If you are still scratching your head after yesterday's post about Freeman Dyson and the pitfalls of the global warming debate, it might help to actually find out more about what the global warming "cassandras" are, and have been, shouting about. Are they really as far off as Prof. Dyson seems to think? Are the models and projections so completely unreliable as to be useless for setting even broad policies to contain our impacts on our environment? After all, the models do come with error estimates. And even Prof. Dyson agrees that the current observed warming is largely anthropogenic (a crucial point, for those on the right who might seize upon Dyson as another skeptic in their ilk) - he just disagrees about the consequences, and thinks we can invent our way out of the problem with biotechnology (e.g., carbon-eating trees - never mind actual plant physiology!). If the cause is agreed upon, why shouldn't we start addressing that in the first place, especially if we are unsure about outcomes? Whatever happened to the precautionary principle, Prof. Dyson?
As it happens, the National Academy of Sciences is hosting, right now (Mar 30-31), a summit on America's Climate Choices! What's more, as you'll see if you click on that link, they are also webcasting (and archiving) the entire summit for everyone in the world to see. How about that for transparency in science and policy discussions? Here's the complete agenda, so you can pick and choose which session to watch - but it should all be worthwhile for any citizen interested in what policy options are available and how choices may be made.
I've also found a small number of useful publications articulating the global warming argument (i.e., the argument for doing something to arrest/reverse it) made available freely as PDFs in recent months. These documents (all well-considered, sobering pieces, rather different in tone from Al Gore's lecture/documentary) should at least help the naysayers understand where the IPCC/Hansen et al are coming from. These should get you started, if you are unfamiliar with or still skeptical about the case for worrying about global warming:
- The Challenge of Global Warming: this book, following Dr. James Hansen's testimony to the US Senate in 1988, is one of the starting points for the global warming policy debate in the US. island Press made it available as a downloadable pdf to commemorate the 20th anniversary of that testimony last summer. Hansen wrote a chapter for the book, which is available as a separate download if you want to focus on just that individual cassandra.
- What the IPCC Said: in which Island Press made palatable to the general public the IPCC's recent (Dec 2007) synthesis report summarizing their much longer Climate Change 2007 report for policy makers. Both these documents - the IPCC summary for policy makers, and the "plain English" version, are available separately, and in a combined pdf.
- Understanding and Responding to Climate Change: this 2008 edition of a booklet from the National Academies' press, available as a pdf, or in print (order up to 15 free copies for distribution in your bowling club / church group), presents recommendations from the Academies' experts (not all of whom may be 85-year-old geniuses).
These may not be enough to convince the cognitively dissonant genius of Freeman Dyson, but they should do to get the rest of us ordinary folks thinking about what we should, collectively, do about it. If you've got other freely available resources to add to this list, let me know.