A little known 20 40 year old climate change prediction by Dr. James Hansen – that failed will likely fail badly

UPDATE: Thanks to a tip from Willis Eschenbach, there’s some developing news in that story from Dr. James Hansen. The Salon interviewee and book author, Rob Reiss that I quoted, now admits he somehow conflated 40 years with 20 years, and concedes that Dr. Hansen actually said 40 years for his prediction. However, as the newest analysis shows, it doesn’t make any difference, and we still aren’t seeing the magnitude of sea level rise predicted, now 23 years into it.

See the relevant excerpt below:

Michaels also has the facts wrong about a 1988 interview of me by Bob Reiss, in which Reiss asked me to speculate on changes that might happen in New York City in 40 years assuming CO2 doubled in amount. Michaels has it as 20 years, not 40 years, with no mention of doubled CO2. Reiss verified this fact to me, but he later sent the message:

I went back to my book and re-read the interview I had with you. I am embarrassed to say that 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. What I asked you originally at your office window was for a prediction of what Broadway would look like in 40 years, not 20. But when I spoke to the Salon reporter 10 years later probably because I’d been watching the predictions come true, I remembered it as a 20 year question.

Source: this update on Dr. Hansen’s personal web page at Columbia University.

In my story, below, I quoted from Reiss here in the Salon interview.

So I’m happy to make the correction for Dr. Hansen in my original article, since Mr. Reiss reports on his original error in conflating 40 years with 20 years. But let’s look at how this changes the situation with forty years versus twenty.

Per Dr. Hansen’s prediction in 1988, now in 2011, 23 years later, we’re a bit over halfway there … so the sea level rise should be about halfway up the side of Manhattan Island by now.

How’s that going? Are the predictions coming true? Let’s find out. Let’s look at the tide gauge in New York and see what it says.

Here’s the PSMSL page http://www.psmsl.org/data/obtaining/stations/12.php

You can see the terrifying surge of acceleration in the sea level due to increasing GHGs in the 20th century. Willis downloaded and plotted the data to see what the slope looked like, and then plotted a linear average line.

Here it is overlaid with the Colorado satellite data. Note the rate of rise is unchanged:

And add to that, the recent peer reviewed paper from the Journal of Coastal Research that said: “worldwide-temperature increase has not produced acceleration of global sea level over the past 100 years”

As of this update in March 2011, we’re 23 years into his prediction of the West Side Highway being underwater. From what I can measure in Google Earth, Dr. Hansen would need at least a ten foot rise in forty years to make his prediction work. See this image below from Google Earth where I placed the pointe over the West Side Highway, near the famous landmark and museum, the USS Intrepid:

According to Google Earth, the West Side Highway is 10 feet above sea level here - click to enlarge

The lat/lon should you wish to check yourself is: 40.764572° -73.998498°

Here’s a ground level view (via a tourist photo) so you can see the vertical distance from the roadway to the sea level on that day and tide condition. Sure looks like at least 10 feet to me.

Image from Panoramio

According to the actual data, after 23 years, we’ve seen about a 2.5 inch rise. There’ s still a very long way to go to ten feet to cover the West Side Highway there.

To reach the goal he predicted in 1988, Dr. Hansen needs to motivate the sea to do his bidding, he’s gonna have to kick it in gear and use a higher octane driver if he’s going to get there. – Anthony

The original story is below:


The news today from the Pew Institute tells us that many Americans are backing away from the predictions of catastrophic climate change. This may be because many predictions simply haven’t come true.

Most, if not all, WUWT readers know Dr. James Hansen of GISS. He’s credited with jump starting the debate in 1988 with his now famous “sweaty” testimony before Congress in June 1988. See more about the stagecraft of that event here.


Readers might be tempted to think that I’m going to point out the discrepancies between the three different model scenarios that Dr. Hansen presented to Congress in 1988, as shown below. But these model projections are very well known. I’m talking about something else entirely.

Hansen's 3 model scenarios compared to temperature records from RSS (satellite) and GISS (surface). Graphic: Steve McIntyre of Climate Audit

In Dr. Hansen’s case, he’s been living the life of a scientist in the media spotlight since, giving thousands of interviews. He’s also taken on the role of activist during that time, getting himself arrested this year for obstructing a public highway.

He likely doesn’t remember this one interview he gave to a book author approximately 20 years ago, but fortunately that author recounted the interview on Salon.com. What is most interesting about this particular Hansen interview is that he dispenses with the usual models and graphs, and makes predictions about what will happen in 20 years to New York City, right in his own neighborhood. Sea level figures prominently.

Here’s the interview.

In a 2001 interview with author Rob Reiss about his upcoming book “Stormy Weather” Salon.com contributor Suzy Hansen (no apparent relation to Jim Hansen) asks some questions about his long path of research for the book. One of the questions centered around an interview of Dr. James Hansen by Reiss around 1988-1989. Red emphasis mine.

Extreme weather means more terrifying hurricanes and tornadoes and fires than we usually see. But what can we expect such conditions to do to our daily life?

While doing research 12 or 13 years ago, I met Jim Hansen, the scientist who in 1988 predicted the greenhouse effect before Congress. I went over to the window with him and looked out on Broadway in New York City and said, “If what you’re saying about the greenhouse effect is true, is anything going to look different down there in 20 years?” He looked for a while and was quiet and didn’t say anything for a couple seconds. Then he said, “Well, there will be more traffic.” I, of course, didn’t think he heard the question right. Then he explained, “The West Side Highway [which runs along the Hudson River] will be under water. And there will be tape across the windows across the street because of high winds. And the same birds won’t be there. The trees in the median strip will change.” Then he said, “There will be more police cars.” Why? “Well, you know what happens to crime when the heat goes up.”

And so far, over the last 10 years, we’ve had 10 of the hottest years on record.

Didn’t he also say that restaurants would have signs in their windows that read, “Water by request only.”

Under the greenhouse effect, extreme weather increases. Depending on where you are in terms of the hydrological cycle, you get more of whatever you’re prone to get. New York can get droughts, the droughts can get more severe and you’ll have signs in restaurants saying “Water by request only.”

When did he say this will happen?

Within 20 or 30 years. And remember we had this conversation in 1988 or 1989.

Does he still believe these things?

Yes, he still believes everything. I talked to him a few months ago and he said he wouldn’t change anything that he said then.

I’ve saved the Salon.com web page as a PDF also, here, just in case it should be deleted. So not only did Dr. Hansen make the claims in the late 1980’s, he reaffirmed his predictions again in 2001.

The scenario of the interview with Dr. Hansen looking out his window and describing the changes he envisions 20 years into the future is very plausible. As we established yesterday, Dr. Hansen’s NASA GISS office at 2880 Broadway in NYC,  has a view of the Hudson River.

Here’s a Google Earth street level view of 2880 Broadway:

GISS is located right aboive "Monk's - Click for a larger image

The NASA GISS building at 2880 Broadway and 112th Street- The arrows indicate my guesses for offices of Dr. James Hansen and Dr, Gavin Schmidt - Click for a larger image

Using Google Earth, I can actually fly right up to (what I think is) Dr. Hansen’s window and recreate the view. (Note to anyone who worries, this info about the location is public domain information, published on the NASA GISS office website)

First let’s establish the location in traditional downlooking map style view at put Dr. Hansen’s line of sight on the image:

Click for a larger image

Click for a larger image

Here is a close in view, from further east on 112th street, just behind the GISS building looking northwest to the Hudson river. Google’s 3D buildings feature is used to recreate the buildings:

Click for a larger image

Click for a larger image

Here’s what the view from Dr. Hansen’s window at GISS looks like:

Click for a larger image

Click for a larger image

And finally, here is the view from the Hudson, looking back to the GISS building:

Click for a larger image

Click for a larger image

In the recounting of the interview by Rob Reiss, Hansen makes several claims about trees, birds, police cars, and crime. I can’t comment on those as I have no data. What I can comment on is this prediction by Dr. Hansen:

“The West Side Highway [which runs along the Hudson River] will be under water.”

As you can clearly see in the Google Earth images, the West Side Highway remains dry and open. Sea level (at which the Hudson River at that point becomes) is not encroaching on the highway. Note the date on the Google Earth timeline toolbar in the upper left. The aerial imagery was taken approximately 20 years later, on May 12th, 2008.

So much for local climate change predictions by the leading global authority on climate change.

Even if we give Dr. Hansen the benefit of 30 years, I’ll point out that satellite measured rate of change of global sea level has slowed significantly in the last few years, and is not likely to rise enough to meet Dr. Hansen’s prediction even 30 years out. See this story.

In fact using the University of Colorado interactive sea level plotting tool, we can see virtually no trend in the last 20 years:

Sea level plot - just off Manhattan Island - Graph: University of Colorado

Sea level plot - just off Manhattan Island - Graph: University of Colorado

You can reproduce it here at sealevel.colorado.edu

I wonder what Dr. Hansen thinks when he looks out that window today?


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Gene Nemetz

“If what you’re saying about the greenhouse effect is true, is anything going to look different down there in 20 years?”
“Ya, um, the most famous tv show ever will film lots of scenes right down there.”
What a crazy prediction…wait, umm…..


To err is human, to forgive divine….. up to a point though.

Gene Nemetz

To err is human, to forgive divine….. up to a point though.
But he’s sticking with that err. Maybe, and I’m not being sarcastic, he’s a bit mad.


“I wonder what Dr. Hansen thinks when he looks out that window today?”
Just a little more [snip] alarmism and WE WIN!!!!!

Gene Nemetz

…in 1988 with his now famous “sweaty” testimony before Congress in June 1988. See more about the stagecraft….
For those who still don’t believe this happened watch this video starting at 0:51

“When did he say this will happen?”
“Within 20 or 30 years. And remember we had this conversation in 1988 or 1989.”
Okay, 9 or 10 years to go, at the outside.

martin brumby

I wouldn’t believe him if he predicted tomorrow was going to be Saturday (without checking a calendar three times).

david alan

Dr. James Hansen
Premier Climatologist
Author of: Storms of My Grandchildren
National Launch Event For The Book
Monday December 7 at 7:30   NEW DATE!
Location: Wortham Center, Houston,Tx
Originally scheduled for October 29, the event has been rescheduled because of temporary health issues of Dr. Hansen
Health issues my ***. Dude writes a book and its obvious, no one cares. This event was suppose to be his big coming out party for his new book right before Copenhagen. Blah Blah Blah.
I have to organize some kind of protest. That is if he even shows up.
Any ideas? :p

a new date that will “live in infamy” – A


“I wonder what Dr. Hansen thinks when he looks out that window today?”
He’s probably wondering if his window opens [snip]

April E. Coggins

I have a theory about Hansen. He is off his rocker from his created global warming [snip]. If he would just admit his exaggeration and come clean, his conscience would be relieved and so would his tortured soul. [snip] It’s going to happen sooner or later, why not just admit the error before the house of cards comes down? We may laugh for a day or two but we won’t eat you. It can’t possibly be worse than what will happen if you don’t.

Keith Minto

Post modern climate science is sniffing the political winds ,battening down the hatches, firmly gripping the Capstan with clenched teeth as the cast and crew of the good ship AGW slowly sinks.
There is a good German word for the pleasure in watching this unfold….Schadenfreude.

david alan

david alan (22:55:10) :
REPLY: a new date that will “live in infamy” – A
Holy Bat Buano Batman, that’s hilarious.

Does aybody else think he looks like a combed and shaven Denethor?


Hansen and all alarmists are counting on the cap-n-trade bill + the Copenhagen treaty to be adopted, then 5 years from now they’re gonna be celebrating victory, claiming that it worked and they saved the world.

Michael hauber

The prediction made in that paper was that the average temperature would warm to above 0.4 degrees ‘within the next few years’. The significance being that he considereed 0.4 degrees to be the maximum climate variation likely due to natural variation, and that if it warmed up past this point that would be a clear sign that something not natural was going on. He calculated 0.4 degrees as the threshold based on the 20th century temperature history, and on the models output.
It would be interesting to know if any skeptics pointed out at that stage that natural climate variation could take temperatures above 0.4 degrees, or if this claim has only been made recently after that amount of warming was observed.
The actual forcings since he made this climate projection have been quite close to scenario B. The scenario B projection was made on a climate sensitivity of 4.2 degrees, and in the same paper he claimed a climate sensitivity is likely to be between 2.5 and 5. So it is interesting to note that his model was running towards the upper end of what he considered the likely sensitivity. If you use 2.5 to 5 to estimate an error bar on scenario B, this would put the bottom of the error bar just below 0.5, and current temperatures close to the bottom of the error bar.
So are current temperatures close to this low end because climate sensitivity to CO2 is actually at the low end of what Hansen considered reasonable? Or are temperatures at the low end because Hansen’s projection did not include cooling due to the now negative PDO and the current strong solar minimum?

Leon Brozyna

An object lesson in embracing and holding onto a belief system in the face of evidence which contradicts that belief system. The greater the amount of evidence which contradicts the belief system, the more shrill are the voices raised to defend that belief system. Whatever else it may be, the AGW belief system has long since lost is claim to the mantle of science.


In the novel Atlas Shrugged, the State Science Institute worked with the government to hide truth. State Science Institute scientists claimed Reardon Metal was dangerous and would harm society, when in fact Reardon Metal was one of the greatest inventions of all time bound to vastly improve society.
Eerily, today we have institutions of science working with the government to hide truth. They claim CO2 is dangerous and will harm society, when in fact CO2 is a harmless trace gas necessary for life on Earth, that improves society by helping enable more productive crops.
What happened to those who hid the truth in Atlas Shrugged? They were exposed as frauds and their institutions imploded.
Truth can never be hidden forever.


I wonder what Dr. Hansen thinks when he looks out that window today?
It’s near impossible to tell if he is being totally stubborn, is putting on a face, or he really does see those things when he looks out there.
How would we know what he thinks if he has not confided to someone what his doubts about this are, if he has any?


p.s. Anthony, are you trying to intimidate Hansen by posting the exact address of his workplace?
While I don’t really care what happens to Hansen, it seems a bit much to point out his office window. There might be some lunatics out there taking aim.
REPLY: I’m not doing anything that GISS already doesn’t do on their own web page. They give the address and directions to their office, pictures of the building, and even a description of the entrance. See the GISS web page here: http://www.giss.nasa.gov/about/visiting/
It has been made public by them, well before I did. – Anthony


We have a much respected science reporter and scientist Robin Williams who works for the government broadcaster Australian Broadcasting Commission who predicted sea levels would rise by 100m by the end of the century due to climate change. I am pretty sure Tim Flannery made similar predictions.

Michael hauber

And yes its also probably fair to acknowledge that it does appear that Hansen overestimated the likely impacts of sea level rise over a 20-30 year period, although being always skeptical of the ‘skeptic’ claims I would always want to hear the other side of the story before being sure…

Here’s the sea level history for just offshore New York City, from sealevel.colorado.edu. Not much rise in that sea level since 1994 to now. In fact, the present sea level is below the “norm,” by about 5 cm.

: Thanks Roger, I forgot about the UC sea level interactive tool, I’ve added it to the story. – Anthony

It would be great if a (sub)site would record all these predictions. Like Prince Charles, WWF, Hansens, etc, who all predict we’ll have something very bad things in x years, or so. Does anybody know of such site, or should we start a new one?

I drove over the former west-side highway a couple of weeks ago. The bow-wave from my 1988 Mazda B3000 pick-up truck was truly exceptional… had to avoid a couple of kayackers trying to paddle up 112th Street…. I think one of them was Gavin…. gave me the finger as I headed toward downtown and the Theater District…. in my wake I heard something about “Yuppie oil-company financed environmental criminal… ! ”
I smiled.


Is there a website anywhere that lists all the predictions & pronouncements made by climate scientists and others? It would be nice to see such predictions listed against real observations.


He’ll just deny his past like stephen scheider did with the ice age thing

Nigel S

david alan (22:55:10) and REPLY
“Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!”
Kenneth Williams as Julius Caesar in ‘Carry On Cleo’ 1964.

Does he actually believe that the road is under water now? Or does he believe that 2009 has still not arrived? These detailed questions would normally decide which pavilion in the mental asylum he should be placed into.


Equally dire predictions were issued in Britain yesterday by the Foreign Secretary. When the history of this thing is written, I predict that these predictions will have a chapter to themselves, how they were justified, who issued them, the evidence behind them….


Michael hauber: It wasn’t just sea levels he got wrong, I haven’t been to New York in a while but I’m sure if any of the forecasts he made below have come to pass I’d have heard of them:
“Then he explained, “The West Side Highway [which runs along the Hudson River] will be under water. And there will be tape across the windows across the street because of high winds. And the same birds won’t be there. The trees in the median strip will change.” Then he said, “There will be more police cars.” Why? “Well, you know what happens to crime when the heat goes up.””
You are quite right to be sceptical about sceptics, I am myself, even though I lean towards scepticism.

From 350.org’s invitation for a day of climate action on Oct 24th:
“A year ago, our greatest climatologist—NASA’s James Hansen—and his team produced a landmark series of studies. They showed that if we let the amount of carbon in the atmosphere top 350 parts per million, we can’t have a planet “similar to the one on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted.”
For some reason I doubt that’s how history is going to remember him…

david alan

Landin (23:34:34) :
“In the novel Atlas Shrugged, the State Science Institute worked with the government to hide truth.”
Im told, also, that ‘Atlas Shrugged’ is suppose to be a blueprint of the rise of the Illuminati to a NWO.
So what happens next? (I am so gonna get snipt for makin a conspiracy theory comment, I just know it.)

Barry Foster

I must admit that, like others, I am beginning to doubt this man’s sanity.

Sorry… it’s a 1998 B3000… in 1988 the model was probably called a “B30″…

Jason S.

Hansen has a Kramer’esk look to me now that WUWT drew out the Sienfield relationship. Someone pleeeease super impose Kramer’s hair on Hansen. Something like the Yoda/ Greenspan morph from CNN Money years ago 🙂

One more hi-res picture of the houses around GISS in a broader context:


Another nutter has arisen. This one is going to join the Green Party and run for the seat of Higgins in Melbourne.


Isn’t this the same embecile who doubles as gore’s guru, surely someone in the msm will take up this story and expose the delusional fool.

Rhys Jaggar

Today’s Independent in the UK has an absolutely RIDICULOUS map of ‘temperature rises by 2060’. They’re saying increases of 15C in the Arctic and 6-8C everywhere else.
As usual in a newspaper, it doesn’t say what the baseline is.
But it’s supposed to be an IPCC ‘prediction’.
Not surprisingly, a UK Govt Minister was trumping it.
After all, as they got the economic predictions so spectacularly wrong, why do you think they would back climate guff unless it were precisely that, eh??

David Walton

Query: What is the difference between Richard C. Hoagland and Dr. James Hansen?
Answer: Hansen has never been interviewed by Art Bell.

“I wonder what Dr. Hansen thinks when he looks out that window today?”
“I’m grilled”, he’d say.

D. Ch.

In the tradition of “a solution exists”, Hansen should run for public office before it becomes obvious exactly how wrong his predictions have been. Nobody bothers to check up on how well politicians’ old predictions pan out (because what they say is assumed to have only the loosest of connections to the truth and what they really think), so once he changes his official media category from scientist to politician by running for office multiple times or maybe even winning an election, he’s home free and can look forward to an honorable retirement …

You call this
a “prediction that failed badly” proves only that you don’t understand what you are talking about.
REPLY: No you’ve got it wrong, you didn’t read the whole article apparently. I’m talking about the fact that Hansen said in 1988/89 “The West Side Highway would be under water in 20 years”, and reaffirmed the prediction in 2001. It is clearly not. His prediction of sea level rise failed badly. – A


Gerard (23:36:03) :
Did Robin Williams say where the water was coming from? There isn’t that much water in all the icecaps of the World, including East Antarctica.


Matt says:
October 22, 2009 at 11:19 pm
Does aybody else think he looks like a combed and shaven Denethor?
That would explain it. He’s lost his mind conferring with the Dark Lord Gore through his IPCC Palantir.
But fear not for Watts the White and Ranger MacIntyre are on their way while the halflings of public opinion are ready to toss the ring of AGW power into the very Cracks of Doom !
What a movie that would make !


“Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive.”
Sir Walter Scott
What angers me about Dr. Hansen is not that he made an incorrect forecast, nor that he has strong beliefs. What angers me is that he knowingly participated in deceit, and in attacking those who sought to get at the truth.
As soon as one accepts this “the ends justify the means” mentality one has let go of truth. Usually one does it because they have a very low opinion of the general public’s ability to do the right thing, and usually one imagines one is abandoning truth for the “general good” of the public, however falsehood tends become a malignancy, and eventually destroys those who give up on truth.
However, if you stand by truth, truth stands by you. This occurs even if every person on earth is enamored by a falsehood, simply because truth cannot help but be true. It is for this reason some capitalize the “t,” and speak of Truth, and even dare suggest Truth is an animate thing, and can snow on Al Gore whenever he dares ignores It.
I am not counting on Truth hitting Copenhagen with a howling blizzard when Obama goes over there, and I am fairly sure Obama will sign the treaty even if glaciers come grinding down Copenhagen’s streets. I am even cynical about Congress, and fear they will ratify the treaty even if we have the worst winter in twenty years.
The question then becomes, can we break the treaty?
I think Hansen, Briffa, Mann, and the IPPC offer us a great opportunity to tear up the treaty into little bitty shreds, even if we have signed it. All we need to say is that it was signed under false pretences.
In which case we may be glad those fellows were such blatant scoundrels.
However I’ll be writing my representatives, and doing my best to urge that the treaty isn’t ratified.


It would be informative if this article could be updated to add Hanssen´s 1988 CO2 prediction (ppm vs time) associated with each scenario. And of course overlaid with the actual CO2 observations for the same period.

@ ecotretas and Kath. The same thought about collecting hard predictions that specify dates occurred to me recently. I’ve started to blog ’em as I hear about ’em, though as my blog isn’t especially about warming alarmism (more therapeutic ranting and swearing to be honest) it’s not like I spend much time looking. So far I’ve got:
* “Imminently” – loss of world’s coral reefs – David Attenborough
* Late 2013 – ice free Arctic – Al Gore
* 2014 – unrecoverable disaster and generally everything banjaxed – WWF.
* Dec 2016 – unrecoverable disaster and everything banjaxed again 😉 – Prince Charles and the 100 months people
* Late 2019 – ice free Arctic again 😉 – Pen Hadow
* Late 2029 – loss of Great Barrier Reef – marine scientist Charlie Veron, who probably should have got together with David Attenborough and compared notes.
I’m going to link to this story and add to the list the inundation of West Side Highway as something that should already have happened or at least really look like it’s about to.

Donald (Australia)

GERARD, since when has Robyn Williams been a “much respected” science reporter, and a “scientist”, for heaven’s sake?
His reporting has seen him scorned and laughed at as “100- metres- Williams” .
Unlike a genuine scientist, he does not entertain any hypothesis other than AGW, and I have never heard him outline any of the multitude of data which does not support AGW.
As for being a scientist, please let us know his published papers! You must be joking.
Mr Williams is very keen to tell anyone he has friends who are real, real scientists – he even proudly recalled ringing one in the UK, on the ABC (Aus.) panel program following a showing of the film sceptical of Al Gore’s “science”.


‘…you’ll have signs in restaurants saying “Water by request only.”’
Climate predictions don’t come more terrifying than that. Please won’t anybody think of the children.