Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Very Interesting Article

This is on the cover of the NYTimes online today. Smart guy - not convinced.

31 comments:

Allen said...

Great article on an guy with an interesting perspective. And equally interesting that it is by the NY Times...

I think one of the better lessons of this article isn't relevant to the science of climate change. I think it brings up the important fact that climate change study and its supporters have been labeled as an evolution from science to ideology. And based on Jim Hansen's apparently disrespectful response and disregard to Freeman Dyson's opinions, the reader should be able to see how this exists. Climate change activists must be careful to not ostracize skeptics. That is surely not the way to motivate change.

On a side note, I do agree with Dyson that the climate models can't be too heavily relied upon, but I also agree with Hansen that there's a lot more to it than the models themselves. The hockey stick curve is the perfect example. Because of the frightful predictions from that model, the argument ended up over the legitimacy of proxie dating such as ice cores. Indeed models can't possibly be perfect, but that proxie dating is the best science out there, really, and they are the basis of those models...

Katherine Fenwick said...

I found this article really interesting because it’s a totally different way to look at climate change. While his idea of carbon-eating trees sounds extremely far-fetched and ridiculous, the fact is we are far from understanding our world and how it works, so who knows what’s possible in the distant future. This guy is obviously an unconventional thinker, and he’s simply putting another idea out there.

While I would not agree with his idea that climate change is not a pressing issue that needs attention, I do think it’s important to remember that no one really knows what the true model of climate change looks like. I believe international policy needs to be implemented to begin dealing with climate change, but I think we need to leave a little wiggle room in our expectations of how our world will adapt to change, because it just may surprise us. That being said, I absolutely love the pictures of this guy.

Hunter Serenbetz said...

Freeman Dyson’s main argument seems to be that global warming does not deserve the attention it receives.

Dyson, over the past four years has publicly denounced the issue as irrelevant and he charges both Al Gore and James Hansen with the crime of, “distracting public attention [from] more serious and more immediate dangers to the planet.” Dyson does not deny that global temperatures have risen, but rather states that the scientific models used to predict future outcomes of global warming are just that—models. He reminds us that there are, “enormous gaps in our knowledge [of global warming],” and that, “the sparseness of our observations and the superficiality of our theories,” is distracting people from the current truths.

With all this being said however, a man approaching 90 years of age is more likely to disregard the future social costs associated with global warming, of which we will all have to bear some portion in our lifetimes. It is crazy to think that Dyson continues to “believe that the truths of science are so profoundly concealed that the only thing we can really be sure of is that much of what we expect to happen won’t come to pass.” These models are our best prediction of what the future holds in store and Dyson tells us to disregard them as imperfect science! Its sort of an absurd perspective at this point, but who are we to tell him he’s wrong?

Michelle Clark said...

This is a very interesting article and a great reminder that the future really is unknown. It cannot be predicted what feedback cycles will do, and how the different feedback cycles will interact. Dyson points out that while global warming might bring significant change to life, as we know it, the change might not be bad for the planet as a whole. I can’t help think about how Chapter 13 in our textbook talks about how in tropical forests and areas, there is great wildlife diversity. Global warming may negatively affect some species in the short-run, but would it increase biodiversity in the long run? And if so, would that lead to many more medical advances, since about 25% of new medicines originate in a tropical forest life form?

Dyson’s point is true that in the past, humans freak out and over stress and prepare for potential disaster, such as Y2K. My father likes to send me articles from the 70’s over the global cooling scare to put things into prospective (http://denisdutton.com/newsweek_coolingworld.pdf). Dyson points out that in history, humans tend to over stress and prepare for the worst. As the article said, Y2K is a prime example of this. However, it does not hurt to prepare for the worst, and the detrimental health effects of carbon emissions, such as bronchial disease and heart disease, are enough of a problem to want to create a solution.

Will Moore said...

I actually disagree with Hunter. After reading the necessary (or unnecessary) background information on Dyson, I have to conclude that his main argument has a more underlying motive than to draw attention away from the environmentalist movement.

As a scientist, Dyson concerns himself primarily with the pursuit of knowledge based on evidence, which comes from data. Drawing from context, I am led to believe that he publicly disagrees with global warming fears not because they are conclusively false, but because the current political and social discussions are unfounded. His opposition can simply be viewed as an attempt to realign the debate on global warming as a scientific pursuit rather than simply a dividing political line. By opposing the current academic consensus on global warming, he forces scholars to substantiate their claims with indisputable hard evidence. Without this evidence, he argues that conversation on global warming may not be warranted at all.

I may be delving too deeply into Dyson's motivation. Given the context of his life, however, I feel comfortable expanding upon the quotes in the article in this manner.

David Sternlicht said...

Will is right in the sense that this guy is (was?) evidently a brilliant scientist. And I am not a scientist. But I have a few issues with this article...

Carbon-eating trees: I know genetic engineering has come a long way, but it will not solve this problem. Carbon is linked to global warming, which is linked to higher sea levels. If the high temperatures don't kill the trees, then they will drown. Unless these trees can do a lot of fast carbon inhaling, I'm a carbon-eating tree skeptic.

PHYSICIST: we just talked today about how a lot of these climate skeptics have bachelors degrees in any form of science, often not relevant to climate issues. Now, Dyson is not one of these random college graduates; he worked with Einstein, Bohr, Oppenheimer-- he was a great mind surrounded by great minds. And I might trust him over Dan Schrag in a debate quantum theory debate, but not in a debate over geochemical and atmospheric issues.

While I may not agree with Dyson, this article makes him a likeable guy. He is an optimist, who hopes technology can overcome any obstacles nature may throw at us. This being said, I don't think he is a realist. Based on what we've learned this term, we do not have time to wait on these technologies to save the world. And once they arrive, there will be the whole funding issue we're facing right now. If reducing GHGs were cheap, then Dyson would be right: global warming would not be a problem.

Dyson does, however, raise some thought-provoking points. For example, he says that models are often over-stated, and much of the evolution on earth occurred during a warmer period in a more carbon-heavy atmosphere. Because he is infinitely smarter than I am, I respect his opinions, but I respectfully disagree. I enjoyed the article though. It is always interesting to see the other side of the debate.

Anonymous said...

There was never a global cooling scare. This is just another one of the tactics used by those who want to create the illusion that there is a huge debate going on. Global cooling received some press coverage, but it did not have nearly the agreement on the scientific side.

Adrianna said...

While I do not agree with Dyson's over all ideology concerning climate change, I do admire that he doesn't allow his political views to automatically shape his standing on climate change, and what he "should" believe. But in the end, I think we all agree that he is denying the reality of global climate change.

I do think this article however reinforces how much we are still discovering about climate change, and how much more research needs to be done in order to figure out what level of emissions is optimal for society. The idea that Dyson keeps ringing on that carbon is good because obviously plants need carbon is legit to some extent. But how much carbon is too much? and does it reach a level where it is more detrimental than helpful for plants and ecosystems?

I think Dyson's questions and skepticism of climate change is actually a great thing because it forces the community concerned with the changing environment to really push forward in research, and to answer some of these questions he has posed.

While I do believe that adopting carbon policy and other environmental legislation is important, I think Dyson shows us that we still have much research to do and that perhaps there are more pressing issues at the time. Yes, it is important that we sustain the environment for future generations, but there are problems that are occurring presently that most definitely cannot be ignored. It is important to still bring up climate policy and propose it, but we have to admit that there is still a lot of uncertainty in this realm of climate change that we face, and Dyson symbolizes just that.

Coleman Nalley said...

I really enjoyed this article. Dyson had an interesting life, and I really like the stories of how his wife disagrees with him about his ideas of climate change.

What I found to be the point to the (very) long article was that people are paying too much attention, freaking out too much, etc. about climate change. According to Dyson, the effects are not as negative as everyone makes it out to be, CO2 is even an important asset to trees, etc. Also, places that are experiencing global warming like Greenland really enjoy it because they can grow their own cabbage.

Do I agree with Dyson? Yes and no. I do agree that people are relying way too much on the models. As we have said in class, models are just models, not reality. These experts are coming up with these predictions, model them, and just hold them to fact. However, I do believe that climate change is a bigger issue than Dyson believes it is. Sure, some people may enjoy that their climate is a little warmer by a few degrees, but what about their future generations that have to live with even higher temperatures or due to the melting of glaciers, polar ice caps, etc. people actually lose coastlines, cities, ecosystems, etc. I definitely think that climate change is a pressing issue that needs to be addressed now. Sorry Dyson, you may be a genius, but I'm not buying it.

Brittany said...

I really hope that this 90 year-old genius is right, that “all the fuss about global warming is grossly exaggerated” and that he’s not just suffering from a lifetime of solving world’s problems. I would honestly love to believe that Schragg and other leading scientists have spent their entire careers harping on one of the world’s supposed biggest issues…. For nothing. Despite wishful thinking, I believe Dyson is confused to say the least.
Dyson appears to be focused on the notion that no one has all the right information. Graphs and estimates may in fact be inaccurate, but they are representations of the current information available, rather than an attempt to mislead the public. And while hindsight is 20/20, it is currently more important to focus on the available information, while acknowledging that we don’t know all the answers. I think it’s scarier that what current scientists like Schragg are suggesting, are the implications if we do nothing, cause we haven’t gathered every piece evidence. A scary reality, it that this experiment we call “earth”, is kind of a one shot deal.
Dyson also made comments that alluded to the notion that those in poverty have no reason to be concerned with environmental issues. In light of recent class discussions, I believe that this is not a fair assessment. In class, we’ve examined how intertwining nature of social and environmental issues. You can both a social and environmental advocate at the same time.

Alexandra Caritis said...

Dyson, unlike others who refuse to accept the implications of climate change, cites what he considers to be scientific evidence to back up his claim. While I question Dyson's assertion that "climate change just is not that bad," I do applaud his attempt to look to evidence, the validity of that evidence, though, is another story. While Dyson points to the impact of CO2 emissions on the growth of carbon-fed trees, he fails to consider entirely the negative externalities that are undoubtably a result of soaring CO2 levels.

Robert said...

It’s clear that Dyson is an unconventional scientist who does not shy away from controversy. He enjoys stirring debate, and he obviously has achieved this with respect to climate change. I cannot disagree with his argument that the dangers of climate change are not fully substantiated. Collecting the proper data and developing an accurate model of an issue so global and so interwoven between different environmental systems is a nearly impossible task, and many people are too quick to accept the claims of scientists like Hensen. I also cannot disagree with another argument of his, that climate change is now a political tool. The issue is highly politicized, and in the U.S. among other places, is firmly drawn along party lines.

Yet, I disagree strongly with his argument about cost. Like many others who dismiss the dangers of climate change, Dyson claims that the cost of reducing carbon and other emissions is too high. But he is assuming that people do not value current environmental conditions (or at least not very highly). He also seems to think people would be content with opting for adaption rather than mitigation, pointing to the joy that people in Greenland are meeting rising temperatures with. Has he considered the massive construction and healthcare costs that come with such adaptation? Lastly, he believes that environmental protections will only hurt developing countries. While this is true in the short term, it will lead to innovation and greater efficiency in those countries in the long term. Continuing without any protections is what will lead to unbearable costs. He points to China as an example of a country raising standards of living that would be unable to do so under environmental protections. I would ask, if this growth comes at the cost of deteriorating air quality and increasing incidences of bronchial disorders in children, is it really worth it? And is climate change really harmless?

Mary Petrulis said...

It's interesting to hear the perspective of such an accomplished scientist on this matter. While he probably lacks the necessary degrees and research experience in the field of climate change, his opinion holds value in that he examines the research from a critical, objective perspective. It is crucial that research on climate change is critiqued with a fine-tooth comb because of the magnitude of decisions made from such research. He is also right in that there is certain things that we may never know. Rumsfeld’s unknown unknowns.
That being said, people in the scientific community, particularly those reviewing the journals in which such research is published understand the importance of this and scrutinize the papers that they are given. I certainly feel secure that the articles in Science and Nature contain information that has been reviewed time and again. I would hardly call such information propaganda. Even if the research isn’t as solid as we would like to believe, I don’t think it’s a very good idea to keep emitting and see what happens.

Thais Mattos said...

In my opinion, the future technology is so uncertain as the behavior of climate change in the future. It is obvious that there will be technological advances, but we don't know exactly which things will be possible to do in the future. We can't postpone measures to mitigate climate change just hoping that in the future, the technology will be able to revert it. The more time to take these actions, more expensive will be to mitigate these effects.

Hilary Grosser said...

In reference to Michelle’s earlier post Dyson asserts that humans have a track record of overreacting to certain issues, citing Y2K as one illustration of this behavior. We have talked a lot this semester about humans’ ability to perceive risk and have come to the conclusion that it is crippled in part because of asymmetric information, however, a lot of times information is there and if we disagree with it we tend to disregard it.
I am also a “carbon-eating tree skeptic” as David called it, in that isn’t it true that if we flood the atmosphere with carbon, plants will no longer absorb the carbon, but over time emit it… Contingent upon the validity of the aforementioned process, we would not only lose the trees as one of the mechanisms to contain carbon, but would inherently perpetuate the problem as they begin to emit more carbon into the atmosphere.
I find it particularly interesting that an established, ancient, scientist fails to address this issue. I also think that he is an outlier in that in my education on global warming thus far, scientist almost always seem to assert that CO2 levels are actually rising faster than we think, doing more damage than we project for the future, and will be detrimental to the state of the global environment through destruction of habitat, rise in temperatures, and the destruction of ecosystems, among an entire category of potential “unknown unknowns” as Professor Casey referred to them in class.

Ben Hoagland said...

Call me crazy, but I think this guy actually has a lot of really good points...

Is his idea of carbon eating trees really that outlandish? Why? We make strawberries twice the size of natural ones, seedless watermelons, animals with clear skin, fruits and vegetables that defend themselves against disease, need less water, and all kinds of other unholy creations.

He has a great point that we never know what science will be able to achieve. One of my favorite things is a picture from a magazine in the late 50's that has a bunch of computer scientists in a room that a computer takes up the entire screen and has this like 20" tube screen. The caption reads "This is what scientists believe a home computer may look like in the future, maybe as soon as the turn of the next century. However, they acknowledge that the technology necessary for this achievement has not been created yet." If someone showed one of these scientists a circa 2000 laptop, they probably would have had a stroke.

Thirdly, this guy is dead on about the politicizing and doomsday approach to global warming. "Al Gore’s just an opportunist." That's a fact. Interesting note, An Inconvenient Truth is banned from being shown in schools in the UK because it has been proven to contain things that are just plain false and cannot be considered educational.

The last point that I really want to agree with this guy on is computer models. Anyone that says that computer models for climate change are accurate is a liar. I'm not a nobel-prize winning scientist, but I am a realist. Here's my argument

1-A storm has a lot less factors, variables, and unknowns involved in it than global warming.
2-More accurate data and data over a (comparatively) longer time has been gathered to determine weather patterns.
3- The best meteorologists in the world cannot accurately tell me whether or not it will rain in two days, working with computer models that are fed more data and more accurate data for a model that has less variables and unknowns.

I think this guy's point that people buy too much into model's is spot on.

Now, to take things in a completely different direction... what does this mean I think about the environment? Protect it.

Just because Dyson and I share these views doesn't mean we shouldn't protect wetlands or old growth forests or waterways. it certainly doesn't mean that we shouldn't prevent emissions that are causing smog and health disorders.It means that we should find ways to be more efficient and eco-friendly. It means science SHOULD work on trees that eat up CO2 or maybe growing algae to do the same thing or sending CO2 to the bottom of the ocean. It also means that we should stop politicizing and dramatizing the environment (on both sides). Doing so only discredits both sides and makes less progress in the end. We need to foster a environment that has open and free debate.

Wil Lewis said...

I would have to agree with Hunter's point about a man who is near 90 not being concerned with future social coasts. However, he does seem to have lots of hope in the future of humanity. The greatest thing about hits article is it shows the benefits of having great minds on two sides of an argument. The tyranny of a majority is a very real thing, and we cannot let that happen with the issue of climate change. People today seem to just accept what they are being told about climate change, even when the information is not correct. I am glad we have both Dysons and Gores to prevent one another from leading us down the wrong path. While I do not agree with Dyson, I am happy that people like him are examining the issue

Stephanie Hardiman said...

So I guess this isn't the vacuum cleaner Dyson...

Well, there's still people that believe the Holocaust never happened, that we never landed on the moon, and that 9/11 was an elaborate plot staged by George Bush (yeah, like THAT guy could've pulled it off--ha).

There's always people that are going to be skeptics. He has some valid points--there's a lot we don't know yet.

I don't know about you, Mr. Dyson, but I'd rather hedge my bets and cut my carbon footprint. I'll probably (God willing) be around a lot longer than you will.

The writer of this article says "Science is not a matter of opinion; it is a question of data." Unfortunately I think this has become an opinionated and ideaological issue where people choose not to believe in global warming just because Al Gore has put himself out there as a spokesperson. Bad move, Al. People don't like you and now think that global warming is a hoax.

Our friends at FOXNews report that the Weather Channel founder is calling global warming "the biggest scam in history"--but mainly I think he hates Gore.
(http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/01/29/weather-channel-founder-blasts-gore-global-warming-campaign/)

Everything becomes politicized. And then nothign gets solved...

Garrott McClintock said...

I'm not crazy and I think this guy has a lot of bad points.

Carbon eating trees? Dumb. First, things like strawberries, cows, vegetables, and other food that we have genetically engineered have failed to really work. They usually contain more water weight if they are bigger and frequently have the same if not less nutrition than the foods which have not been genetically engineered. (I'm not talking about breeding a trait, because over time that has been proven to work, but genetic tampering generally stinks.) Second, I do not want another problem with alien invasive species being introduced anywhere. "Good ideas" like kudzu introduction to keep rocks on the side of mountains have clearly failed as the plant makes its way all over the country taking over and suffocating other plants in its way. "Killer bees" that unfortunately mixed the bads of both types of bees (better honey comes from more aggressive bees and poorer stuff comes from the more mild ones), have proven that frequently we do not understand the science with which we tamper. There are countless other examples of humans trying to play with a system that has taken millions of years to develop and screwing it up.
As far as being skeptical about the information we obtain, I totally agree we should be. Science is never final, it should always be questioned, further proved, or disproved, but we must act on the information we have at hand. As mentioned before if we were to have not acted on the information of Y2K, we may have had problems with our computers, but systems were set up to protect them and we had no problems. The machines we have to predict storms are inaccurate sometimes, but usually they are correct. Why should I not put faith in those same machines again? The global warming model is much more complex and difficult to prove beyond a doubt, but it is agreed upon by most scientists, and worthy of action. Even if carbon is not warming our globe, why shouldn't we try to reduce it and produce technology that will decrease the output of carbon? These technologies will make us more productive in the end and create a better economy for us.
As far as blowing the problem out of proportion, we have to do this to gain the attention of anyone in the country. Moderates are the ones who get things done, but extremists are the ones who rally the support. Hopefully, we have moderates at the top and extremists in the middle and bottom. This way we can gain the support of the general public and act in a way that doesn't swing the pendulum too far.

Ben Goetsch said...

It is astounding to me that there has been such an unwillingness to at least accept Freeman's statements as a legitimate argument. Whether his conclusions turn out to be correct or not, the position of "experts" who hear the statements of such a renowned scientists and dismiss them as crazy are, in a way, taking the meaning out of their own arguments. When someone like Freeman provides input into the discussion that is supported by theory and ideas and not just pulled out of thin air, that input should be dealt with as a real possibility. For this reason, the conversation about global warming has a tendency to change from one based in academics and science to one based on opinion, in which contrary arguments, like Freeman's, are immediately thrown out the window simply because they disagree.

Estefania McPhaul said...

Very interesting article. I actually have talked to some people outside of class who have brought up a similar argument and have been skeptical about the whole climate change problem. Still, I find myself very frustrated especially when reading the following phrases: "the only thing we can really be sure of is that much of what we expect to happen won’t come to pass." and that "The climate-studies people who work with models always tend to overestimate their models". While I do agree that we must be true scientists and probe and scrutinize our assumptions, I fear that the global climate issue is so pressing that being even mildly skeptical might divert us from the necessary policies to mitigate future climate changes. Furthermore, since there is inertia in the system, continuing our business as usual path might be incredibly detrimental for future generations. In all honesty, it might not happen, maybe Dyson is right, but with this issue I truly rather be safe than sorry. The potential future costs far outweigh the costs of mitigation and adaptation today. Plus, although things might not be as drastic as palm trees in Wyoming in 30 years, here is substantial evidence to suggest that climate change is happening. The reason has been attributed, mainly, to increasing carbon levels which we can reduce and potentially salvage our planet. Isn't trying at least worth it? Even if the consequences are overestimated the results of environmental protection won’t hurt us, it will be a win win situation.

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