Credible Climate Skeptics

An article entitled “The Danger of Cosmic Genius” appearing in the December 2010 edition of The Atlantic, authored by Kenneth Brower, refers to the brilliant physicist Freeman Dyson, and his “dangerous” skepticism regarding climate change. As Brower puts it, “Among intelligent nonexperts who have weighed in on climate change, Freeman Dyson has become, now that Michael Crichton is dead, perhaps our most prominent global-warming skeptic.”

In an article that exceeds 6,000 words, Brower repeatedly launches scathing attacks on Dyson’s credibility, stating at one point “how could someone as smart as Freeman Dyson be so dumb,” or “many of Dyson’s facts on global warming are wrong… but more disconcerting is the selective way he gathers his information or the peculiar conceptual framework into which he inserts it,” or “how is it possible to misapprehend so profoundly how the real world works,” or “he is emotionally incapable of seeing the true colors of the rampant ingenuity of our species…”

Not content with merely attributing the dangerously delusional nature of Freeman Dyson’s climate skepticism to the apparent failings of his personal emotional and intellectual architecture, Brower then applies what quite likely is a template used to discredit any climate skeptic – especially since some of them, such as Dyson, are too widely respected to be simply demonized. Brower shares these theories, suggesting Dyson may be a “contrarian,” since “physicists, astronomers, scholars of every stripe, have always been charmed by the counterintuitive – and why not, as it so often turns out to be right.” Brower then ventures another theory, “he doesn’t really mean it,” suggesting “it is not always apparent when he is inhabiting some Dali-esque experimental landscape between his ears and when he has touched down on Earth.” Making sure he doesn’t miss anything, Brower continues with an “educated fool” theory, noting that even the brilliant Albert Einstein couldn’t make change, and explaining that “it seems only right that some leveling principle should deprive the geniuses among us of common sense, street smarts, mother wit. It is tempting to try to explaining Dyson this way.” Brower concludes his theories by considering, than dismissing, the possibility that the 86 year old Dyson is becoming senile.

Kenneth Brower is the son of David Brower, a man who actually cared about the environment, instead of our current generation of environmentalists, who have become tools of corporate monopolies bent on controlling global energy output by encouraging us to believe the earth is about to poison itself with CO2. Some of the original Brower comes through when Kenneth Brower admonishes Dyson for his optimism regarding our species, reminding us, among other things, that “many of the large cities of Africa, South America, and Asia are megalopolises of desperate poverty ringed by garbage. Vast tracts of tropical rainforest… disappear annually, burned or logged or mined. Illegal logging is also ravaging the slow-growing boreal forests of Siberia… African wildlife is in precipitous decline…” If only today’s environmentalists would return their focus to these obvious challenges. Instead Brower observes, correctly, that Dyson has compared alarm over climate change to a religion, and turns that around, claiming it is Dyson who is abandoning reason for faith, a faith whose “tenets go something like this: things are not really so bad on this planet. Man is capable of remaking the biosphere in a coherent and satisfactory way. Technology will save us.” As Brower sums it up, “Environmentalism worships the wisdom of nature. Dysonism worships the indomitable ingenuity of Man.” But Brower contradicts himself.

Throughout Brower’s article he provides – in between the slurs and the theories regarding Dyson’s climate heresy – abundant evidence that Freeman Dyson is one of the most capable scientists alive. It is abundantly clear to anyone reading this article – or independently familiar with Freeman Dyson and his body of work – that he is an intensely rational individual, whose conclusions are governed by logic, whose articles of faith are the product of his reason. Listen to these accolades:

“Freeman Dyson is one of those force-of-nature intellects whose brilliance can be fully grasped by only a tiny subset of humanity, that handful of thinkers capable of following his equations. His principal contribution has been to the theory of quantum electrodynamics, but he has done stellar work, too, in pure mathematics, particle physics, statistical mechanics, and matter in the solid state. He writes with a grace and clarity that is rare, even freakish, in a scientist…”

Another prominent climate skeptic, Richard Lindzen of MIT, has argued that climate science is a multi-disciplinary field where it is very unusual, if not impossible, for any single individual to acquire sufficient technical expertise in the diversity of fields necessary to intuitively apprehend what may be actually driving global climate trends. Lindzen claims that many scientists who feel peer pressure to embrace the theory of anthropogenic CO2 driving potentially catastrophic climate change preserve their integrity by limiting their contrarian observations and theories to their own narrow areas of expertise. The glaciologist will deny that glaciers are shrinking worldwide. The atmospheric scientist will point out that the troposphere is not exhibiting temperature trends that reflect what the computer models indicate they should. The oceanographer reminds us that the Pacific Decadal Oscillation will not drive the Arctic to begin to show significant cooling again until 2018. The paleontologist points out we are still emerging from the mini ice age. But none of them challenge the conventional wisdom. This fact – that most scientists are unwilling to risk being politically incorrect with respect to the big picture – nullifies Brower’s point that “he [Dyson] is such a scientific minority on climate change that his views are easy to dismiss.”

And if global climate theories are indeed best ventured by scientists with diverse qualifications, qualifications so diverse, in fact, that it is impossible for one individual can acquire them all, it is disingenuous to suggest Dyson is unqualified to have an opinion on global warming. Does this sound like someone who is not allowed to have a credible opinion on climate change? “Freeman’s gift…it’s cosmic. He is able to see more interconnections between more things than almost anybody. He sees the interrelationships, whether it’s in some microscopic physical process or in a big complicated machine… He has been, from the time he was in his teens, capable of understanding essentially anything that he’s interested in. He’s the most intelligent person I know.”

Brower is not sparing in his discussions of just how powerful and multi-faceted Dyson’s intellect is, saying “His career demonstrates how a Nobel-caliber mind, in avoiding the typical laureate’s dogged obsession with a single problem, can fertilize many fields, in his case particle physics and astrophysics, the history of science, religion, disarmament theory, literature, and even medicine, as Dyson was a co-inventor of the TRIGA reactor, which produces medical isotopes.” This sounds like just the man to take a good look at the current alleged consensus regarding anthropogenic CO2 and its supposed role in inducing catastrophic climate change. Brower – along with his fellows in the AGW alarmist community – simply didn’t get the answer from Dyson that they wanted to hear.

Michael Crichton, who Brower identified as the internationally recognized “non-expert” climate skeptic who Dyson has now replaced, in one of the last public appearances of his life, had this to say about how politicized and corrupted environmental organizations have become, stating “what more and more groups are doing is putting out lies, pure and simple, falsehoods that they know to be false.” Crichton also understood, like Dyson and Brower, that sometimes faith distorts what properly belongs in the realm of science, and had this warning:

“In the end, science offers us a way out of politics. And if we allow science to become politicized, then we are lost. We will enter the Internet version of the dark ages, an era of shifting fears and wild prejudices, transmitted to people who don’t know any better. That’s not a good future for the human race.”

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