Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Helpful Dissent

Freeman Dyson is a well-respected, independent, principled scientific mind.

He's an "Obama-loving, Bush-loathing liberal who has spent his life opposing American wars and fighting for the protection of natural resources."

He has written that “we live on a shrinking and vulnerable planet which our lack of foresight is rapidly turning into a slum.”

But.

He is not afraid of climate change, carbon dioxide, or coal.

He says "that protecting the existing biosphere is not as important as fighting more repugnant evils like war, poverty and unemployment."

He has "tremendous faith in the creative imagination’s ability to invent technologies that would overcome any predicament."

And he "sees coal as the interim kindling of progress," though, "in 'roughly 50 years,' he predicts, solar energy will become cheap and abundant, and 'there are many good reasons for preferring it to coal.'"

He's also 85 years old and an incorrigible breaker of scientific consensus.

Or so says the Nicholas Dawidoff article from this past Sunday's New York Times Magazine.

What it doesn't say, however, and what I want to know, is what the fossil fuel industry and their scientists have to say about Dyson. Do they cite him? How? How does he feel about the way he's represented? And is he skeptical about the reasons for their skepticism?

Dyson's feels to me to be a different strain of climate crisis dissent. It feels refreshingly uncorrupt. Mischievous maybe. Rebellious. A product of the same imagination that expects us to be growing ourselves pet dinosaurs in the not too distant future. But motivated by neither greed nor self-preservation.

And I appreciate that.

I'm not ready to agree with him. I'd much rather err on the side of overestimation of the climate change problem. And I think it's crazy to say it's too soon to make a concerted push for sustainable energy abundance.

But I think it's good to have Dyson's opinions out there. I think they can be, if treated calmly and open-mindedly, points of useful discussion. And I think they provide an enlightening contrast to the opinions of Dyson's vested-interest-funded climate skeptic cousins.

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