Freeman Dyson's Inconvenient Climate Change Position

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on April 13, 2009

My latest article for The New Ledger centers around the New York Times’s recent profile of physicist Freeman Dyson and his stance on global warming and climate change. An excerpt:

Given his brilliance and his politics, Freeman Dyson makes for what Al Gore might have called a very inconvenient opponent of the movement against climate change. He acknowledges that his arguments may be wrong, but he believes strongly that he is right. He also brings a good point to the table; whatever one’s opinions concerning climate change, the fact is that any effort to curtail it will result in less money, manpower, and resources being available to fight poverty, and disease, and that many of the proposed solutions for climate change would result in reduced standards of living that may result in the loss of life in the developing world.

Dyson differs from many of his intellectual opponents because of his faith in humanity and his respect for human progress. As John Tierney puts it, “While so many other scientists and intellectuals fret about humans ruining the planet — and some even revel in fantasies about a world free of our pernicious presence — Mr. Dyson has long had faith in humans’ ability to deal with problems like nuclear weapons and global warming.”

Dyson’s appreciation for human ingenuity sets him apart, and whatever one’s opinions concerning global warming, Dyson has much to teach the scientific community and much of the punditocracy concerning the ability of human beings to be viewed as part of the solution to a particular problem, rather than as part of the problem.

As I argue in my piece, Dyson’s example ought to inject some humility and some appreciation for costs and benefits in the debate about climate change. I also put forth a proposal I signed onto two years ago, one that hopefully takes into account the best arguments from both sides of the climate change debate. Read it all.

  • dobermanmacleod

    The physics of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is not rocket science. Just look at the unusual warming occuring around the world, and high greenhouse gas level effects. Yeah, hoorah for Mr Dyson being such an “inconvenient opponent.” Too bad such a high profile scientist didn’t help convince the public that smoking tobacco doesn’t cause cancer, then regulation would have been delayed even longer.

    “We now have evidence from the Earth’s history that a similar event happened fifty-five million years ago when a geological accident released into the air more than a terraton of gaseous carbon compounds. As a consequence the temperature in the arctic and temperate regions rose eight degree Celsius and in tropical regions about five degrees, and it took over one hundred thousand years before normality was restored. We have already put more than half this quantity of carbon gas into the air and now the Earth is weakened by the loss of land we took to feed and house ourselves. In addition, the sun is now warmer, and as a consequence the Earth is now returning to the hot state it was in before, millions of years ago, and as it warms, most living things will die.” (The Revenge of Gaia)

    This is an IQ test for humanity, and if we fail it, then most of us will die.

  • Pejman Yousefzadeh

    Thanks for the strawman of comparing this to the debate over tobacco use. You’ll notice that I didn’t adopt Dyson’s views on warming, though I certainly hope that he is right. I adopted, rather, his very well-taken argument that costs and benefits ought to fit into our analysis–a statement so obvious as to be axiomatic.

    Relating to my position and on a front more serious than your inapt tobacco analogy, if you read my article carefully, you would find that I am advocating a carbon tax out of an abundant sense of caution. Given your certainty regarding the warming debate, I trust you will have no problem whatsoever in signing on to this proposal; with the caveat that if warming is less than climate change alarmists believe it is, we can have ourselves a very low tax.

  • robspe

    “The physics of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is not rocket science”
    No, it’s not. Rocket science is testable. When has the “greenhouse effect” ever been proven by large-scale experiment? Even greenhouses aren’t warmed because of absorption of light and reflection of infrared that is blocked by glass. Greenhouses are warmed because the air in them is prevented from circulated. They would get warmer no matter what the composition of the glass. The atmosphere circulates and mixes constantly. So I repeat: what experiment has ever proven that an increased concentration of any gas in the atmosphere, especially at the amount of such a minor constituent as CO2, works to raise the temperature of a planetary body?

  • rayman

    If I had a nickel for every time I heard “XXX is not rocket science”…*sigh*

    Need to know the difference between amateurs and professionals? Amateurs can think of only one cause/solution to a problem. Professionals in the field can pop off hundreds of both without blinking an eye.

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