Visonary physicist Freeman Dyson most certainly cannot be labelled a “global warming denialist” yet in this review of two new books he is expressing the growing reservation of clear thinkers that for some environmentalists, the gospel of catastrophic climate change is leading them to dismiss intelligent debate and allocate resources in very ineffective ways:
Unfortunately, some members of the environmental movement have also adopted as an article of faith the belief that global warming is the greatest threat to the ecology of our planet. That is one reason why the arguments about global warming have become bitter and passionate. Much of the public has come to believe that anyone who is skeptical about the dangers of global warming is an enemy of the environment. The skeptics now have the difficult task of convincing the public that the opposite is true. Many of the skeptics are passionate environmentalists. They are horrified to see the obsession with global warming distracting public attention from what they see as more serious and more immediate dangers to the planet, including problems of nuclear weaponry, environmental degradation, and social injustice. Whether they turn out to be right or wrong, their arguments on these issues deserve to be heard.
The lack of insight that Dyson notes in the article is expressed well by the sloppy response to Dyson over at RealClimate.org, which betrays the naivete many physical scientists bring to the table in terms of a quality grasp of economics and social policy. The key issue with Climate Change is not that it’s happening or that humans play a significant role – the key issue is what we should do about this and how we should carry on the debate.
I wrote over at RealClimate.org:
The comments here about discounting strike me as very naive and begging the key question of what we should do. DICE models aside, the basic issues are how much do we spend (or how much wealth do we forego) on mitigation, when do we spend it, and on what? We will address these questions whether we do it haphazardly as suggested here, or more analytically as suggested by Dyson and others. Dyson and most mainstream economists reasonably suggest that we should spend modestly on mitigating CO2 in favor of using those resources to mitigate current catastrophic conditions and saving them to use on more effective mitigation measures of the future.
<i>So, we are a lot richer now than when the last Moa was eaten. Can we use that wealth to bring back the Moa?</i>
No, we cannot, but what if we use those *extra* riches we would not have today to keep 10 species from extinction? Without looking at both sides of these equations we lose our ability for reasoned analyses.
I’d be interested in hearing where people here would draw the line in spending to mitigate warming? The number *must* be between 0% and 100% of global GDP.