By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Shorter Freeman Dyson

He doesn’t deny global warming. He likes global warming. From Nicholas Dawidoff’s profile in the New York Times Magazine:

Dyson agrees with the prevailing view that there are rapidly rising carbon-dioxide levels in the atmosphere caused by human activity. To the planet, he suggests, the rising carbon may well be a MacGuffin, a striking yet ultimately benign occurrence in what Dyson says is still “a relatively cool period in the earth’s history.” The warming, he says, is not global but local, “making cold places warmer rather than making hot places hotter.” Far from expecting any drastic harmful consequences from these increased temperatures, he says the carbon may well be salubrious — a sign that “the climate is actually improving rather than getting worse,” because carbon acts as an ideal fertilizer promoting forest growth and crop yields. “Most of the evolution of life occurred on a planet substantially warmer than it is now,” he contends, “and substantially richer in carbon dioxide.” Dyson calls ocean acidification, which many scientists say is destroying the saltwater food chain, a genuine but probably exaggerated problem. Sea levels, he says, are rising steadily, but why this is and what dangers it might portend “cannot be predicted until we know much more about its causes.”

Given that Dyson accepts the basic science of global warming, how — despite all his brilliance — is his opinion on the effects of warming worth any more than anyone else’s?

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13 Comments

  1. David Rogers

    so dan, do you read the print edition of the Sunday NYT or the Web version?

  2. Dan Kennedy

    David: We do subscribe to the Sunday print edition, and that’s generally what I read — though sometimes I’ll read some of it online Saturday night.

  3. Bill Weye

    I’m reading this right now … if Seinfeld was still on the air, I think there’s inspiration for an episode here … “opposite science guy” … agrees with the excepted science, but all his conclusions are the opposite from most reasonable people.I haven’t got to the end of the article … does Dawidoff work for Vandelay Industries?

  4. lkcape

    No, Dan, his opinion is not more important than yours. But it would seem that, given his profession and his studies, that his credibility in matters scientific may well be.Have you read any of the science underlying HIS opinion or just merely read what the media is pushing?Popular science has a history of being not exactly accurate. Your view may well be more “popular” than “scientific”.

  5. Dan Kennedy

    Ikcape: I’m reading his quotes. It’s a long article. I read every word. I am not a scientist, but from his own words I know that his view of the science differs from the mainstream consensus only in degree, not in kind.I went into the article thinking that Dyson disagrees with the mainstream over the really big things, the biggest being that humans are contributing to global warming. It turns out that he doesn’t disagree at all.In fact, Dyson reminds me of Richard Lindzen of MIT, often cited by as a global-warming denier, but in reality someone who accepts the science but doesn’t think it’s a big deal.

  6. NewsHound

    Regardless of the varied depth of opinions about global warming, unless we are sure that a future generation can fix any harm being contributed by this generation, this generation may be proven at the end of time not to have appropriately earned its Eagle and Gold award.

  7. eoinocarroll

    One important difference between Drs. Lindzen and Dyson is that Lindzen has accepted money from oil companies.

  8. lkcape

    Lets see where this leads us:Electricity… No coal, no nuclear, no natural gas…. Waves? Solar? Not soon.Transportation: No cars, no trucks, no buses, no trains. Molecular transport? (But that may have its own risks.) Oh, and no service stations or mechanics or insurance agents or car companies,dealerships or tire plants etc. etc.Industry: No steel or aluminum or plastics or rubber..so no cars, buses, ships, planes, hoists, containers. No dishwashers, refrigerators, bed springs, TV housings, football pads, basketballs, surfboards, ,car companies or tire plants etc.Agriculture: No fertilizers or non-local water use…so higher food prices, more hunger fewer farms and farmers, water-starved cities, barren planes.A bit extreme, of course, but that is the direction you are heading, NewsHound.This is not to say that carbon dioxide and other gaseous releases aren’t changing the atmosphere, it is more a question of what effect it is really having.Dyson has his opinion based on his research and study; Dan has his based on extracted quotes of Dyson..and others…presented to him in the media.If I were to chose between Dyson’s discussion of, say, Einstein’s theory of relativity and Dan’s dissertation on the same subject, Why should I chose differently on this topic?Having been involved in science-based research, I am aware of how mistaken both scientists and lay people can be.An open and curious mind is important.I asked Dan if he has studied some of the science that underpins Dyson’s comments. His answer was basically, “no”. I doubt if most have done enough serious reading to be truly informed on the subject.Let us base opinion on fact, and reserve for ourselves the right to be wrong wen we cannot.

  9. Dan Kennedy

    Ikcape: If Dyson were not espousing the consensus view, and were putting forth a scientific theory as to why it was wrong, I would consider myself to be completely unqualified to assess it. I would be intrigued as hell. Lord knows I would love it if global-warming science were wrong.But to repeat, Dyson is saying nothing of the kind. Check out the Salon interview, in which you get to see him express more of it in his own words. He agrees with the consensus view. We don’t have to figure out if Dyson or Hansen is correct. Dyson says Hansen is correct, though he thinks he’s exaggerating.This is not about science. If it were, we’d be having a very different debate.BTW … nukes are OK by me, as long as we can figure out a way to operate them safely.

  10. O-FISH-L

    The cure is worse than the disease. Wait until 2014 when incandescent light bulbs are illegal and those mercury laden compact fluorescent light bulbs (the curly ones) are mandatory, supposedly to help fight Gorebal, er global warming. If the “acidic oceans” don’t kill all the fish before 2014, the mercury from these bulbs surely will thereafter. That is unless you believe that everyone will properly dispose of the “enviro-friendly” bulbs in a sealed Mason jar as recommended. Yeah, riiiight!

  11. L.K.

    Hmmmm. A mason jar, eh. And then to a land-fill or incinerator?That’s like putting something in a wrapped package and writing on it: This will open itself 45 years or less. Some solution.No land-fill or incineration? That’s going to be a LOT of mason jars to store somewhere!Just think! Mason jar jams on Route 128 and the Southeast Expressway!Then there is: Where are the jars going to come from? Glass furnaces are on the environmental no-no list (just like steel), and the lids don’t just magically appear.

  12. NewsHound

    Ikcape – I wouldn’t say that is the direction I’m heading. Obviously if we turned the clock back to 1800s technology we’d be suffering with millions more using kerosene to light their homes and those horrible consequences of related illness, and can you imagine 250 horse-drive vehicles on U. S. dirt roads or the thousands of stage coaches arriving in Boston every morning? I just wonder in the Evolution of Man, if the period of 1950 to 2050 will not have been the best on the planet. I’m not really sure there are solutions otherwise, and certainly with increased population we are fortunate to have welcomed so much innovation.

  13. L.K.

    One could easily have said that the period of 1850-1950, or 1750-1850 were the worst from a very close perspective. We might also consider the period 0f 2050-2150 will be worse than the current time block.Innovation has brought a lot of comfort and “progress” to our world. My point remains that the progress comes at a cost. Are you willing to trade your trips on 128 and the SE Expressway for a sea of mason jars?

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