Pro and con views on the global warming debate

A piece of ice the size of a house crashes into the Rype Fiord from Eielson Glacier in east Greenland.

Always-interesting Yale Environment 360 was especially intriguing this week, featuring an opinion piece by Oberlin College professor David Orr. It's titled "Learning to Live With Climate Change Will Not be Enough." Balancing it is a Q&A interview with eminent physicist Freeman Dyson of Princeton University, whom they call "a reluctant global warming skeptic."

Dr. Orr argues that we have two choices on human-induced climate change: adaption and mitigation. He writes:

"The argument for adaptation to the effects of climate change rests on a chain of logic that goes something like this: Climate change is real, but will be slow and moderate enough to permit orderly adaptation to changes that we can foresee and comprehend. Those changes will, in a few decades, plateau around a new, manageable stable state, leaving the gains of the modern world mostly intact – albeit powered by wind, solar, and as-yet-undreamed advanced technologies."

And while he agrees that we should take adaptation actions, such as "developing heat- and drought-tolerant crops for agriculture, changing architectural standards to withstand greater heat and larger storms, and modifying infrastructure to accommodate larger storm events and rising sea levels," he doesn't think they will be enough.

So Orr believes that mitigation will be necessary and suggests giving "priority to limiting the emission of heat trapping-gases as quickly as possible to reduce the eventual severity of climatic disruption." Otherwise, down the road, we're going to have "why didn't we act earlier" regrets, he says.

"Our best course is to reduce the scale and scope of the problem with a sense of wartime urgency. And we better move quickly and smartly, while the moving’s good," he concludes.

The Yale 360 interview with Freeman Dyson was his first after a long profile of him (focusing on his views about global warming) appeared in The New York Times Magazine in March. Afterward, he received plenty of criticism. Not that he hadn't already, in effect, been booed by others in the scientific community. His sin? He criticizes some of the current theories – and supporters – of climate change

In the Times article, he's quoted as saying:

– “The climate-studies people who work with models always tend to overestimate their models. They come to believe models are real and forget they are only models.”

– "Al Gore’s just an opportunist. The person who is really responsible for this overestimate of global warming is Jim Hansen [the head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies]. He consistently exaggerates all the dangers.”

– “Most of the evolution of life occurred on a planet substantially warmer than it is now and substantially richer in carbon dioxide.”

In the Yale 360 interview, however, he says that the article overemphasized the importance he places on the global warming debate. "To me it is a very small part of my life," he insisted. Still, he has strong opinions on the topic – ranging from "the intolerance of criticism" of researchers and advocates of current climate-change theories to condemnation of modeling to project future the climate of the future and its effects:

"You sit in front of a computer screen for 10 years and you start to think of your model as being real. It is also true that the whole livelihood of all these people depends on people being scared. Really, just psychologically, it would be very difficult for them to come out and say, “Don’t worry, there isn’t a problem.” ... I don’t say that they’re dishonest. But I think it’s just a normal human reaction."

That doesn't make Dyson a global warming denier, though:

"No doubt that warming is happening. I don’t think it is correct to say 'global,' but certainly warming is happening. I have been to Greenland a year ago and saw it for myself. ... And glaciers are shrinking and so on. ... I am not saying none of these consequences are happening. I am just questioning whether they are harmful."

Also, he adds, "Anything that looks bad is reported, and anything that looks good is not reported."

That's just a sampling of what each scientist said. If you're interested in climate change, you'll want to read both.

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