How did Freeman Dyson, the world-renowned physicist and public intellectual, wind up opposing those who care most about global warming? The New York Times has the fascinating story, in an excellent article published last week (which I only just found today – thanks @lelap!). Its a long article, and I haven’t digested it fully yet, but it should be read by everyone concerned about global warming and environmentalism – on every side of the issue.
Dyson brings an interesting mix of a proper theoretician’s skeptical perspective on models (i.e., they are just models, and therefore must be taken with large grains of salt) and a limitless (almost Panglossian) optimism about the future and about human possibilities. It really is a curious, fascinating mix: on the one hand he is skeptical (and rightly so) about our ability to understand and forecast future climate change because our models are incomplete – so doomsayers like Jim Hansen and Al Gore should take the chill pill and calm down a bit (agreed); on the other hand, he also believes we are capable of inventing “carbon-eating” trees that will clean up any excess carbon and improve our lives (say what?)! Where else can one find strong skepticism about one area of science combined with equally strong (but uncritical?) optimism about other areas of science & technology? What an absolutely brilliant concoction of cognitive dissonance!! And what a way to think about our species’ hubris – whether we think we understand enough to predict what will happen on the one hand, or that we can find a technological fix to ride over any problem confronting us, including ones of our own making! This is just the sort of thing I like to subject my students to in Reconciliation Ecology. And it also puts me in mind (once again) of that professional puncturer of human hubris – George Carlin, whose famous rant about Earth Day I just referred to in my previous post about Earth Hour.