Thursday, March 26, 2009

Being a Global Warming Skeptic

From (of all places) the New York Times Magazine:
FOR MORE THAN HALF A CENTURY the eminent physicist Freeman Dyson has quietly resided in Prince­ton, N.J., on the wooded former farmland that is home to his employer, the Institute for Advanced Study, this country’s most rarefied community of scholars. Lately, however, since coming “out of the closet as far as global warming is concerned,” as Dyson sometimes puts it, there has been noise all around him. Chat rooms, Web threads, editors’ letter boxes and Dyson’s own e-mail queue resonate with a thermal current of invective in which Dyson has discovered himself variously described as “a pompous twit,” “a blowhard,” “a cesspool of misinformation,” “an old coot riding into the sunset” and, perhaps inevitably, “a mad scientist.” Dyson had proposed that whatever inflammations the climate was experiencing might be a good thing because carbon dioxide helps plants of all kinds grow. Then he added the caveat that if CO2 levels soared too high, they could be soothed by the mass cultivation of specially bred “carbon-eating trees,” whereupon the University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner looked through the thick grove of honorary degrees Dyson has been awarded — there are 21 from universities like Georgetown, Princeton and Oxford — and suggested that “perhaps trees can also be designed so that they can give directions to lost hikers.” Dyson’s son, George, a technology historian, says his father’s views have cooled friendships, while many others have concluded that time has cost Dyson something else. There is the suspicion that, at age 85, a great scientist of the 20th century is no longer just far out, he is far gone — out of his beautiful mind.

But in the considered opinion of the neurologist Oliver Sacks, Dyson’s friend and fellow English expatriate, this is far from the case. “His mind is still so open and flexible,” Sacks says. Which makes Dyson something far more formidable than just the latest peevish right-wing climate-change denier. Dyson is a scientist whose intelligence is revered by other scientists — William Press, former deputy director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and now a professor of computer science at the University of Texas, calls him “infinitely smart.” Dyson — a mathematics prodigy who came to this country at 23 and right away contributed seminal work to physics by unifying quantum and electrodynamic theory — not only did path-breaking science of his own; he also witnessed the development of modern physics, thinking alongside most of the luminous figures of the age, including Einstein, Richard Feynman, Niels Bohr, Enrico Fermi, Hans Bethe, Edward Teller, J. Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Witten, the “high priest of string theory” whose office at the institute is just across the hall from Dyson’s. Yet instead of hewing to that fundamental field, Dyson chose to pursue broader and more unusual pursuits than most physicists — and has lived a more original life.

IT WAS FOUR YEARS AGO that Dyson began publicly stating his doubts about climate change. Speaking at the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future at Boston University, Dyson announced that “all the fuss about global warming is grossly exaggerated.” Since then he has only heated up his misgivings, declaring in a 2007 interview with that “the fact that the climate is getting warmer doesn’t scare me at all” and writing in an essay for The New York Review of Books, the left-leaning publication that is to gravitas what the Beagle was to Darwin, that climate change has become an “obsession” — the primary article of faith for “a worldwide secular religion” known as environmentalism. Among those he considers true believers, Dyson has been particularly dismissive of Al Gore, whom Dyson calls climate change’s “chief propagandist,” and James Hansen, the head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York and an adviser to Gore’s film, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Dyson accuses them of relying too heavily on computer-generated climate models that foresee a Grand Guignol of imminent world devastation as icecaps melt, oceans rise and storms and plagues sweep the earth, and he blames the pair’s “lousy science” for “distracting public attention” from “more serious and more immediate dangers to the planet.”
The fact that anthropogenic global warming has become a sort of faux religion is important.

It’s no accident that environmentalists tend to be secular -- atheists and agnostics. When one decides that one does not believe in God, the desire for personal righteousness does not go away. It has to be redirected.

In the environmental movement, it has been redirected into a kind of pantheism in which nature is sacred, and any tampering with nature is a kind of blasphemy.

And those who disagree with the orthodoxy are heretics endangering the True Faith, and need to be shut up.

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Anonymous Primerica said...

Very good article, thanks for posting it. Mr. Dyson is an amazing scientist. I wish the world would listen to him and people like him and not those fake important men in lab coats that just make out facts and data to scare people with horrible catastrophe predictions. Like you said, global warming has become something very similar to religion. Lets just blindly believe in what Al Gore tells us and trust his flamboyant speeches and worry that in 50 years the planet will fry because of the warming. It's sad that the media never publishes stories from the skeptics (the real scientists). We need more people like Mr. Dyson.

Take care, Lorne

8:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As the AGW house of cards continues to crumble, more and more scientists will begin to speak out against it, lest they be discredited when Mother Nature demonstrates how puny the manmade CO2 effect really is.


4:18 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Who needs climate experts when we have the Bible?

Note the expression on the face of the woman sitting behind Rep. Shimkus when he refers to Genesis.

I never realized the "Good Book" was considered peer-reviewed literature. ;-)

8:18 AM  

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