2011-02-22 04:07:44Basic Rebuttal #170: Hansen predicted the West Side Highway would be underwater


James Hansen made his statement in response to a question by Bob Reiss, a journalist and author.  He did not predict that the West Side Highway would be underwater in 20 years.

Bob Reiss reports the conversation as follows:

"When I interviewe­­d James Hansen I asked him to speculate on what the view outside his office window could look like in 40 years with doubled CO2. I'd been trying to think of a way to discuss the greenhouse effect in a way that would make sense to average readers. I wasn't asking for hard scientific studies. It wasn't an academic interview. It was a discussion with a kind and thoughtful man who answered the question. You can find the descriptio­­n in two of my books, most recently The Coming Storm."

James Hansen reports the conversation as follows:

"Reiss asked me to speculate on changes that might happen in New York City in 40 years assuming CO2 doubled in amount."

The book The Coming Storm and the salon.com article are different.  In The Coming Storm the question includes the conditions of doubled CO2 and 40 years, while the salon.com article which is quoted by skeptics does not mention doubled CO2, and involves only 20 years. 

To understand the discrepancy between these two published accounts, it helps to look at the timeline of events.  The original conversation was in 1988.  Ten years later, referring to his notes, Bob Reiss recounted the conversation in his book The Coming Storm.  James Hansen confirmed the conversation and said he would not change a thing he said.  After the book was published, Bob Reiss was talking to a journalist at salon.com about it.  As he puts it,

"although the book text is correct, in remembering our original conversation, during a casual phone interview with a Salon magazine reporter in 2001 I was off in years.”

We can check back in 2028, the 40 year mark, and also when and if we reach 560 ppm CO2 (a doubling from pre-industrial levels).  In the meantime, we can stop using this conversation from 1988 as a reason to be skeptical about the human origins of global warming.


The Coming Storm by Bob Reiss, copyright 2001

Book review in Salon. Com: http://dir.salon.com/books/int/2001/10/23/weather/index.html

As reported by Anthony Watts:

Communication from James Hansen, January 26, 2011

Email from Bob Reiss, February 15, 2011

2011-02-22 06:07:47need to fix the summary


Should open up with "This was actually a prediction for 40 years, not 20."

 Immediately after the quote from James Hansen, add this additional quote from him (received Feb 21, 2011):

Pre-industrial CO2 was 280 ppm.  It is now about 390 ppm, increasing 2 ppm per year.  It may reach doubled CO2, 560 ppm, by about 2070 if emissions keep increasing at the moderate rate of the past couple of decades -- it could be earlier if developing countries continue to increase at recent rates, but it could be later, or never, if we reduce emissions and leave some coal and most unconventional fossil fuels in the ground.  (Emissions increased about 5 percent per year between 1945 and the 1970s; it was on that basis of such rapid exponential growth of emissions that some people expected doubled CO2 to occur in the first half of the 21st century.  Obviously that has not occurred.  Growth slowed sharply in the late 1970s, as industry, vehicle efficiencies etc.slowed as people adjusted to a new world following the oil embargo, price increases, etc., and growth of carbon emissions have never returned to the 5 percent per year level.


It should end with: "This was a 40 year prediction, assuming CO2 doubled in 40 years.  So check back around 2038."


2011-02-22 06:31:241988 + 40 is ...


drumroll please.

        2028 not 2038

Sorry 'bout that.

2011-02-22 09:03:40Note re editing forum posts
John Cook

ClimateHawk (or should I call you Hawk... or Phil? :-), if you have amendments to the original post, probably the clearest thing to do is to edit the original post, adding in your changes. That way, we can read your rebuttal how it's meant to be in its final form. Just look for the Edit link at the bottom right beneath the post.
2011-02-22 12:43:42Updated the original post
John Cook


Have updated your original post and it's also viewable at:


Any feedback before we publish this?

2011-02-22 14:45:00
Daniel Bailey
Daniel Bailey

Out of curiousity, what's the elevation of the West Side Hwy above the level of the Hudson River? (an indirect gauge of how protected from SLR it will be)

IIRC, the Hudson is navigable all the way upriver to Albany, so a rise in sea level will be felt far upstream.

Dunno if they have a tidal bore like many estuarine areas have.

Would it improve the article any to show an image of the highway (random image googled from here)?



Anyway, sounds good to me.

2011-02-28 04:53:42OK to publish



I just added "in 1988" to the first sentence and I think it would help to add "by 2008" in the title.

Adding a picture has some pros and cons.  The pro is that it makes it more "real" but the con is that it will invite nit-picking.  I prefer to keep it as short and simple as possible so detractors have less of a target for creating distractions.

 I think it is OK to publish.

        Phil     (you can call me Phil)