product offering. Think about it today.

AVBP launches executive briefing: Develop towards sustainability

Posted by steve on February 8, 2010

Sustainability, it seems, costs money.  I have heard that business leaders have been bombarded with in-depth training lasting weeks, costing thousands and deflecting a sizeable chunk of your attention from focus on results.

Sustainabilty is something built in to every human as a survival tool. Most need a quick sharp introduction to get up and running. And we need to get running, the Industrial Capitalism models of doing business, temporarily made possible by cheap energy, are starting to show their age.

If you are an executive responsible for guiding your organisation through today’s choppy waters you need to have good insight into sustainability. We believe it  is either the future your organisation is going to develop into or the “black swan” of unexpected surprises that upset the apple cart of a cherished Buisiness as Usual.

Our short briefing will get you started on charting your organisation’s path into the future and actioning what needs to be done in a timely fashion

Order an in- house session or attend one of our scheduled briefings, lasting from one to three days.