Freeman Dyson is on the cover of yesterday’s New York Times Magazine. Inside a baseball writer (a very good baseball writer, but still) gives the man an opportunity to explain why he doesn’t believe climate change is something to worry about.
Others have lamented the attention devoted by the nation’s leading newspaper to the thoughts of someone who has no expertise in the field. I share Chris Mooney’s reservations about the writer’s understanding of the way scientific skepticism is supposed to work. But Dyson cannot be easily dismissed if for no other reason than he has proven himself to be a brilliant mind, one that enjoys widespread respect in the community of science. Fortunately, I’m going to have the chance to see him talk about the subject this week.
Furman University in Greenville, S.C. is giving him the stage Tuesday night as part of the schools’ Charles H. Townes Lecture Series in Faith and Reason. Say what you want about attempts to meld faith with reason, this should be provocative. Say also what you will about the title of his talk — “The Environment: Is It Science, Or Is It Religion?” — I know that upsets me a bit — but I consider the opportunity to sit in worth the carbon emissions that will be generated by the 80-mile round trip.
I’ll be keeping in mind this snippet from a piece Dyson wrote for The Edge:
The humanist ethic accepts an increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as a small price to pay, if world-wide industrial development can alleviate the miseries of the poorer half of humanity. The humanist ethic accepts our responsibility to guide the evolution of the planet.
Those seem like decidely unscientific statements, more apropos of a religious perspective, than a humanist one. I consider myself a humanist, too, but my take on the consequences of the expected increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels is it’s becoming clear the price to be paid by the poorer half of humanity will be anything but small. And that’s why climate change activism isn’t religion; how we evaluate the choices we’re facing changes according to the data, not some immutable predisposition.
But again, I look forward to what Mr. Dyson has to say. And I will report back.