Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Let's Trust Science to Fix Climate Change

Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you that I am, generally, a skeptic/pessimist. Generally, I follow clear thinking, factual analyses of complex issues rather than the media talking heads and the fringe groups making the most noise on the marginal right and left.

So, imagine my surprise and excitement when I read Freeman Dyson's uplifting, optimistic view of climate change some years ago. I was reminded of this optimism last evening when I read "BRAVE THINKERS: A Retrospective," an article in the November issue of THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.

Here is what was said verbatim:

Name: Freeman Dyson

Job: Professor Emeritus, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton
Why he’s brave: He’s taking a contrarian view on the Kyoto Protocol.
Quote: “I like to express heretical opinions. They might even happen to be true.”

Dyson, a renowned physicist and pioneer in quantum electrodynamics theory, has lately committed a heresy without equal in modern science: questioning climate change orthodoxy. Dyson doesn’t deny that excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is warming the planet. But he predicts that advances in bio-technology—especially the creation of genetically-engineered carbon-eating plants, which he foresees within two decades—will mitigate the damage with a minimum of economic and social disruption. In the meantime, he argues that large-scale carbon-restricting approaches like the Kyoto Protocol are ineffective and disproportionately hurt developing countries like China and India, where the potential to lift millions of people out of poverty now hinges on access to carbon-spewing industries. Such arguments have won him few friends; he describes the interaction between the majority of scientists holding conventional climate change views and the skeptical minority as a “dialogue of the deaf.” But in Dyson’s case, at least those arguments have evolved from a lifetime of scientific rigor and intellectual honesty.

So, Freeman Dyson, world-renowned physicist and rigorous intellectual contrarian, argues optimistically that carbon-eating plants will come to our rescue in the same way that oil-eating microbes have assisted us in cleaning up oil transport accidents, in the same way that science has assisted farmers in being more productive and less environmentally damaging. Of particular importance, it seems to me, is Dyson's concern that human-created scientific discovery and advancement will solve our greenhouse gas problems in the same way that Jonas Salk defeated polio. This optimistic, American can-do attitude brings with it the promise of enormous environmental benefit with a "minimum of social and economic impact."

Who do you trust more to solve our world's problems? Politicians and bureaucrats, or esteemed scientists like Freeman Dyson and the rigors of scientific inquiry?

Being a common sense person, like most people, I cast my vote for Freeman Dyson and science.