# RealClimate

1. It seems Dyson has come to regard his own gut feelings as reliable sources, and is satisfied to construct an argument from personal incredulity upon them. The hand waving that follows certainly has brought him attention out of all proportion to the effort expended, and perhaps that is all there is to it: he is simply enjoying playing the gadfly to amuse himself. That, to me, seems the simplest and most likely explanation.

Comment by Adam R. — 7 Feb 2011 @ 5:23 PM

2. I know you you say that \it is easy to dismiss\ increasing senility in Dyson’s case, but – without intending any rudeness – I am not so sure. I have read Dyson’s articles in the NYRB for many, many years, and I have noticed there an at first gentle, but rapidly increasing level of fatousness, waffle, mad optimism and genral sure-of-himselfness that I think can honestly be taken in the way you reject. I gently tried to raise the issue with the NYRB editors after his CC essay, but they did not deign my inquiry worth a reply.

[Response: If you look at his December Physics Today article on Chandrasekhar's science, or talk to anybody who knows him at the Institute for Advanced Study, you find pretty quickly that there is absolutely nothing wrong with his mental agility. That's the wrong tree up which to bark. --raypierre]

Comment by Tony — 7 Feb 2011 @ 5:33 PM

3. With respect to perspective: I’ve met, talked and corresponded with Freeman Dyson several times over the years. Remember, Dyson is one of the “grand thinkers”, of nuclear (bomb) powered spaceships to travel to the stars -not just the Moon – of terraforming planets and humans expanding throughout the galaxy. And of the Jasons, who believe every problem can be solved, fixed or dispensed with as an exercise for the student. Freeman Dyson lives and thinks too far into the future; individuals and human time scales are not so important in that context.
The Great Debate: Freeman Dyson has a lot in common with another self-espoused Great Thinker, Tommy Gold, with whom I had much more contact, especially with respect to the deep earth gas hypothesis, cause of the volcanoes on Io and other “interesting” science arguments. It was explained to me that Tommy believed in/used the “old European method” of debating science: The form and style (the game) had more to do with who one the debate than the facts (reality), much like boxing where you can win on points even though you might get knocked out. Whoever won the debate won the science, no matter if the result was real or not. I do not know if this is true or not (the European method of debating science), but it sure fit Tommy to a “t”. I think Freeman is more realistic than Tommy every was, but his head is still stuck in stars. I learned much from both.

Comment by Jon G — 7 Feb 2011 @ 5:40 PM

4. I, too, read Brouwer’s book back in the day, and it made me think pretty deeply about what was really important to me. Dyson always felt pretty sure of himself and his capabilities, if Brouwer is to be believed. I think that may be a key to not only his success, but that of many other highly gifted folks–the ‘audacity of hope’ can quite often be substituted by the ‘audacity of ego,’ and big claims quite often garner big attention. Modest ones, often none at all.

I wonder what George Dyson, the son, thinks about all of this?

[Response: I wonder too! But no son should speak ill of his father if it can be avoided! By the way, I think it is Brower, not Brouwer. --eric]

Comment by Kevin McKinney — 7 Feb 2011 @ 6:15 PM

5. Freeman Dyson has what I call “Belief in the Frictionless Transfer of Expertise”. He is an expert in one area, ergo he is an expert in any other area he chooses.

Comment by Knute Rife — 7 Feb 2011 @ 6:26 PM

6. He is also wrong about rabbits in Britain. The argument as to whether the Romans or the Normans brought rabbits to Britain has been settled in the Romans by carbon dated butchered rabbit bones in a Roman Archaeological excavation in Norfolk. They have been Britain for 2000 years

[Response: His ecological understanding is so ridiculously stupid that nobody would spend five seconds on it.--Jim]

Comment by Nick Rouse — 7 Feb 2011 @ 6:40 PM

7. Right you are, Eric. Should have slowed down a bit. . . “Brower.” My mistake.

Perhaps Leo Brouwer was in the back of my mind!

Comment by Kevin McKinney — 7 Feb 2011 @ 6:44 PM

8. “Study of the Last Glacial Maximum, the Pliocene and the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum all rule out the idea that there is a strongly stabilizing cloud feedback.”

It’s a mystery to me how paleoclimates, whose many conditions are quite poorly known or constrained (eg atmospheric dust, global cover of vegetation, oceanic heat content at different layers, etc.), can help us for reducing uncertainties about climate sensitivity. For example Schneider von Deimling el al (2006) on LGM : 1.2–4.3°C, quite the same range we find in AOGCM for present-day climate. I suppose that lower values imply a form of “stabilizing feedback” (either clouds or antything else) and can’t be ruled out for the moment, even if the probabilistic “best estimate” is higher.

[Response: It's not *so* mysterious. Read our post on this, plus ca change.]

Comment by skept — 7 Feb 2011 @ 7:22 PM

9. Bzzt! “… Remains of rabbits dating back half a million years were found at Boxgrove in West Sussex and Swanscombe in Kent….” http://www.show.me.uk/site/news/STO695.html

Back vaguely on topic, if I thought H. sap. mature enough, I’d be glad to see a few surface-launchable Orion vehicles built, to use to take the world inventory of fission and fusion weapons offsite and put them to decent use collecting asteroids and comets and starting to build a future for us out at the Lagrange points.

But alas.

Comment by Hank Roberts — 7 Feb 2011 @ 7:24 PM

10. But there was a land bridge — wait –

“…. we do have proof rabbits lived here long before the Romans set foot on British soil. Remains of rabbits dating back half a million years were found at Boxgrove in West Sussex and Swanscombe in Kent….”

I’d be in favor of building Dyson’s Orion vehicle and using it long enough to move our fissionables offsite and set up industry at the Lagrange points, if I didn’t remember the last line of Fredric Brown’s short story “The Weapon” — but alas, I can’t forget it.

Comment by Hank Roberts — 7 Feb 2011 @ 7:32 PM

11. How can you produce such entertaining commentary, and the skeptics can’t?

I read Dyson’s heresies, and found them quirky and interesting. But lets face it, the guy is smart. I mean, those vacuum cleaners…

Comment by John Brookes — 7 Feb 2011 @ 8:17 PM

12. There is something I have never understood about the “extreme techno-optimist” view. Why do they seem to think adapting to climate change will be relatively easy compared to developing low GHG energy technology? Nuclear power and high mileage cars are not science fiction. Growing crops without rain is.

Comment by Mike — 7 Feb 2011 @ 8:41 PM

13. As a young theoretical particle physicist also living, for the moment, in Princeton, I’ve been dismayed to find similar attitudes to Dyson’s among several of the more esteemed local theoretical physicists, even those much closer to my age than to his. (And these are people who I would say, based on most evidence, are among the most thoughtful and intelligent I’ve ever met — though certainly not on this issue!) The dismissals range from “climate change is real, but people overstate the problem to get funding” (from scientists who know how grants work: I find this ludicrous!) to “we’ll just put sulfates in the atmosphere, what’s the big deal?” to “it’s a problem, but not as much of a problem as the economic catastrophe that would result from addressing it.”

As someone with a strong (but amateurish) interest in climate science and an equally strong belief that climate change is the most pressing political problem in the world today, I’ve found this pretty dispiriting. The response of the people I’ve argued with seems to be that they think I’m naive and idealistic and will, perhaps, grow out of it. At times I’ve suspected people bring up the issue when I’m around just because they think it’s entertaining to watch me get uncharacteristically heated in response. Maybe Dyson also just likes to provoke people and see how they react.

Comment by anonymous — 7 Feb 2011 @ 8:55 PM

14. Excellent overview. Thank you. Ray Kurzweil is sort of in Dyson’s ilk, ie. superabundant techno-optimism. I can sort of understand the impulse, but absent concrete evidence rather than vague promises, it all seems like desperate escapism.

Comment by Douglas Watts — 7 Feb 2011 @ 9:20 PM

15. Interesting piece. It’s reminding me of Lovelock and his \Revenge of Gaia\. Are both of them victims of the arrogance of age and reputation?

Comment by MalcolmT — 7 Feb 2011 @ 9:23 PM

16. anonymous @13 — Send them off to read “The Discovery of Global Warming” by Spencer Weart:
http://www.aip.org/history/climate/index.html
and then Mark Lynas’s “Six Degrees”:
http://www.marklynas.org/2007/4/23/six-steps-to-hell-summary-of-six-degrees-as-published-in-the-guardian

Comment by David B. Benson — 7 Feb 2011 @ 9:27 PM

17. Review piece you refer to is in the “New York Review of Books”, which is quite different from the “New York Times Book Review” (and better and more interesting).

[Response: Thanks. My mistake -- will correct.--eric]

Comment by Rattus Norvegicus — 7 Feb 2011 @ 9:40 PM

18. I greatly appreciate when scientists (and others) who know a subject speak up for the public interest.

But I am reminded of other scientists whose credibility is challenged when they stray too far from their studied areas. Like Jim Hansen’s uncritical support for biomass as a source of electricity and carbon sequestration (biochar) which cause problems in my public interest advocacy work on energy, forests, and biomass as a policy analyst and lawyer. See, http://www.amrenewables.com/biomass-energy/biomass-experts.php & http://bruceritchie.blogspot.com/2010/12/florida-cabinet-approves-gainesville.html; Hansen, et al., “Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?” 2008 (scholar.google does not tell me where this was published?).

I hope this isn’t a trend.

Comment by Toby Thaler — 7 Feb 2011 @ 10:48 PM

19. Well, surely part of the issue here is that most people tend to forget that the science on its own doesn’t imply any action is necessary about climate change. It’s only when we add in values like equity, or humanitarianism, or our duty to ‘preserve nature’, or a responsibility to future generations and so on that it becomes clear that action is imperative.

Climate science can tell us what is happening and why. The judgment about what we *ought* to do about it depends on what value system we have. Those who care not for human suffering (especially for suffering done by foreigners living elsewhere) tend to have less concern for action on climate change. This applies to neo-liberals because they’re quite happy to accept the suffering of the impoverished masses in return for the wealth of the few. It seems to apply to Dyson because he’s living in a Star Trek fantasy world where the techno-elites can jump in their spaceships and depart on a whim. Or perhaps because he treats the prospect of human suffering as a phenomena to be observed in the context of the grand sweep of history, rather than something to try and prevent.

Given this basis, his alarming ignorance about the science itself is easy to explain – quite simply if you’re convinced that it’s not an interesting problem, then climate science itself as not worth learning properly. If you don’t think climate change will affect you or anything you care about, the some vague, shaky grasp of the physics of radiative transfer suffices for your arm-waving dismissals of the problem.

One other thing to ponder. A good appreciation of climate system dynamics isn’t really possible for someone who is resolutely reductionist. It requires some holistic, systems thinking, which is antithetical to many traditional physicists.

Comment by Steve Easterbrook — 7 Feb 2011 @ 10:50 PM

20. > science on its own doesn’t imply any action is necessary

That’s the weak-misanthropic viewpoint.

Those who believe science is done by civilizations that persist do it in a way that helps assure future generations of scientists will continue doing it.

Comment by Hank Roberts — 7 Feb 2011 @ 11:18 PM

21. “One other thing to ponder. A good appreciation of climate system dynamics isn’t really possible for someone who is resolutely reductionist. It requires some holistic, systems thinking, which is antithetical to many traditional physicists.”

This spite the fact that physics itself may be regarded as a synthesis of gravity/quantum physics?

Comment by jyyh — 7 Feb 2011 @ 11:33 PM

22. #9 Your 500,000ya rabbit in Britain was part of the fauna of the last intergacial which also included lions and hyenas.
The debate is about the date of introduction of the post-pleistocene rabbit, in this period only native to the Mediterranean and introduced into northern Europe by humans.

Comment by calyptorhynchus — 7 Feb 2011 @ 11:57 PM

23. 13: …“we’ll just put sulfates in the atmosphere, what’s the big deal?”

Say two countries and one very wealthy individual decide to secretly add their engineered sulphate aerosols to the atmosphere at the same time we do ours:

Brr?

Comment by JCH — 8 Feb 2011 @ 12:24 AM

24. #23 //”Say two countries and one very wealthy individual decide to secretly add their engineered sulphate aerosols to the atmosphere at the same time we do ours:

Brr?”//

Even worse, suppose we inject all that sulfate and CO2 into the atmosphere at increased rates for 200 years, then decide to stop everything at once.

Comment by Chris Colose — 8 Feb 2011 @ 2:07 AM

25. JCH
Say two countries…Brr?

I still wouldn’t address other problems.
http://www.skepticalscience.com/NCSE.html

Comment by Richard C — 8 Feb 2011 @ 2:11 AM

26. I think a big part of this type of contrarianism is due to “professional deformation” of favoring familiar lines of evidence, while ignoring that from other disciplines. It’s not the whole story of course, as you rightly point out in this article.

http://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com/2008/09/25/professional-deformation/

Comment by Bart Verheggen — 8 Feb 2011 @ 3:47 AM

27. But I saw an interview on bbc news recently where a green activist said there is serious funding being allocated to sulphate releasem

So is that rational and sane?

Comment by jason — 8 Feb 2011 @ 3:47 AM

28. Dyson thinks too far in the future – isn’t that the whole point of climate science? Climate scientists are supposed to be concerned about what is going to happen to the Earth in the far future.

Isn’t it better to think of how we can productively deal with the issue – whether it is by expanding outwards from the Earth (just as humans dealt with increased population and decreasing resources by expandoing outwards form Africa) or by altering the environment ourselves(just as we drasticaly altered our environment by developing agriculture)than to simply tell humans to limit their behaviors.

Human beings didn’t deal with darkness by staying indoors after sunset.

Comment by Joe Earth — 8 Feb 2011 @ 4:10 AM

29. You’ve changed my mind. Al Gore has a better handle on climate science that Freeman Dyson ever will.

Comment by Billy Blofeld — 8 Feb 2011 @ 4:11 AM

30. Tell me more about Kenneth Brower. Was he just an author type? With a degree in English?

I would prefer to hear from psychologists or psychiatrists or geriatricians on Freeman Dyson. I’m not convinced that Kenneth Brower knew anything about FD or the psychology that applies.

No doubt Freeman Dyson’s mind is a century or so in the future. He is not an engineer. Building Orion class starships is a bigger challenge than Freeman Dyson imagines, perhaps because the world is not populated by 200 IQs. As a practical matter, we don’t have the space elevator yet either. We know what we need, but we don’t have the technology to make diamond nanowire or carbon nanotubes that meet the requirements at any price. Freeman Dyson skips all of those details, I think.

We have a \race\ condition between the building of space infrastructure [space elevators and starships] and global warming. We can’t get the space transport problem solved before the bill comes due on GW. And that is ignoring the 7 Billion people who get left behind. It also omits the lack of identification of a suitable destination. Mars is too dead.

Again, I would prefer to hear from psychologists or psychiatrists. Kenneth Brower didn’t know anything about it, as far as I can see. We need to hear from people who really know the true answers on these psychological questions. Doesn’t the University of Chicago have a psychology department? Professor Pierrehumbert; go there please and enlist some psychologists in the cause. To fight denialism and win, we need to start from solid science on the psychology involved.

Comment by Edward Greisch — 8 Feb 2011 @ 4:18 AM

31. My admittedly limited reading of Freeman Dyson does at least cover the essays and some of the interviews you have mentioned, as well as a quite old book in which Freeman Dyson talks about the plant experiments he was involved in, perhaps 40 or so years ago. My strong impression is that he is incredibly sharp but has a profound world view concerning what “freedom” entails. He grew up in the shadow of war and in the thick of the cold war, participating in it intellectually, professionally, and authoritatively. To me, it seems that this has led him to see anthropogenic global warming (AGW) as a means by others to impose a “collective” will upon himself, and upon others without their consent. It isn’t the conspiracy theory exactly; Dyson is in my opinion just hyper-sensitive to what he sees in others as being the old Communism-style of problem solving, and he finds this distasteful, even scary.

Therefore, Dyson’s responses to AGW arguments tend to be a combination of clear-headed thinking and politically driven rhetoric; it is in the rhetoric where Dyson chooses quite deliberately to apply already rebutted points to make his argument sound stronger than it really is. He is also a contrarian-style of thinker (not contrarian in the sense of climate sceptic, but contrarian in the philosophical methods of argument), and that leads to some rather cheeky statements by him.

The one think that I do find strange and inconsistent with his position – or perhaps, my opinion as to his reasons for his behaviour – is the fact that his high-technology geo-engineering “solutions” actually impose his will upon me, and I live thousands of kilometres away from him. What does Dyson think gives him the right to do that to me? To change my living environment profoundly and probably irreversibly, by applying some geo-engineering solution he and his buddies have dreamt up? Isn’t this exactly the same as his concerns about the use of AGW by “greenies” to get a central international body to impose its power upon the USA?

PS: At least Freeman Dyson is interesting, compared with Bob Carter, for instance.

Comment by Donald Oats — 8 Feb 2011 @ 4:58 AM

32. Steve Easterbrook,
The nearest habitable planet is several hundred light years away–light years filled with little but high-energy radiation that would kill you before you left the solarsystem. The only starship that will support life longer than a few weeks is Earth. Better do some maintenance.

Comment by Ray Ladbury — 8 Feb 2011 @ 5:13 AM

33. Forgot to mention: whenever an AGW sceptic dismisses it with a wave to the extreme technology fixes, it’s worth asking whether they’ve heard of the \endlessly abundant energy\ or \limitless energy\ from nuclear fusion, and also how it is \only 10 years away\. Claims such as that occurred quite regularly in the late 70′s and 80′s; don’t hear it much these days though, and for good reason: nuclear fusion physics is really hard and going the whole way from concept to consumer product is enormously difficult and uncertain. Waiting for Godot writ large.

Comment by Donald Oats — 8 Feb 2011 @ 5:15 AM

34. I think Dyson is a wonderful illustration of the fact that what makes science smart is not smart scientists, but rather smart use of the scientific method. Dyson is by all accounts a very smart guy. His contributions to QED were instrumental to turning it into a coherent theory, and he’s made other fundamental contributions.

However, when he is not bound by the scientific method he is just as vulnerable to drawing stupid conclusions as any other human talking out of an alternative orifice. Dyson is absolutely convinced of the bright technological future of mankind–so convinced that he seems to have forgotten the Fermi Paradox. It is a cautionary tale.

Comment by Ray Ladbury — 8 Feb 2011 @ 5:38 AM

35. I wonder if an arrogance concerning other areas of research isn’t a special weakness of theoretical physicists (my own first discipline)? I remember Rutherford’s “Physics in the only real science, the rest are just stamp collecting” being quoted semi-seriously in undergrad lectures. I’m not really close enough to the politics to be sure, but I have the impression that in my own institution the physicists are more insular than the other sciences.

[Response: xkcd agrees... - gavin]

Comment by Kevin C — 8 Feb 2011 @ 6:27 AM

36. When Dyson says,

“We are moving rapidly into the post-Darwinian era, when species other than our own will no longer exist [...]”

he’s saying – rather concisely and elegantly – that we should create hybrids between existing organisms, but avoid any blending of human and non-human genomes.

Brower took Dyson to mean “extinction for everything but us,” which rather degraded the credibility of his article for me. You say “Dyson doesn’t particularly think that the extirpation of all life other than human would be a particularly big deal,” which I think means you’re also misunderstanding Dyson on this one point.

Cheers,
Edwin

[Response: "... species other than our own will no longer exist." seems like a pretty clear statement to me. Extirpation can work many ways, and one of them is to wipe out the fruits of four billion years of natural selection and replace it with continents covered with hybridized gengineered corn and bananas. Dyson is clearly talking (at the very least) about widespread scrambling of the non-human genome, and most of us would consider that a big problem. But agreed that my phrase "extirpation of life" is subject to misinterpretation. The Dyson essay from which Brower got the quote is here. --raypierre]

Comment by Edwin Kite — 8 Feb 2011 @ 7:09 AM

37. Re. 6 Nick Rouse — “The argument as to whether the Romans or the Normans brought rabbits to Britain”

There’s also rabbit and/or hare evidence via the archaeological record of Britain (Roman fibulae, mosaics (I and II), Celtic Castor ware from the 2nd Century), as well as the written record of Marcus Terentius Varro in the 1st C. B.C. who wrote that the rabbit was introduced into Britain by the legions, the dating of which would indicate they were brought here during Julius Caesar’s self-promotional but brief tour here. There may have been an Asterix in Gaul, but there was no Myxomatosis in Britannia.

Comment by J Bowers — 8 Feb 2011 @ 8:23 AM

38. On the arrogance of physicists, I’m surprised no one yet linked to this xkcd cartoon http://xkcd.com/793/

Comment by Danny Yee — 8 Feb 2011 @ 9:00 AM

39. A theoretical physicist friend, while a grad student at MIT, visited my rural home and observed the torn and tattered canvas covering the bottom of my yard-tractor-pulled lawn sweeper. He offered his obvious solution:

“Just cover it with a piece of aluminum foil.”

Comment by Brian Brademeyer — 8 Feb 2011 @ 9:10 AM

40. I am not a climate scientist but I can’t help but know people who are working on climate measurements. I know folks with spouses tromping around on glaciers (I’m jealous!). I know folks who go on ships into the arctic to make measurements (not jealous). I know folks working on the satellite measurement of CO2. I’ve happened across more people working on climate measurements than I can keep clear in my head.

I’ve long admired Dyson even as I disagreed vehemently with his cornucopian dismissal of global warming. I gave up on him when he dismissed climate researchers as \armchair scientists.\ Freeman, would you really have the audacity to look a Lonnie Thompson in the eye and call him an \armchair scientist?\

Comment by John E. Pearson — 8 Feb 2011 @ 9:46 AM

41. I have a suspicious feeling this comment will not be posted. I am wondering if Gavin and the other moderators will comment on the MWP. Was the MWP warmer than 1979-present? Or do you believe that 1979-present has been warmer?

I am asking this question because there seems to be a lot of disagreement between scientists.

[Response: Why wouldn't we post this (other than we've heard (and answered) the questions hundreds of times)? The literature says it is very unlikely that the MWP was *globally* as warms as recent decades, but it certainly may have been warmer is some places.--eric]

[p.s. we're not fooled by old trolls a.k.a. "Dr. Shooshmon, phd." sock-puppetting as new trolls]

Comment by Jay Cadbury — 8 Feb 2011 @ 10:07 AM

42. I had some direct exposure with Dyson back in the early eighties during the nuclear disarmament activities back then. Like you said, Dyson had “an abiding faith in the ability of technology to do anything we want it to.” He was gung-ho for missile defense as the solution for the threat of nuclear war. But he had nothing positive to say on easing cold war tensions or arms control treaties that might reduce the tensions that lead to a nuclear war. While he put his faith in technology, he also frequently (and correctly) dismissed other’s missile defense proposals as inadequate. Only his idea — the “extreme techno-optimist” one (to use your phrase) — was the one that could work.

Comment by Dennis — 8 Feb 2011 @ 10:21 AM

43. “Extirpation can work many ways, and one of them is to wipe out the fruits of four billion years of natural selection and replace it with continents covered with hybridized gengineered corn and bananas.”

Fruits? Has a distinct religious tone to it. In the view of the evolutionist “fruits” are established solely by survivability of the fittest.

Something which you now wish to brand non-fruitful and place curbs upon.

One would think this to be a clear example of how you can take the boy out of religion but you cannot take religion out of the boy.

Also, “Ahe fact that we cannot precisely quantify cloud feedbacks also means that there is a lot of risk, that cloud feedbacks could make a doubled-CO2 world much hotter, not much cooler. Dyson’s writings conveniently ignore this two-directional implication of uncertainty”

Interesting take since you first multiplied feedbacks by 3 by using sacred groves and upside down proxies to eliminate uncertainty, criticized satellite observations to the contrary, and then laid sole claim to the hallowed ground related to two-directional uncertainty. You have more in common with Dyson than you let on except that you have not presented the alternative fruit growing standard you would have us now believe in since normal evolution is no longer appropriate in your view.

[Response: I'll ignore your spouting about religion and distortion of the plain meaning of the word "fruits," and pass directly on to the utter nonsense you get to in the final paragraph. Satellite observations are not "to the contrary" of anything, but essentially confirm the thermometric record; either instrumental record just gives you the short-term transient climate sensitivity at best, and not the ultimate degree of warming once things come into equilibrium. Uncertainties are not "multiplied by three" by looking at sacred groves, etc, but by looking at what clouds can do physically (even if we are uncertain as to what they will actually do). The proxy data do eliminate some extreme forms of climate sensitivity, such as runaway greenhouse, but do not rule out climate sensitivity beyond the top of the IPCC range. The PETM in fact tends to support climate sensitivity at or somewhat above the top. And I have no idea what you mean about "normal evolution." I think normal evolution has done quite well so far, except that it has managed to evolve a species whose technological capabilities have far outstripped the development of a moral compass that would allow that species to use its capabilities wisely. --raypierre]

Comment by Bill Hunter — 8 Feb 2011 @ 10:50 AM

44. There’s a very good book called Ishamel by Daniel Quinn which I was reminded of when I read Brower’s essay. That, along with the sequels Story of B or Beyond Civilization could explain Dyson’s behavior satisfactorily. One quote in that book that stands out is:

//”The mythology of human superiority justifies their doing whatever they please with the world, just the way Hitler’s mythology of Aryan superiority justified his doing whatever he pleased with Europe. But in the end this mythology is not deeply satisfying. The Takers are a profoundly lonely people.”

Part of Quinn’s “Taker mythology” is that acting as if the world was made for man and only for man is a necessary part of an advanced civilization. Quinn would perfectly agree with Brower’s statements:

//”The notion that science will save us is the chimera that allows the present generation to consume all the resources it wants, as if no generations will follow. It is the sedative that allows civilization to march so steadfastly toward environmental catastrophe. It forestalls the real solution, which will be in the hard, nontechnical work of changing human behavior.

What the secular faith of Dysonism offers is, first, a hypertrophied version of the technological fix, and second, the fantasy that, should the fix fail, we have someplace else to go.”//

In Quinn’s world, Dyson has taken being a Taker to an extreme. Anyway, I’d strongly recommend those books to get a better feel for what I’m saying and they are good thought-provoking texts anyway.

Comment by Chris Colose — 8 Feb 2011 @ 11:01 AM

45. This is reminiscent of the “Nobel Disease” that has afflicted numerous grandees of science, from Linus Pauling to now, sadly, Luc Montagnier. For some reason, they go nuts. Maybe there’s something dangerous about having too high an IQ.

Comment by cervantes — 8 Feb 2011 @ 12:03 PM

46. Generally speaking, high intelligence is no guarantee against self-delusion. On the contrary, highly intelligent people have all the intellectual tools they need to convince themselves that what they don’t want to believe is false.

I can’t tell if this applies to Dyson, of course.

Comment by John-Paul — 8 Feb 2011 @ 12:18 PM

47. I think it isn’t as simple as a techno-optomist perspective. He could believe, rather realistically, that adressing climate change will require a significant reduction in global energy consumption, and that this will slow technological development. Perhaps he even thinks that this could stop the development of proper adaptation technology, leaving us to deal with committed global warming unaided by new advances. The notion that a reduction in energy consumption will stiffle progress is, in my opinion, silly, but there may be legitimate arguments to support it.

Just some thoughts. Clearly we can’t truly know his motivations. It just seems plausible to me.

Comment by Greg N. — 8 Feb 2011 @ 12:27 PM

48. I never fail to be amazed by the wide, comical tableau of denial characters. Really, I couldn’t write and sell a book with the characters that exist, and the widely varied and yet somehow unified positions that they take on this one issue.

Any publisher would say it just isn’t believable.

I won’t bother to make the list. Anyone can make it in their head. But it really makes one ponder.

Then, to add to that disbelief… there is an enormous army of denial fans who actually respect and applaud these people! They’re heroes to some!

It often makes me wonder if we’re not confused, if there aren’t two intermingled but separate species of sapient beings on this planet, both of which look identical, even to an extreme similarity in DNA, but which simply have to be different species. There must be some obscure, brief genetic sequence that distinguishes homo sapiens from homo scurra.

Comment by Bob (Sphaerica) — 8 Feb 2011 @ 12:43 PM

49. There is some evidence, if only through correlation, that the high levels of sulphates in the atmosphere in past decades may have effected the drying of the Sahel. Whether or not this is true it means that any such geo-engineering would be subject to litigation from those who thought they would suffer some loss as a result. That threat would be likely to prevent any effective geo-engineering being implemented over a timescale that could make a difference. The only possible exception that, arguably, would have no deleterious effects would be direct removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere; so far as I am aware there is no serious proposal on how this could be done.

Comment by Forlornehope — 8 Feb 2011 @ 12:46 PM

50. Pardon me if I missed it, but I don’t think anyone has yet pointed out that many of Dyson’s other schemes (assumptions, religions, whatever you want to call it) are just as fictional as magical trees that will save us from global warming.

The chances of a post-Apollo extension of our space travel to Mars this century are extremely slim, because our overall economy (you may have noticed some bumps lately) will not support it. The chances of colonists surviving long term off earth are nil. (Feel free to disagree, but I must gently point out that the burden of proof is on you, and you have nothing but science fiction to go on.)

This doesn’t mean Dyson isn’t wonderful in many ways. I have enjoyed his contributions greatly over the years. But I don’t get my policy preferences from him.

Comment by Ric Merritt — 8 Feb 2011 @ 1:08 PM

51. Bob (Sphaerica) @ 47
“two intermingled but separate species of sapient beings”

It does give pause.

In any case, whether social or psychological, grandiosity is a behavioral symptom not a charming eccentricity. That these people can function at a high level doesn’t mean there isn’t something in the process of going tragically wrong. For some reason history ends up being a victim: Dyson’s post-Darwinian era, Fukauyama’s “end of history”, Rove sneering at the reality-based community left to write tales about the epochal power of the true reality makers, Curry’s post-normal science. The list goes on.

“what makes science smart is not smart scientists, but rather smart use of the scientific method.”
Well said by Ray Ladbury. It’s ok to have heroes, but hero worship is a very long-standing and very bad habit, IMO.

Comment by Radge Havers — 8 Feb 2011 @ 1:23 PM

52. If we really wanted to, we could feasibly use our sister ship to provide our energy needs, all for the price of* two years worth of fossil fuel extraction costs, or by redirecting one year’s worth of current worldwide annual taxpayer donations away from the fossil fuel industry.

How much more dangerous and “out there” can it be, compared to the extremes we’re going to on Earth with fossil fuel extraction methods?

* According to a documentary I saw last week.

Comment by J Bowers — 8 Feb 2011 @ 1:30 PM

53. “The chances of a post-Apollo extension of our space travel to Mars this century are extremely slim, because our overall economy (you may have noticed some bumps lately) will not support it. The chances of colonists surviving long term off earth are nil. (Feel free to disagree, but I must gently point out that the burden of proof is on you, and you have nothing but science fiction to go on.)” – Ric Merrit

I agree with you that manned spaceflight to Mars and colonists surviving long-term are pipedreams with no reality to them, but even so, you’re making a claim (that it’s implausible). This isn’t a neutral statement, and the burden of proof is on you just as much as its on anyone who disagrees with you.

You could talk about the impacts of long-term exposure of radiation in space on prospective colonists, the difficulty of creating a sustainable colony with very, very constrained resources, issues with bone-loss, etc., and you could cite evidence that demonstrates the reality of the problems. At this point, potential solutions would just be speculative, but the burden of proof is still on the person making a claim.

Sorry of this is nitpicky. I agree with the substance of your post.

Comment by Greg N. — 8 Feb 2011 @ 1:32 PM

54. Dyson espouses a generic disdain for climate models and climate modellers

Like he did for the nuclear winter models. He was wrong then, as well. I guess he just didn’t learn anything from that experience.

[Response: The nuclear winter issue is more subtle than that, and I wouldn't precisely say Dyson was "wrong" then. The first nuclear winter models were an appropriate tool for opening up the inquiry, but a lot of inappropriate claims were made for the predictions, in view of the primitive state of the modelling. But the important thing is that modellers themselves (including Steve Schneider) rather quickly found the shortcomings. And continued working on the problem, and came up with models that are much more credible, leading up to the present work by Alan Robock and collaborators. Time will tell whether the new modeling work will hold up, and heaven forbid that we'll ever get an experimental test of THAT, but the point is that the normal scientific enterprise is perfectly capable of finding and correcting errors. Generalized skepticism by Dyson's has not proved all that helpful in moving the ball forward. --raypierre]

Comment by J Bowers — 8 Feb 2011 @ 1:39 PM

55. Re. the sentence in eric’s piece:

“Brower reports that Dyson doesn’t consider himself an expert on climate change, has no interest in arguing the details with experts, and yet somehow knows that the experts don’t have any answers worth listening to. … “,
I don’t know how true that is of Dyson, but if we take it at face value i.e. that Brower’s assessment is broadly correct, then it means Dyson has just closed his mind to any serious, informed discussion of the subject. Just goes to show how a great scientist can be as easily mistaken about a topic as anyone else when they are not prepared to read up about it and want to ignore inconvenient facts. I find the dismissal of models and modelling particularly irksome: where the hell would we be in most of our engineering and science if we didn’t have people prepared to try to build good models and use them? Reminds me of a discussion I heard about, where a social scientist was contesting whether it is possible to make any knowledge claims in science, and then going on about how all knowledge was relative and models were not to be relied on. A physical scientist at the meeting then asked her how she had travelled to the meeting. “By plane …” was the reply, at which he responded “Well I’m so glad the builders got their modelling right … “

Comment by Nick O. — 8 Feb 2011 @ 1:52 PM

56. I had this book in the ’70s, too. Climate contrarianism is almost exclusively political in nature. It afflicts those not inclined toward change, self-reflection and who are skeptical of any bad news shy of the myriad of invading foreign human forces, real or imaginary. One only has to look at the new congress to see it in play. To upload this view one must only look away. They all do.

[Response: In Dyson's case, it's hard to see a clear political connection. --raypierre]

Comment by Mark A. York — 8 Feb 2011 @ 1:57 PM

57. Dyson isn’t really different than most, although maybe ‘writ large’. He happens to have the financial security to allow his intelligent mind to pursue the paths that he finds fascinating and challenging, regardless of the current state of life on the planet. And the socio-cultural security of the position he’s achieved make him highly visible and quote-worthy. The “consensus” opinion of what the future holds just doesn’t interest him, his own exploration of possibilities is his focus, fantasy or not. Sad that he can’t put his capabilities and position to better use for the Commons, and too bad he’s so visible to those with more mundane concerns, but not suprising.

Comment by flxible — 8 Feb 2011 @ 2:03 PM

58. @Eric

I had to change from Dr. Shooshmon because the comments I was posting were not appearing. Thank you for my answering my question. The reason I asked you that question is because other sites will not address my follow up question, which is this:

If I asked Lindzen, Spencer and Happer about the MWP I think they would say it is warmer than 1979-present. However, if asked Santer, Schmidt and Alley I think they would say 1979-present is warmer. Therefore, I think it is a controversial issue regarding climate science. Again, I don’t know why there is such hatred surrounding my posts. I’m not trying to argue that there is no global warming because the MWP was warmer.

Here is my point: Dr. Easterbrook’s research indicates that of the past 10,500 years, 86.6% of those years have been warmer than 2010. So my point is, shouldn’t today’s temperatures be higher with the additional influence of global warming? Or would you say that the Easterbrook study is flawed?

[Response: Yes Easterbrook's study was flawed and that's putting it kindly. And if you want to know about the MWP vs. today, you should take a look at the various peer-reviewed paleoclimate reconstructions, and not ask Lindzen or Spencer or any of those others who aren't even paleoclimatologists. But this is way off topic for this post, so save it for the next open thread. I'll borehole any further things from you that are so far off topic. --raypierre]

Comment by Jay Cadbury — 8 Feb 2011 @ 2:14 PM

59. @ Raypierre. Thanks for the response. I did read that Dyson was left “disturbed” by his failure to disprove the TTAPS model (Merchants of Doubt, Oreskes & Conway, p.61). The reference given is:
Freeman J. Dyson. Infinite in All Directions: Gifford Lectures Given at Aberdeen, Scotland. April-November 1985. (New York: Harper and Row, 1988).

I don’t suppose anyone has access to the source? It might be interesting to see precisely what he had to say.

Comment by J Bowers — 8 Feb 2011 @ 2:35 PM

60. While your disection of Dr. Dysons arguements was brilliant expounded and quite thoroughly correct, we should perhaps, with Great Men like Freeman Dyson, allow them to get away with a bit of Imperious Gobbledegook every now and again!
I’d think, what with Ad Astra building and about to deploy a Real Space Drive (Xenon Ions accelerated by a Superconducting Mag-Dyn Segment) on the ISS (they even seem to have acknowledged MY IDEA to use it for moving the Station to a Higher Orbit – and maybe the one about ‘mining it’ for materials later, instead of letting it burn up; though I haven’t seen the Check….), that Dr. Dyson would like to re-consider the sensibilty of one of his own earlier Ideas – one that led him to wonder if Red Supergiants aren’t really Dyson Spheres.
I’ve heard it called the Dyson-Harrup Satellite.
I’ve modified that to include a chain of them that focus a beam of solar wind onto a target shielded to allow the extraction of the anti-matter component of the collisional flux.
Now THAT – Industrial Scale Anti-Matter Production – Ladies and Germs, would make everything else a Moot Point, wouldn’t it?
It would set us Free of the Earth – of the Realest Threat of All; The Yellowstone Super-Volcano!
That might well make Toba look like a fire-cracker – and whittle the Race down to a size somewhat less than the “7500 left” that Toba left it at!!!
Oh, but I forgot – the Tea Party is praying for Armegeddon…..guess I’ll; have to wait, then We, The Meek can take over……

Comment by James Staples — 8 Feb 2011 @ 2:48 PM

61. One of the signs of bad science is that everyone is wrong except you.
claiming that Dyson is some sort of wicked denialist is a pretty good example of that in action.
You RC guys are in a small and shrinking echo chamber.
By the way, “the Starship and the Canoe” was one of my favorites growing up.

[Response: Not claiming he's wicked, just that he's wrong. And saying why he's wrong and what he's wrong about. You have a problem with that? --raypierre]

Comment by hunter — 8 Feb 2011 @ 2:57 PM

62. J Bowers – Dyson, Infinite in All Directions.

Comment by flxible — 8 Feb 2011 @ 3:01 PM

63. Dyson (along with many others) is no longer dealing with the real world, only a technologically rose-tinted future. The real world of our future is totally dependent on the level of greed of a continually expanding human population exploiting continually declining material resources.
No solution yet proposed for global warming takes into account the struggling economies of the nations that have the technical means to actually do something useful, and the expanding consumption of resources by nations that do not.
To stabilise the current supply/demand scenario will be immensely difficult. To reverse it, I do not believe that any of our global political systems have the capability. External events will be the drivers.

Comment by David Beach — 8 Feb 2011 @ 3:09 PM

64. @ flxble. Many thanks for the link.

Comment by J Bowers — 8 Feb 2011 @ 3:22 PM

65. hunter wrote: “You RC guys are in a small and shrinking echo chamber.”

You are simply repeating what someone told you to say. It’s a silly and false statement, and you personally have no basis for knowing whether it is true or not, or even exactly what it means, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is the satisfaction you get from doing what you’ve been told to do.

Comment by SecularAnimist — 8 Feb 2011 @ 3:31 PM

66. Dyson misses two main points in his 2008 NYRB article. The first is that Nordhaus’ estimates of possible damage from AGW — only $23 trillion over a hundred years — ignores many likely problems, a point which Nordhaus has made elsewhere. The second point is that Dyson makes no mention of the possibility of abrupt change. A sudden swing in temperatures that could virtually end world agriculture for a few years, with disastrous consequences, is not incorporated in Nordhaus’ long-term discount rate nor in Lindzen’s insistence that sensitivity is small. It is not even clear that the possibility of abrupt change has a useful statistical probability, since we may not know how often it has happened. The destruction of, say, 90% of all individual plants and animals for a couple of years might not be detectable in the fossil record, if their species survived as seeds or in small refugia, then quickly sprang back after the worst was over. Yet such an occurrence would be devastating to present human civilization. I should state that I have a great deal of hope for a biotech solution to mop-up carbon dioxide. But it is inconceivable to me that a great scientist like Dyson, who must be aware that n-compartment models are not deterministically predictable, and occasionally exhibit abrupt discontinuities, does not acknowledge that our epistemology of complex systems gives us plenty of cause to fear the worst, and to plan accordingly. Yet he ends his article by insisting that the argument that global warming is a grave threat must be attributed to religious environmentalism, and this accusation has become an unfortunate spur to the denialists everywhere. Comment by Lee A. Arnold — 8 Feb 2011 @ 3:42 PM 67. For me, Dyson missed two main points in his 2008 NYRB article. The first is that Nordhaus’ estimates of possible damage from AGW — only$23 trillion over a hundred years — ignores many likely problems, a point which Nordhaus has made elsewhere.

The second point is that Dyson makes no mention of the possibility of abrupt change. A sudden swing in temperatures that could virtually end world agriculture for a few years, with disastrous consequences, is not incorporated in Nordhaus’ long-term discount rate nor in Lindzen’s insistence that sensitivity is small.

It is not even clear that the possibility of abrupt change has a useful statistical probability, since we may not know how often it has happened. The destruction of, say, 90% of all individual plants and animals for a couple of years might not be detectable in the fossil record, if their species survived as seeds or in small refugia, then quickly sprang back after the worst was over. Yet such an occurrence would be devastating to present human civilization.

I should state that I have a great deal of hope for a biotech solution to mop-up carbon dioxide. But it is inconceivable to me that a scientist like Dyson, who must be aware that n-compartment models are not deterministically predictable, and occasionally exhibit abrupt discontinuities, does not acknowledge that our epistemology of complex systems gives us plenty of cause to fear the worst, and to plan accordingly. Complex systems have regular gyrations until they are forced, then they flip. Yet he ends his article by insisting that the argument that global warming is a grave threat must be attributed to religious environmentalism, and this accusation has become an unfortunate spur to the denialists everywhere.

Comment by Lee A. Arnold — 8 Feb 2011 @ 3:47 PM

68. #30, Ed, I won’t argue, but I get really, really tired of comments which assume that there is no real expertise needed for endeavors outside science–’mere’ authors, ‘mere’ lawyers, ‘mere’ musicians and so on.

I don’t know what Brower’s academic background is, but he wrote a very useful book–and one that did a good job of summarizing Dyson’s views at the time of writing. As such, I’d submit that he has a good deal of practical knowledge on how to communicate science effectively to the general public. (‘Exhibit B’ would be the essay in Atlantic.) Yet you’re dissing him because he doesn’t have a degree in psychology? Seriously, how many hats do you expect–require?–the poor guy to wear?

C’mon, value his contribution for what it is, and if you feel other contributions are needed, well, that’s another question.

My two cents.

Comment by Kevin McKinney — 8 Feb 2011 @ 3:55 PM

69. Just to draw a line under the rabbit discussions – there is no solid evidence to show free-living populations of O. cuniculus in the UK prior to the Norman period. Genetic evidence also supports a Norman date for rabbits in the UK.

The main point, though, is that Dyson’s conclusion that rabbits were responsible for turning forest into grassland is completely bogus. The bulk of deforestation happened long before the Romans ever got to Britain, and certainly by the time the Normans brought rabbits over, the majority of the remaining forest was actually coppiced woodland (in England at least). Rabbits do not generally live in forests; their preferred habitat is scrubland (gorse, heather etc).

(My Ph.D. was on the population ecology of O. cuniculus, so this is something I think I know a little more about than Dyson)

Comment by CTG — 8 Feb 2011 @ 3:56 PM

70. Jay Cadbury. Anyone can make claims. Claims worth examining are backed by hard data. The data, methods and conclusions can stand scrutiny, then there is no problem publishing them in peer-reviewed journals (and that doesnt include E&E). Got backing for any claims that interest you in peer-reviewed literature. As to Easterbrook – funnily enough not published, and for why, start with Easterbrook wrong again. But hey, thats a blog too. Dont take their word for it. Get the data, check the papers and verify that Easterbrook is suckering you.

Comment by Phil Scadden — 8 Feb 2011 @ 3:58 PM

71. hunter: your “everyone” is vanishingly small if you limit it to people competent to judge.

Or would you let the people who vote on American Idol decide if climate change is “real”? Shall we hold a vote on gravity, too? Zero-G is cool.

As for scientists going off the reservation in their sunset years – it’s surprisingly common. Old scientists get stuck in their way of thinking. While scientists do sometimes make famous mistakes late in life, the quality of the scientist does reflect on the quality of mistake and the way they handle it. Nobody thinks any less of Einstein for his big mistake, for example.

Comment by Didactylos — 8 Feb 2011 @ 3:58 PM

72. #52, J. Bowers–

I’ve thought of space-based solar power, too. But those microwave beams make me a bit nervous.

130TW coming back at us? Has anybody done a BOE estimate on the power density?

Rather puts worries about cell-phone radiation in perspective, I suspect. . .

Comment by Kevin McKinney — 8 Feb 2011 @ 4:13 PM

73. If you average together Dyson and Lovelock, their foibles and craziness will cancel out, and you will get one amazing scientist.

One scientist looking out, and one scientist looking in on planet Earth. Both great. And I find myself in strong disagreement with both. And I could deal with that, if it wasn’t for the fact that both have chosen to spread falsehoods in order to push their agenda.

Turns out they’re only human.

Comment by Didactylos — 8 Feb 2011 @ 4:16 PM

74. When you look at Dyson’s grand ideas they show that he knows as much abut materials science as he does about climate science

Comment by Eli Rabett — 8 Feb 2011 @ 4:26 PM

75. Has Dyson speculated on what the climate inside a Dyson sphere would be like? what adjustments to the atmosphere would make it work? or did he leave those details to the “armchair scientists”?

Dr. Pierrehumbert: considering Dyson’s discounting of your discipline, it was gracious of you to pose a Dyson sphere question in your new book, Principles of Planetary Climate. And if I guess correctly after reading only the first chapter, you avoided using it as an opportunity to evaluate Dyson’s competence in climate science.

As an amateur who engages people on climate misunderstandings, the hardest question for me to answer is “what about Freeman Dyson…” as that rebuttal turns the conversation to competing appeals to authority. Considering the climate issues ignored (if ignored) in a Dyson sphere is intriguing.

jg

[Response: I'm glad you noticed the Dyson sphere problem. It's one of my favorites. Dyson spheres are a great source of climate problems. Here's one that didn't make it into the book, but probably belongs in Chapter 2: If you tried to put an atmosphere on the inside (livable) surface of a Dyson sphere, where would it go?

Actually, I didn't have to be especially gracious to include the problem. I'm happy to latch onto interesting ideas whatever their provenance, but in any event I don't bear Dyson any enmity. I generally like his writing, and find it stimulating. I like his brand of religiosity. I like most things about Dyson. I hope nobody thinks Eric and I wrote this piece to demonize Dyson. If there is any reason Dyson is on our mind, it's that his writing about climate shows an uncharacteristic lack of curiosity and creativity. And it's disappointing to see how unaware he seems to be about how damaging his disdain for the facts is in this instance. --raypierre]

Comment by jg — 8 Feb 2011 @ 4:31 PM

76. Ever since the Pilgrims mistook a hunting park managed by annual burns, and stocked with subtropical exotics like corn, and turkeys for some sort of forest primeval, Americans have been loath to admit that human transformation of the Earth’s surface is an integral part of the landscape of history. Yet the fact remains that half the land surface of the Earth shows signs of such modification, much of it prehistoric.

Freeman clearly delights in disturbing the universe of those who refuse to see human environments as human constructs, and insofar as Eric is disturbed by his refusal to join in believing in the future historicity of what some _ believe_ they see in GCM’s, he reveals himself to be a kindred spirit to Freeman’s aunts- Dissenters are always with us,

And just as some want to restore and maintain an antediluvian state of the atmosphere in the hope of sustaining a pre-human range of spontaneous geophysical change , others are at liberty to observe that what folks like Eric manifest is nostalgia for a future that never can be, because human evolution stands between it and a past that never was.

Which is a rather hard thing to conserve, given that most of the people in that landscape are still striving to catch up with the Industrial revolution.

Since not all of our contemporaries are living in the same time , and many decline to remain where they are in energetic terms, Freeman seems quite understandably preoccupied with what to do next in a future where the world’s most rapidly growing populations look avidly forward to achieving late 19th century norms of fossil fuel consumption. I don’t like it either, but as the tree falls so must it lie.

[Response: Some interesting points Russell. There is no escaping that we are in charge now, for better or worse of what the Earth will be like, so we can't escape the responsibility of thinking about what the Earth's environment is to be managed FOR. Right now, so far as I can tell, we're just consuming, not thinking about responsibilities. There's a sustainability type comment on your remark further down, but I'm not persuaded that primitive peoples were wise stewards any more than we were. The main thing is they got away with a lot because there weren't so many of them, and because they didn't have the large scale energy resources that we do, in turn limiting the scope of their action. Yet, they still managed to drive the moa to extinction, and perhaps the North American megafauna also. So, I shudder to think what we will do given our numbers and technological power, if we don't start thinking and stop acting like mindless cyanobacteria. --raypierre]

[Response: There's a whole bunch of people besides Freeman Dyson who are "preoccupied" with how to build a sustainable future on the planet Russell. And unlike Dyson, they actually know a lot about what needs to be achieved, and what can be achieved, and what behavioral actions we need to implement in order to do that. That's sort of the point here. Nobody's talking about returning to Eden--that's a big straw man--Jim]

Comment by Russell Seitz — 8 Feb 2011 @ 4:40 PM

77. @ 72 Kevin Mckinney

But think of the really cool bonus… the Moon’d look like the Death Star!

I read that the microwave beams would be focused and received by 10,000 receivers dotted around the Earth, so it’s probably safer than mobile phones, and tar sands, and BP, and fracking, and BP, and Exxon….

Comment by J Bowers — 8 Feb 2011 @ 5:16 PM

78. #76 I don’t think many environmentalists fail to recognise the evidence for human management of most of the world’s ecosystems from a very early date.
It’s just that they distinguish between sustainable management (eg pre 1600 North America, pre 1788 Australia) from unsustainable management (modernity).

Comment by calyptorhynchus — 8 Feb 2011 @ 5:44 PM

79. Russell Seitz wrote: “… some want to restore and maintain an antediluvian state of the atmosphere in the hope of sustaining a pre-human range of spontaneous geophysical change …”

I have no idea who you are referring to as “some” in that statement, other than a one-dimensional cartoon comic book stereotype of neo-romantic hippies.

But FYI, “some” of us are more concerned about stuff like extreme warming destroying the ecosystems upon which human civilization depends, destroying agriculture and oceanic fisheries leading to global famine, destroying fresh water supplies for billions of people, and destroying much of our modern infrastructure through ultra-violent extreme weather events and rapid sea level rise.

And since we are now well on our way towards creating atmospheric concentrations of CO2 that have not existed for millions of years, it’s really the proponents of business-as-usual consumption of fossil fuels who are taking us to an “antediluvian state of the atmosphere” — which will be quite inhospitable to human civilization.

As for “the world’s most rapidly growing populations looking avidly forward to achieving late 19th century norms of fossil fuel consumption”, that is simply not going to happen, because there simply are not enough fossil fuels left to make it happen, even if global warming were not an issue.

But the claim is disingenuous anyway. The growing populations of the developing world don’t want “fossil fuels”. They want — and desperately need — energy and the services that energy can provide. Fortunately, there are other sources of energy, principally solar and wind, that can provide plenty of energy to those people faster and cheaper than fossil fuels and without the deadly pollution.

The really sad irony of Dyson’s views is that he seems to know even less about renewable energy technology than he knows about climate science. Which leads to the absurdity of calling for 23rd century magical technology like deployment of “genetically engineered carbon-eating diamond trees” — so that we can continue using 19th century fuels that today’s wind and solar technologies can easily make obsolete within years to decades.

Comment by SecularAnimist — 8 Feb 2011 @ 5:44 PM

80. The paragraph about the “carbon-eating trees” is an excellent cautionary note to those who would genetically engineer trees to be harder-stronger-faster…

Comment by DougO — 8 Feb 2011 @ 6:05 PM

81. Kevin McKinney wrote: \I’ve thought of space-based solar power, too. But those microwave beams make me a bit nervous.\

Calm your nerves. Who is going to spend zillions of dollars to build space-based solar power — not only the satellites, but the microwave receiving stations and the grid infrastructure they will require — when enough solar energy hits the Earth’s surface every hour to power human civilization for a year, and photovoltaics will soon cost \$1 per watt installed, and utility-scale solar thermal will be even cheaper than that?

Comment by SecularAnimist — 8 Feb 2011 @ 6:27 PM

82. @ 81 SecularAnimist — “Who is going to spend zillions of dollars to build space-based solar power”

Half a trillion bucks (the cost of two years fossil fuel extraction, or one year of tax dollar subsidies to the fossil fuel industry). The reason for it being so attractive is its efficiency: no tectonic activity so the panels need only be wafer thin, no weather, no clouds, no atmosphere, completely predictable and running 24/7. It probably doesn’t even need lots of personnel to run. From the Science Daily link:

Criswell estimates that the 10 billion people living on Earth in 2050 will require 20 Terrawatts (TW) of power. The Moon receives 13,000 TW of power from the sun. Criswell suggests that harnessing just 1% of the solar power and directing it toward Earth could replace fossil fuel power plants on Earth.

Comment by J Bowers — 8 Feb 2011 @ 7:03 PM

83. The cartoon linked upthread states the matter clearly for all too many physicists, I fear.

Comment by David B. Benson — 8 Feb 2011 @ 7:17 PM

84. #82 “completely predictable and running 24/7″ I doubt that, given the vagaries of solar weather and its ability to disrupt satellite systems. Current lifespan for a space-based solar panel indicates 14% degradation in efficiency in 7 years (according to the Intertubes http://www.solarstorms.org/Svulnerability.html). Sounds pretty expensive to maintain when compared with territorial systems. Secular Animist #81 is right. This point further undermines some of Dyson’s flights of fancy.

Comment by One Anonymous Bloke — 8 Feb 2011 @ 7:32 PM

85. Again, I think that Dyson, Allegre and countless others illustrate that what keeps scientists from being stupid is not superior intelligence–Dyson is as smart as any–but rather reliance on the scientific method. One tenet of that method–scientific consensus–contends that the most active and influential scientists in a field will best understand that field. They will be the most aware of new techniques and ideas, of outstanding problems and of the latest research. Most important, though, they will likely be the most driven by curiosity to understand their field of study. Dyson doesn’t understand climate science because climate doesn’t interest him. He’ll never devote more effort to it than is necessary to further delude himself into thinking it isn’t really a threat so that he can get back to studying what actually does interest him.

Comment by Ray Ladbury — 8 Feb 2011 @ 7:56 PM

86. Dyson says that CO2 only acts to make cold places (like the arctic) warmer and doesn’t make hot places hotter, because only cold places are dry enough for CO2 to compete with water vapor opacity. But in jumping to this conclusion, he has neglected to take into account that even in the hot tropics, the air aloft is cold and dry, so CO2 nonetheless exerts a potent warming effect there.

Ray, I had thought that another (perhaps even the largest?) problem with such an argument is that it considers CO2 as a local climate factor whereas its primary effect is to alter the global balance…and then how that alteration manifests itself in terms of the location of the warming is more a product of the dynamics in the troposphere than where the actual small changes in the energy balance occurred. Is this a correct way to look at things?

Comment by Joel Shore — 8 Feb 2011 @ 8:31 PM

87. >“How could someone as smart as Freeman Dyson,” writes Brower, “be so wrong about climate change and other environmental concerns..?”

Because being smart isn’t sufficient when it comes to getting the right answer. You’ve also got to have patience to work the details. Dyson and climate change is one example of pure smarts not being sufficient, Edward Teller and BMD is another. Just because you’re smart doesn’t mean you don’t have your head up your @##.

Comment by Chris G — 8 Feb 2011 @ 8:57 PM

88. In regards to Spaceship Earth, I have recently starte a public campaign to explore rebranding the name of our beleaguered home planet, EARTH, to a better word that has more meaning that just dirt, soil, the ground. It’s an old pre-16th century word that has little meaning today. Any ideas for a better word? See news link here. I am serious.

http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/7731264/climate_doomsayer_seeks_to_rebrand.html?cat=60

Comment by Danny Bloom — 8 Feb 2011 @ 10:28 PM

89. Rebrand Earth with More Fitting Name — Before All Hell Breaks Loose

A climate activist is seeking to rebrand the name of our planet Earth with a more fitting name — one that would better reflect a better understanding of where we live and our place in the cosmos. He says that his
crusade is a public awareness campaign and has no financial backers or corporate sponsorship.

“It’s my way to seeking to give this planet a more apt name, and I have no agenda, other than to help people think of the planet in a new and improved way, since ‘earth’ really just means the ground, the dirt, soil,” he says.

He says he is campaigning now for a new name for the planet we live on, given that, in his opinion, the word Earth is not a very good one.

“Let’s rename the Earth,” he adds, ” especially in regard to the fact that we need to work hard to stop global warming and climate change from doing a huge number on this third rock from the sun.”

Okay, so what name would you suggest, dear Reader?

One word is best, but this rebranding could aso use as many as 2 -5 words in a term as well, such as “Third Rock from the Sun” or “Terra Firma”.

He says he is looking for a word that will help teach younger generations in the future to treat the planet with more respect and gratitude for giving us life.

By the way, the current name “Earth” derives from the lame Anglo-Saxon word ”erda”, which means ground or soil, and is related to the lame German word ”erde”. Duh. It became ”eorthe” later, and then ”erthe” in Middle English. But people in the 16th Century had no idea what the plaent was really all about. Now we do. What new name would you suggest?

Comment by Danny Bloom — 8 Feb 2011 @ 10:30 PM

90. Ric Merritt #50–”The chances of colonists surviving long term…are nil”. I think you are absolutely right–Biosphere II showed the difficulty of doing this, even in the context of an environment that is far more ideal than any off earth environment will be. Given the importance of this, I am puzzled as to why we haven’t begun a Biosphere III–we have no hope of living permanently off earth given the current state of our technologies.

Comment by DaveE — 8 Feb 2011 @ 10:59 PM

91. The space solar power arguments for and against are kinda funny. Projections a few decades out using linear thinking are likely to be wrong on both sides.

If they are funded before the end of this century it will probably by the US military. They will need it because oil gets too expensive and solar panels on the ground are too vulnerable.

If they get built at all it will be using recipes we haven’t dreamed up yet because this technology is advancing. Degradation rates using current recipes probably won’t apply. Efficiency numbers using current recipes probably won’t apply.

Regarding Freeman Dyson’s views on the subject, I think comment #85 says it well enough. I remember when one of my professors said he wasn’t interested enough in my field to pursue it, but recognized that I was and that was enough for him. The people who really delve into a subject ARE more likely to know it better.

The problem with this truth, though, is that the climate change problem spans many fields of study and no one can delve deep enough in all of them to know it well. The climate folks are dependent on economists, right? What is the list of subject areas that require expertise? 8)

I’m not arguing we can’t know enough so we shouldn’t do anything, though. I suspect we know it well enough to know we should take action.

Comment by Alfred Differ — 8 Feb 2011 @ 11:46 PM

92. Many conflicting opinions here. While educated climate scientists continue to advance this complex field full of uncertainties as the common man worries more about his daily bread, I subscibe to the realistic, wise, attainable objective of BETTER PREPARING for the KNOWN climate disasters we know have always happened, are happening now [frozen UK and U.S., fires in Russia, floods and cyclones in Australia, etc.] and will continue to happen. That will lead to better preparation in case of any abrupt change in the future while we continue to get the costs down of alternate energy technologies. Have fun with abrupt changes — possible but not probable — in the the new book A Truthful Myth

Comment by Roger Colley — 9 Feb 2011 @ 12:10 AM

93. “If I asked Lindzen, Spencer and Happer about the MWP I think they would say it is warmer than 1979-present.” Jay Cadbury — 8 Feb 2011 @ 2:14 PM

Nope. Dr Spencer’s models show that warmer temperatures cause oceans to outgas CO2, so much so that 80-90% of the rise since ~ 1930 has been caused by warming, not anthropogenic emissions.
http://www.drroyspencer.com/2009/05/global-warming-causing-carbon-dioxide-increases-a-simple-model/
http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/01/25/double-whammy-friday-roy-spencer-on-how-oceans-are-driving-co2/
http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/01/28/spencer-pt2-more-co2-peculiarities-the-c13c12-isotope-ratio/

The lack of a bump in CO2 during the purported MWP precludes it being warmer than today.

[Response: As I said before, discussion of the MWP is way, way off topic for this thread. Please save it for the next open thread, or if you absolutetly can't wait, take it to the existing Unforced Variations thread. I will divert further generic MWP discussions to there or to the Borehole, depending on whether the comments have anything substantive to contribute. --raypierre]

Comment by Brian Dodge — 9 Feb 2011 @ 12:37 AM

94. Does freemarket capitalism have any mechanism for dealing with long-term existential threats to itself? It hasn’t even been able to deal with existential threats to fisheries.

Comment by don gisselbeck — 9 Feb 2011 @ 1:37 AM

95. 68 Kevin McKinney: All those other people do have expertise. But not the right expertise. Writers are good at hijacking people’s emotions using the written word. That is good for advertising. It is not good for analysis of Freeman Dyson.

Lawyers are good at taking the clients money and they have extensive knowledge of current law. That doesn’t make them good legislators.

Musicians are good at making music. I wouldn’t ask a musician’s opinion of climate science.

Brower’s book may be a start if you know nothing else about Dyson. It isn’t a psychological or a psychiatric evaluation of Dyson. Brower’s book is not adequate for us to decide what action to take on Dyson’s statements on climate. Value Brower’s book for what it is and nothing more.

Comment by Edward Greisch — 9 Feb 2011 @ 4:31 AM

96. R.A. Fisher was a high achieving contrarian in a different field. As he got older, he delighted in suggesting alternative mechanisms for the association between tobacco smoking and lung cancer. Stolley [http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/133/5/416.full.pdf] thinks a variety of factors underlay this, which might seem familiar: 1) “Fisher’s zest for confrontation and polemic was legend”;
2) Dislike of the nanny state: “Your annotation on ‘Dangers of Cigarette-smoking’ leads up to the demand that these hazards ‘must be brought home to the public by all the modern devices of publicity.’ That is just what some
of us with research interests are afraid of. In recent wars, for example, we have seen how unscrupulously the ‘modern devices of publicity’ are liable to be used under the impulsion of fear” 3) “was good with data while working on one small
set but was not easily able to integrate multiple or large data sets.” 4) Enjoyed
the positive attention on his public lectures and articles. 5) “Wandered too far out of his field.”

Comment by David Duffy — 9 Feb 2011 @ 4:32 AM

97. Re Jim’s comment at 76

“There’s a whole bunch of people besides Freeman Dyson who … actually know a lot about what needs to be achieved, and what can be achieved, and what behavioral actions we need to implement in order to do that. That’s sort of the point here.”

Though your enthusiasm for social engineering is not universally shared, it seems oddly mirrored in Dyson’s technophilia.

[Response: "Social engineering" eh? You prefer what, a drive off the cliff?--Jim]

Comment by Russell Seitz — 9 Feb 2011 @ 4:53 AM

98. Re: #71

Isn’t that comparison between late Einstein and Dyson unfair to the former? Being wrong on occasions is not the same as being serially superficial about a big topic.

Comment by deconvoluter — 9 Feb 2011 @ 4:55 AM

99. @ 84

I wonder where that maintenance of lunar based solar collection would make it sit in the ERoEI (Energy Returned on Energy Invested) index. Many of the materials would already be found in raw form on the Moon: In-Situ-Resource-Utilisation.

According to your link that 14% figure goes down to 10%, by the way, when you take the panels away from the L1 zone. Given there’s 13,000 TW of energy hitting the Moon, and we’ll only need 20 TW, overkill may well get around that problem and still be cost beneficial (current solar panels in space are deliberately made larger than assumed necessary to compensate for degradation I believe).

Nobody’s saying it’d be easy, but the main obstacle seems to me to be a mental barrier, which I find puzzling when you consider what it will take to put numerous deep well rigs in the Arctic and maintain them.

Comment by J Bowers — 9 Feb 2011 @ 8:09 AM

100. #95–Ed, I said I wouldn’t argue.

However, I will permit myself one general statement:

Your assessments are highly dismissive, and your instruction to “Value Brower’s book for what it is and nothing more” is in fact precisely what I advocated in my comment! By contrast, it is you who is complaining that The Starship and the Canoe is not:

. . . a psychological or a psychiatric evaluation of Dyson. . . [or] adequate for us to decide what action to take on Dyson’s statements on climate.

Of course not. It was never meant to be, and it’s ridiculous to put that burden on it. (Particularly since it was written decades before Dyson had even made any statements about climate change!)

But it does paint a vivid picture of who Freeman Dyson was in–what was the year of the Dyson reunion? Publication of S & C was 1978–and one that, IMO, offers us a unique insight into the elder Dyson as a thinker and an individual.

Rather more than “hijacking people’s emotions using the written word,” if you ask me. Perhaps this might offer some food for thought in that regard:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_Brower

Comment by Kevin McKinney — 9 Feb 2011 @ 8:32 AM

101. #77–”But think of the really cool bonus… the Moon’d look like the Death Star!”

Yeah, and if we got disgruntled Lunar colonists a la Moon Is A Harsh Mistress the Moon could really BE a Death Star if equipped with 10,000 13 GW microwave beams!

Comment by Kevin McKinney — 9 Feb 2011 @ 8:46 AM

102. #77–J Bowers–

But think of the really cool bonus… the Moon’d look like the Death Star!

I read that the microwave beams would be focused and received by 10,000 receivers dotted around the Earth. . .

And if we got disgruntled Lunar colonists, as in The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, those 10,000 13 GW microwave beams could actually MAKE the moon a Death Star, too!

Or should I be referencing another literary trope here, and saying that your take on the idea is that it is “mostly harmless?”

Comment by Kevin McKinney — 9 Feb 2011 @ 8:53 AM

103. @Brian Dodge

Hello Brian. I read the articles you linked to and I didn’t find any mention of the medieval warm period.

[Response: I said, Discussions of MWP are off topic on this thread. Take it somewhere else. --raypierre]

Comment by Jay Cadbury — 9 Feb 2011 @ 9:43 AM

104. Off the top of my head, rabbits were introduced to England by the invading Romans in 56bc, not 1000 years ago. And though the British Isles were, indeed, once heavily forested, the pre-Roman inhabitants had cleared so much forest that the Roman commentators remarked on it.

Comment by Urban Leprechaun — 9 Feb 2011 @ 9:46 AM

105. Shorter Russell Seitz @ 97

Stupidity should rule

Comment by Eli Rabett — 9 Feb 2011 @ 9:47 AM

106. Jim wrote: “… what can be achieved, and what behavioral actions we need to implement in order to do that …”

Russell Seitz replied: “… your enthusiasm for social engineering is not universally shared …”

So building wind turbines is “social engineering” … and building coal-fired power plants is what, exactly?

Insulating your attic is “social engineering” … and wasting money and energy to heat a poorly insulated house is what, exactly?

Comment by SecularAnimist — 9 Feb 2011 @ 11:01 AM

107. Two of the last three years have seen extraordinary prices for food due to crop failures.

As an opening to any future discussion of consequences due to AGW, that’s a good place to start since I don’t think the heavy stuff will come down for a while. Let the likes of Dyson go hungry two out of three years and see if they’re still convinced it’s no big deal.

Comment by Jeffrey Davis — 9 Feb 2011 @ 12:32 PM

108. Because someone is talented in one area of science, it doesn’t automatically follow that they will be talented in other scientific areas.

Also, ideology, one’s system of beliefs, often, if not always, trump objective reality. What one believes is usually more powerful and closer to one’s heart, than what one knows.

But the basis of science is seeing clearly regardless of one’s own beliefs, or the beliefs of others.

Comment by Michael K — 9 Feb 2011 @ 1:39 PM

109. 98, deconvoluter: Isn’t that comparison between late Einstein and Dyson unfair to the former? Being wrong on occasions is not the same as being serially superficial about a big topic.

I agree. Einstein is more profoundly difficult to understand (I think) because he was originally a pioneer in the probabilistic modeling of micro phenomena (photo-electric effect, Brownian motion and diffusion, Bose-Einstein statistics), before he revolted against his own approach; and he was persistently (“serially”) resistant to the advances in probabilistic modeling for approximately the last 4 decades of his life. His stated reasons (“God does not play at dice”, “This does not bring us closer to The Old One”) are seemingly irrelevant to all his other work, and unusually arrogant to believe that he know the mind of God. He also ignored the accumulating record of success in quantum mechanics.

The only general principle that they both illustrate (along with Newton, Kepler, and others) is that the motivations and thought processes of other people are exceedingly difficult to understand.

Comment by Septic Matthew — 9 Feb 2011 @ 1:51 PM

110. Kevin (#101-2),

but then, they’d be in a position to drop rocks down our gravity well anyway…

BTW, Dyson really should have taken a cue from Heinlein’s heroes in Moon is a Harsh Mistress, who fought their revolution to stave off the imminent ecological collapse of their world as foretold by computer modeling.

Comment by CM — 9 Feb 2011 @ 1:56 PM

111. \Yet, they still managed to drive the moa to extinction, and perhaps the North American megafauna also.\ – raypierre

In fact, everywhere outside Africa, the arrival of Home sapiens sapiens was closely followed by mass extinctions of megafauna.

Comment by Nick Gotts — 9 Feb 2011 @ 2:50 PM

112. Russell Seitz,
What exactly is supposed to be wrong with “social engineering”? Every time a law is passed, an firm or political party or pressure group or charity is founded, an advertising campaign is launched, a book advocating some proposal or idea is published – that’s social engineering. The right-wing use of the term as a sneer is ridiculous (and is, of course, an example of social engineering).

Comment by Nick Gotts — 9 Feb 2011 @ 3:03 PM

113. Edward Greisch, I think you are assuming that everything you don’t understand must be easy. There is more to good legislation than technical content. People must be able to live within the strictures of the law without rebelling against it. If they cannot do so, the law will be voted out with the next election. In some cases the endangered species act has actually hurt rare species because landowners kill them off before they can be discovered by regulators.

Comment by Ray Ladbury — 9 Feb 2011 @ 3:13 PM

114. Septic Matthew: “Einstein … was originally a pioneer in the probabilistic modeling of micro phenomena … before he revolted against his own approach; and he was … resistant to the advances in probabilistic modeling for approximately the last 4 decades of his life.”

I think that’s not really right. Einstein didn’t have a problem with probabilistic modeling and he certainly appreciated the fact that quantum physics “worked” (e.g. the mathematics successfully predicted the results of observations).

What Einstein objected to was the idea that concepts like indeterminacy, uncertainty, nonlocality and complementarity were not just aspects of the abstract models but of physical reality itself.

Comment by SecularAnimist — 9 Feb 2011 @ 3:38 PM

115. 112 Ray Ladbury: “I think you are assuming that everything you don’t understand must be easy.”
NO. But I am saying that non-scientists do NOT have some kind of intelligence that scientists lack.

[Response:That depends on what you mean by intelligence. I prefer the word "understanding". We need the perspective that much of the humanities brings. Technical information alone ain't going to get it done.--Jim]

Comment by Edward Greisch — 9 Feb 2011 @ 4:14 PM

116. ““Brower reports that Dyson doesn’t consider himself an expert on climate change, has no interest in arguing the details with experts, and yet somehow knows that the experts don’t have any answers worth listening to. … “,
I don’t know how true that is of Dyson, but if we take it at face value i.e. that Brower’s assessment is broadly correct, then it means Dyson has just closed his mind to any serious, informed discussion of the subject. Just goes to show how a great scientist can be as easily mistaken about a topic as anyone else when they are not prepared to read up about it and want to ignore inconvenient facts. I find the dismissal of models and modelling particularly irksome: where the hell would we be in most of our engineering and science if we didn’t have people prepared to try to build good models and use them?”

I think you are missing the point. No doubt modelers have important stuff to pass around and sell to other modelers and climate scientists. But the state of the science has little to offer to the general public. One can have a learned opinion based upon the details but still the opinion needs to be put to a carefully calculated cost/benefit analysis and the guy with the least proficiency in doing that is the guy most heavily invested.

The primary sign of a lack of useful product is when you see commodities finding a market such as upside down proxies, single trees in some Siberian forest, covering up declines, one decade going on about how end of snowy winters is nigh and the following decade attributing snowy winters to what was predicted. There would be no market for any of this if what was being delivered to the general public was useful. Saying the devil is in the details is like a long winded talk, the only reason it is long winded is usually the guy giving the talk really has very little to say and he is hoping if he keeps talking something worthwhile will arise from it.

[Response: This is the second time I've heard meaningless and gratuitous insults from you regarding "upside down proxies" etc. Getting pretty boring. --raypierre]

Comment by Bill Hunter — 9 Feb 2011 @ 4:34 PM

117. 104: ( et seq.)

“Shorter Russell Seitz @ 97

Stupidity should rule”

Eli, social engineering and universal suffrage all too often combine to that end, but we digress .

Dyson made material contributions to solid state theory, and helped kick start computational hydro codes

Comment by Russell Seitz — 9 Feb 2011 @ 4:35 PM

118. #110 “In fact, everywhere outside Africa, the arrival of Home sapiens sapiens was closely followed by mass extinctions of megafauna”.

Apart from islands like New Zealand the extinction of the megafaunas were, ironically, more likely due to climate change.

[Response: The jury's still out on that. Read for example Paul Martin's work. Over-hunting is a definite possibility in places such as N America.--Jim]

I always like to think of denialists as diprotodonts queuing at a rapidly-drying water hole.

Comment by calyptorhynchus — 9 Feb 2011 @ 4:55 PM

119. Professor Pierrehumbert: Regarding part 2 of your Dyson sphere question: “If you tried to put an atmosphere on the inside (livable) surface of a Dyson sphere, where would it go?”

I’ve enjoyed contemplating this and I appeal to everyone’s forgiveness for my making a back of the envelope guess while out of my field…

And assuming this is a one-walled Dyson sphere rotating to simulate 1 gravity, and that the atmosphere is inserted quickly and has the angular momentum of the sphere…

I think the atmosphere will experience two forces: one a tendancy to collect at the equator from the angular momentum, and two, a tendancy to escape along the sphere to higher latitudes. As the gas encounters lower simuluted gravity at higher latitudes it would rise into cones over the north and south pole and spiral into to star.

??

I’ll check my guess as I study Chapter 2.

jg

[Response: You're certainly on the right track. I didn't put this in Chapter 2 because it does involve some stuff about centrifugal force and gravity I didn't really discuss explicitly, but with some knowledge of those two things plus the thermo (esp. hydrostatics) in Ch. 2. you can get the answer. I won't spoil the fun here. Does everybody understand why you need to spin the sphere to simulate 1 gravity? And why you don't wind up getting 1g everywhere? --raypierre]

Comment by jg — 9 Feb 2011 @ 6:23 PM

120. I suspect that a lot of the action is about to wander over to the Odonnelgate thread, but before I lose your attention entirely, I want to say a few words about the intent of our Dyson article.

Some have taken this as an invitation to dump on Dyson, but that wasn’t really the point. Dyson is not Dr. Strangelove, and he’s certainly not a manipulative self-aggrandizing egotist like Claude Allegre. He ia a thoroughly agreeable and affably dotty academic who has a lot of interesting things to say but is not especially well informed about climate or most of the other things he writes about. So, one shouldn’t take home the message that, “Dyson is a great physicist and says there’s something wrong with our approach to global warming, so that should carry a lot of weight.” As we’ve argued, he is not well informed and has not thought these things through any better than the pronouncements on bioengineering he has made. What makes Dyson interesting is not his insights about the scientific aspects of what he is talking about. That is shallow, and often wrong. What makes him interesting is his philosophy, in particular his views of the destiny of humanity. This philosophy is defined by the dichotomy (false, I think) he sets up between “environmentalism” and “humanism.” In this he has a lot in common with Teilhard de Chardin. The comments here have raised enough interesting points about the place of humans in nature that I decided it is worth writing a separate post exploring these ideas. Stay tuned!

Comment by raypierre — 9 Feb 2011 @ 8:33 PM

121. Bill Hunter, OK, let’s talk about probabilistic risk assessment. What’s step one, Bill? Why, bounding the risk. Do you know of a single study that has convincingly bounded risk for climate science? I don’t and it is not for lack of searching. Even if you look just at the CO2 sensitivity PDFs, the admittedly small probability that S is greater than 4.5 degrees per doubling dominates risk, because the consequences are so much more grave. So, Bill, what is a risk mitigation professional to do when confronted with a threat that carries unbounded risk and the potential for unlimited loss? The only acceptable answer is to avoid the threat, and the only way to do that is to limit CO2 emissions.

Comment by Ray Ladbury — 9 Feb 2011 @ 8:42 PM

122. There is a reason for the classic joke about physicists that starts with “Postulate a spherical chicken … ” and Dyson is a good example.

Comment by John McCarthy — 9 Feb 2011 @ 11:48 PM

123. JBowers @52 – I’ve often wondered why, if cost effective energy transmission is feasible, why this couldn’t be the basis of a global energy grid? Hell of a lot easier (probably cheaper too) to have solar farms across the world’s deserts than in orbit or on the moon, even if they don’t run 24/7 (in orbit) or 14 days per 28 (on the moon). If the energy can be sent from where it’s sunny to where it’s needed.
I don’t have problems with Big Ideas wherever they come from (Dyson has thrown out a few) but we have real constraints including environmental ones. A global grid is one Big Idea, one I think probably does deserve some consideration. And it looks more achievable than solar farms on the moon. But I’d rather not place all our bets on it when it looks like it gets less serious R&D than boiler efficiency in coal power plants.

Comment by Ken Fabos — 10 Feb 2011 @ 1:53 AM

124. I was making models of the actual sinks for a project, and his statement that they were all around the same size was off by orders of magnitude. He also said there was a perfect system of negative feedbacks. I don’t think you need that much expertise, really. He says stuff that would get you a solid reputation as a crank anywhere, anytime.

Comment by Marion Delgado — 10 Feb 2011 @ 3:02 AM

125. “Does everybody understand why you need to spin the sphere to simulate 1 gravity? And why you don’t wind up getting 1g everywhere?”

That would be the consequence of the (nowhere near as salacious as it sounds) hairy ball theorem. It’s impossible to rotate a sphere in such a way that you won’t have at least one point where the velocity is zero.

If such an enormous undertaking were possible (“mammoth” doesn’t even begin to describe the scale of the task), ring worlds a la Halo would be where it’s at.

[Response: That's half the answer. As for the other half, here's a hint. What's the gravity field within the space enclosed by a shell of matter? --raypierre]

Comment by Tristan Croll — 10 Feb 2011 @ 5:40 AM

126. RE # 36

Ray, I followed your suggestion and read Dyson’s essay published in NYBR to which you provided a link.

The part I found most defines his thought process is in the following:

Imagine a child playing in a woodland stream, poking a stick into an eddy in the flowing current, thereby disrupting it. But the eddy quickly reforms. The child disperses it again. Again it reforms, and the fascinating game goes on. There you have it! Organisms are resilient patterns in a turbulent flow—patterns in an energy flow…. It is becoming increasingly clear that to understand living systems in any deep sense, we must come to see them not materialistically, as machines, but as stable, complex, dynamic organization.

This from a man who spent a great part of his life understanding, accepting and then utilizing quantum electrodynamics. He will never see an electron but he has a working knowledge of its 13.7 billion years of never failing to do what it was designed to do. Just as that flowing current can be affected but not changed by an intermittent poking of a stick.

He cannot accept AGW because it defies the order of a planet he suspects but is only vaguely familiar. He has no answers to provide on how, if AGW is the greatest challenge to have ever faced humanity, it might be contained.

One will have the same kind of reaction from Larry Summers if he was challenged to offer a fix of America’s economy if China and other central banks refuse to buy our debt.

Brilliant people have the convictions of their beliefs when they are in control of the facts. Neither Dyson nor Summers have the knowledge of the complete workings of the systems they have devoted their lives trying to understand. In other words, their comfort level demands they always be in command of their point of view. That is why he is reluctant or refuses to debate honest scientists. He has no tolerance, in his thinking, for being proven he is wrong.

Comment by John McCormick — 10 Feb 2011 @ 2:01 PM

127. Regarding the atmosphere in a Dyson sphere problem, I have to ask: should I assume 1) the Dyson sphere has an Earthlike IR reradiation but inward from the inner surface; or 2) the sphere is converting all solar energy to other forms and is therefore IR neutral on the inside; or
3) the sphere was constructed to be an inverted globe in how much it radiates IR on the inside, so that the equator emits the most IR inward and IR reduces as you climb to higher latitudes (a lot like inverted insolation on a globe).

(Am I barking up the wrong tree? Am I barking up A tree?)

thanks,
jg

[Response: Well that's where the fun begins -- it's your Dyson sphere, so you can design it any way you want (compatible with sound radiation physics). But regarding your question on insolation and latitude, you are getting a bit confused about the geometry. It's high noon all the time everywhere on the inside surface of the sphere. There's no differential solar heating, though variations in the material properties of the sphere or the atmosphere could still give you a temperature gradient. Regarding conversion of absorbed solar to IR -- that's fully determined by energy balance and the physics of blackbody radiation. You don't have any choice there, UNLESS you harvest a significant part of the energy using photovoltaics or something like that, and use the energy to do something that doesn't give back all the energy harvested as heat locally. For example, you might use the photovoltaics to drive a laser beacon to other stars, in an effort to touch base with other civilizations. --raypierre]

Comment by jg — 10 Feb 2011 @ 2:49 PM

128. Bill Hunter:

Information isn’t a commodity. I wouldn’t go so far as to say your whole world-view is wrong, since I really don’t know what your world-view is. But you have some odd ideas!

Comment by Didactylos — 10 Feb 2011 @ 2:52 PM

129. I think normal evolution has done quite well so far, except that it has managed to evolve a species whose technological capabilities have far outstripped the development of a moral compass that would allow that species to use its capabilities wisely. –raypierre Very philosofical, can I use that?

[Response: Be my guest! You are most welcome to use my bon mot. --raypierre]

Comment by unclepete — 10 Feb 2011 @ 3:31 PM

130. Oops, sorry – forgot to address that part. Yes, inside any homogenous spherical shell, the net gravitational force due to that shell is zero at all points. So you need to spin your construct to get artificial gravity.

Just how *fast* you need to spin it is also interesting. To get an outwards force of 1g at Earth’s orbit, you’d need to speed up the orbit to just nine days. With a tangential velocity of ~1200 km/s.

Yeah… Now imagine what would happen if it developed a crack.

[Response: ... which is no doubt why we are seeing so many disk-like infrared emitters out there in the galaxy. --raypierre]

Comment by Tristan Croll — 10 Feb 2011 @ 3:39 PM

131. In case no one has mentioned it, let me suggest that the phenomenon of emeritus physics professors pretending to be experts on subjects that are not their own, and making a complete hash of it, is not exactly uncommon.

I don’t think a more complicated explanation is really necessary. Good old fashioned egotism is enough.

Comment by Area Man — 10 Feb 2011 @ 4:35 PM

132. Raypierre,
The Dyson sphere discussion is fun, as it reminds me of discussions I had on sci.astro.seti (in the time that it was still buzzing with creative and scientific people alike).

For now, I have a more mondaine question.

The main post states :

“Study of the Last Glacial Maximum, the Pliocene and the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum all rule out the idea that there is a strongly stabilizing cloud feedback.”

and in post #34, you comment :

“The PETM in fact tends to support climate sensitivity at or somewhat above the top”

When I debate with ‘skeptics’ and AGW deniers, the issue of climate sensitivity and paleo-evidence for CO2 causing warming often comes up, and I would like a reference to the studies that you refer to here, so I can use it during in arguments.

Specifically, I’m looking for a study that confirms that changing levels of CO2 must have contributed to the temperature swings between glacials and inter-glacials. Since Milankovitch cycles create 50-80 W/m^2 irradiance swings between the Hemisphere’s, it is not easy to validate that CO2′s forcings swings (presumably in the range of 2-4 W/^2) could have much of any influence.

Note that this is one level below the ‘climate sensitivity’ discussion, since climate sensitivity is already assuming that CO2 at least caused a part of the glacial-interglacial temperature swings.

Any good source for studies done in this area would be appreciated.

Thank you.

P.S. A logistical suggestion for the RC comment section design : The number of comments on RC posts is typically in the hundreds, and with the single list of comments (also broken into pages with 50 comments each) the comment section is void of structure and context. Hence people need write RE # notes to refer to other comments, which are in turn hard to find back.

Is there a chance that RC could possibly provide a ‘thread-based’ comment section, rather than the single heap we now work with ?
That (thread-based comment section) is actually something I like from the climateaudit site (sorry!).
As an example of why a thread-based comment section is helpfull, here
http://climateaudit.org/2011/02/07/eric-steigs-trick/#comment-253866
is my latest post there which still stands with the responses nicely organized (and still unanswered by O’Donnell et al :o)

Comment by Rob — 10 Feb 2011 @ 8:57 PM

[Response: I declared the pointless MWP trolling off-topic, but please do feel free to respond to Rob on this thread. I think it's on topic here, because it relates to issues I raised in the post and in my comments. As for my two bits, you can get some idea of the implications of the Pliocene from Lunt et al in Nature Geoscience, and for the PETM from the nice perspectives piece in Science by Pagani et al. The LGM is trickier, because there are a lot of forcings involved, but Milankovic isn't much of an issue because in the Southern Hemisphere the ocean averages out a lot of the seasonal variation and what's more during the LGM itself, the insolation wasn't incredibly different. There is some review of the LGM implications in the Knutti and Hegerl paper on climate sensitivity in Nature Geosciences, but the LGM example is one of the trickier ones -- but still, a strongly stabilizing cloud feedback would have made it hard for the Southern Hemisphere midlatitudes to cool by 4C, largely in response to the CO2 reduction. I'll need to dig up links to the specific papers to make things easier for our readers, and hopefully will get to that later. Meanwhile, I'd be interested in your take on this. If I had to pick one thing that really scares me, it's the Pliocene, which was a very different world even though (as Mark Pagani assures me) nobody has a credible estimate for Pliocene CO2 higher than 450 ppmv. --raypierre]

Comment by David B. Benson — 10 Feb 2011 @ 9:54 PM

134. Rob (from another thread) — Rather than glacial cycling, let’s go back to the mid-Pliocene when CO2 levels were comperable to today’s and, as a consequence, there was very little ice anywhere:

Earth system sensitivity inferred from Pliocene modelling and data
Daniel J. Lunt, Alan M. Haywood, Gavin A. Schmidt, Ulrich Salzmann, Paul J. Valdes & Harry J. Dowsett
Nature Geoscience 3, 60 – 64 (2010)
http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v3/n1/full/ngeo706.html

http://tamino.wordpress.com/2011/01/29/glacial-cycles-part-2/

More generally, you should study “The Discovery of Global Warming” by Spencer Weart:
http://www.aip.org/history/climate/index.html

[Response: I took the liberty of moving this back to the Dyson thread. Thanks for the sensitivity to being OT, but I think it's OK here, since I raised the issue myself. --raypierre]

Comment by David B. Benson — 10 Feb 2011 @ 10:02 PM

135. It’s strange to see scientists behave like Neanderthals when confronted with evidence that they don’t like. My guess about Mr Dyson is that he is a Libertarian of the Julian Simonesque, Michael Chrichton and CATO variety. He just sounds like one to me.

Libertarians, as a party, don’t seem to have much regard for the planet that produced them and continues to give them life. They are much more at home in white, sterile rooms then sunny, green meadows. Their irrational (almost fundamentalist) feeling is that the earth exists solely for our use, and thus we should use it up and then discard it like any other rubbish. They are all big believers in the notion that technology will be (and should be) our savior. They regularly fall for the delusion that we can easily find other habitable planets (or spheres) to emigrate to (or build) because they’re simply itchin to get off this one. And so they find environmentalists, which call for earth’s conservation, Highly annoying. If they can speed up the transition off this planet and to outer space by monkey wrenching environmentalism then they are all for it.

Some people just seem to have, as Muir put it, “a perfect contempt for nature”. A perfectly insane contempt for nature that is.

[Response: "No dogma taught by the present civilization seems to form so insuperable an obstacle in the way of a right understanding of the relations which culture sustains to wildness as that which regards the world as made especially for the uses of man...Yet it is taught from century to century as something ever new and precious, and in the resulting darkness the enormous conceit is allowed to go unchallenged." John Muir.---Jim]

Comment by Ron R. — 11 Feb 2011 @ 12:39 AM

136. I did a google scholar search on “f dyson”. of the first 45 hits only 6 had co-authors. (5 of the first 50 were KHF, BF, or FW dysons)
I think he’s used to being an independent thinker, and just assumes that he knows enough about all aspects of any problem that catches his interest that he rarely needs to involve others.

Doing a search for ga schmidt, the stats are reversed – only 4 single author papers, the rest collaborations (and a few random hits).

Comment by Brian Dodge — 11 Feb 2011 @ 12:41 AM

137. Raypierre, David,
Thank you for all the good refences. I’ll read up on these and see to which extend they would ‘close’ the loopholes used by critics.

There is bell curve of levels of denial and skepticism out there, and even though the scientific case for AGW is very strong, as scientists, we need to make sure that every possible alternative to this planet’s warming trend is at least quantified and provide evidence for it’s significance. Otherwise we would be overstretching our conclusions and that leaves climate science volnerable to (in that case ligitimate) criticism of the smarter part of the bell curve. So evidence in the form of scientific studies on all aspects of climate science are important for every statement made by anyone arguing in the name of science (and here on RC specifically).

AGW skeptics (at least the smart ones) are very good in finding error with others, but their weak spot is scientific evidence, and sometimes you have to go very far to disprove their argument. For example, when somebody pointed me at Lindzen and Choi as proof of strong cloud feedback, I had to go all the way to find and point out the mistake in Lindzen’s paper, and then post that on contrarian web sites.
http://motls.blogspot.com/2009/11/spencer-on-lindzen-choi.html
Ultimately that caused Spencer to criticise Lindzen on scientific grounds. Trenberth 2010 knocked out any credibility of Lindzen and Choi eventually, and Lindzen to admit the mistakes, but for me this excercize showed that if you have your science right (every avenue closed), and do not overstretch arguments, that you can stand up to any ‘skeptic’ or ‘denier’ and come out stronger, as well as be relentless in your responses.

But every detail of what we write has to be sustained by (scientific) evidence. Leave no room for error.

That is why the argument for the influence of CO2 on our climate has to be shown way beyond ‘reasonable doubt’. Not just to show that ‘skeptics’ have no case, but much more to show the world that we have undisputable evidence of CO2′s infuence on past climates, and that we have significant evidence of the timeframe that effects of warming will play out.

In that respect, I truely appreciate that you ask my opinion on the Pliocene.

The best evidence we have is that the Pliocene was some 2-3 C higher than today and sea level was 20m higher. But if paleo climate science cannot show a higher resolution than say 4000 years, then we cannot prove more than 5mm/year sea level rise and thus it would be hard to argue that CO2′s influence will be more significant than plate tectonics, which also change by the same order of magnitude. I know, I know, there is a ‘risk’ that it will go much faster than that, but if we cannot quantify the rate of change, or even that risk, then we are not talking scientifically.
And then, how do we know how much of that 2-3 C was caused by the higher CO2 concentration and not by, say, a change in ocean currents (which could very easily distribute heat across the planet more evenly than what happens today).

Sorry if this response was more than you asked for, but I wanted to show you what kind of arguments I am dealing with I stick my head into these contrarian web sites and argue with AGW skeptics on news groups.

Comment by Rob — 11 Feb 2011 @ 3:31 AM

138. “Apart from islands like New Zealand the extinction of the megafaunas were, ironically, more likely due to climate change.” – calyptorhynchus

Then why didn’t such mass extinctions happen on previous occasions of similar climate change? Why did the continental mass extinctions happen sooner in Australia than in the Americas, and in both case, the evidence suggests, largely soon after human arrival? (These are the clearest continental cases, as modern humans were the first hominids to arrive, and spread very rapidly: in Eurasia, there was a considerably slower northward spread as cold-weather technology improved.) Why, when the cases of New Zealand, Madagascar and numerous smaller islands in more recent times are clearly due to human arrival, should the same processes not have operated on a larger scale?

Comment by Nick Gotts — 11 Feb 2011 @ 5:37 AM

139. “I don’t have problems with Big Ideas wherever they come from (Dyson has thrown out a few) but we have real constraints including environmental ones. A global grid is one Big Idea, one I think probably does deserve some consideration. . .”

Personally, I’ve developed a hearty distrust of Big Ideas. It’s not that I don’t appreciate or enjoy them, nor that I’m insensitive to their appeal. It’s rather that they appeal too much–providing a clarity and simplicity that is altogether too seductive, for me and (if history is a guide) to many others. If “the devil is in the details,” then a Big Idea at first blush looks like the ultimate exorcism.

But of course, each Big Idea then breeds its own complement of details–and worse, since no Big Idea is actually Big enough to encompass the entire Universe in all its richness (however much its advocates may delude themselves otherwise), a vast crowd of “secondary” details arises from what we might call “interface issues.”

And those are the really dangerous ones, since a really bad case of Big Idea-itis tends to lead to denial that those interface issues even exist. I’d say we’ve seen a few examples of that here on RC, and in the wider discussion about AGW-related policy too–both for mitigation and for geo-engineering. (Though geo-engineering seems particularly prone to the grandiose.)

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I think the “stabilization wedges” concept, which envisions flexible combinations of smaller-scale mitigation measures, is more likely to be helpful than any one “Big Idea” for mitigation.

Comment by Kevin McKinney — 11 Feb 2011 @ 7:55 AM

140. About the Dyson sphere, I always understood it to be meant to consist of independent particles, like the rings of Saturn. So, a collection of free-floating space colonies orbiting a central star. I remember seeing such visions already in the space literature of the fifties (Willy Ley?)

One problem with a solid Dyson sphere, or a Niven-Pournelle ringworld, is that it would eventually crash on the central star if it were rigid. Some sort of active control is necessary, like also for the ring of shadow squares inside it. This quite apart from the minor problem of finding a material strong enough to resist the centrifugal force if it spins to generate gravity… a problem the authors solved by just postulating such a material :-)

[Response: Making a dense sphere of free-orbiting O'Neill habitats is not so easy. You'd have to have a bunch of orbits at different inclinations and probably slightly different orbital radii, but then the traffic control problem to prevent collisions would be pretty severe. Still, a configuration like that would be far less problematic than a rigid Dyson sphere rotating to produce gravity -- especially because of the material strength difficulties, the stability problem, and the fact that (barring invention of gravity generators of some sort) almost all of your atmosphere would congregate around the equator of the sphere. (Exercise for the reader: compute the density of an O2/N2 atmosphere as a function of latitude on the sphere and altitude above the inner surface. You may assume the temperature of the atmosphere to be isothermal, or on the dry adiabat, to keep things simple. ). --raypierre]

Comment by Martin Vermeer — 11 Feb 2011 @ 8:32 AM

141. Above all else, the “Starship and the Canoe” is about two very different philosophies.

One philosophy is about “living with nature” (eg, George Dyson living in a tree-house, building sea kayaks and paddling around the Pacific Northwest coast).

The other philosophy is basically about the “control of nature.”

Freeman Dyson has spent his entire life embracing the latter philosophy: dreaming up ideas of genetically engineered “tree factories” (to produce chemicals and suck CO2 out of he air), bopping around the stars in nuclear powered star-ships, and the penultimate “control of nature”, producing atom and hydrogen bombs (though he was not directly involved), harnessing the power of a black hole.

Dyson’s faith in the power of humans to control the physical world stems from a system of beliefs and values (an ideology) that has been around for a long time — but which really came to the fore under Newton and reached its pinnacle with the production of the atomic and hydrogen bombs.

It’s really no surprise, then that Dyson would see no real problem with “controlling” our way out of any issue with too much CO2. After all, to someone like Dyson who witnessed the development of the atomic and hydrogen bombs, CO2 extraction from the air may seem like a small engineering problem in comparison.

Comment by Horatio Algeranon — 11 Feb 2011 @ 10:18 AM

142. > paleo climate science … resolution … 4000 years

Sez who, Rob?

Comment by Hank Roberts — 11 Feb 2011 @ 10:41 AM

143. Kevin @ 139, I wasn’t proposing we throw all our resources into one Big Idea and neglect what we know we can do right now. I don’t oppose efforts to develop Integral Fast Reactors or even ongoing R&D into Fusion ones but not as an excuse to fail to do what we can now. Improving long distance energy transmission via HVDC or (Big Idea) superconductors – or whatever might be made to do the job – deserve some effort too. There are lots of constraints besides the technological and direct environmental ones such as limits on time and money. But the biggest limit of all is the limit of willingness to actually commit to serious policy on climate and energy.

Still, I have yet to get a response from the proposers of space based solar (I ask this whenever I encounter them) for why, if energy can be beamed down successfully, this technology could not be used to beam up, over and back down.

Comment by Ken Fabos — 11 Feb 2011 @ 4:26 PM

144. Kevin, can I add that I suspect the primary motivation of space power proponents is not the solving of problems down here on Earth but to enable the colonisation of space – something Dyson has been a proponent of. I also suspect an element of doomism; Earth being somehow beyond human abilities to manage sustainably and sending off an elite selection of superior humans into space will somehow sustain our species beyond the use by date of our planet.

Comment by Ken Fabos — 11 Feb 2011 @ 4:44 PM

145. #143, 144–

I wasn’t criticizing your ideas, Ken; more just going off on a semi-related tangent. FWIW, I suspect your suspicions in #144 may have some justification.

Although I’d love to see space exploration–I want to say “take off,” but that would be bad–flourish, for that to happen at the cost of this world would be a fool’s bargain indeed. But I don’t think it’s either/or, if we can get through our current sustainability crisis.

Comment by Kevin McKinney — 11 Feb 2011 @ 9:15 PM

146. In some ways, the Dyson sphere is sorta silly. Since you have to spin it to maintain gravity, there’s only a relatively small percentage of it that’s livable. As you go further from the circle that’s perpendicular to the axis of the spin, the apparent gravity would be at an angle to the ground under your feet. For this reason alone, I prefer the ring world. Not that this preference has much bearing on my life, as no-one has invited me to live on either kind of habitat. HINT, HINT, HINT….

Comment by MartinJB — 11 Feb 2011 @ 11:06 PM

147. The third possibility is that Dyson is correct.

Comment by Leonard Weinstein — 11 Feb 2011 @ 11:44 PM

148. Kevin, oddly enough I think space habitats would require closer and more regulated attention to environmental issues than anything seen to date on Earth. Anyone imagining that there would be less regulation and more individual freedom within a space habitat is seriously kidding themselves; workaholic perfectionists willing to follow plans and procedures, fanatic recyclers more concerned about air and water contamination than the most extreme Greens and completely dependent on the resources and most advanced products of Earth for the foreseeable future. And I suppose the people of Earth would be expected to pay for the whole exercise. But human nature, with all it’s messiness would still go wherever humans go. Selection for superior intellect doesn’t guarantee anything; imagine a thousand Dysons trying to agree on anything! And their kids may not find following in Daddy’s footsteps their idea of a fulfilling life even if the fine line between life and hard vacuum is strong incentive to try their best.

Comment by Ken Fabos — 11 Feb 2011 @ 11:49 PM

149. > third possibility

And we all fervently things work out that he is somehow correct.
Designing credible, believable castles in the air is a skill.
Living in them — isn’t something to count on.

Comment by Hank Roberts — 12 Feb 2011 @ 12:09 AM

150. Re 52,72,77,82,101, and 102:

I first heard the idea of off-planet solar power beamed back to earth with focused microwaves, offered by an emeritus professor of chemistry during a Teach-in at University of Kansas on the first Earth Day so many years ago.

I asked about what seemed like obvious problems for which the professor had no real response. I have been paying attention (off-and-on) ever since and have still not heard reasonable answers.

Briefly: If you are bringing 130 terawatts or 20 terawatts down through the atmosphere to one or ten thousand antenna(e), how big do the antennae need to be (which will determine the photon flux density coming through the atmosphere)? As the photon flux density decreases, the cost of the antennae increase. How will the birds, bats, and people flying through the beam feel about it? Will the microwaves interact with moisture (or other components of the atmosphere)? What will be the meteorological consequences of steady state heating of one or ten thousands columns of atmosphere — dust devils, standing or wandering tornadoes, something else? If you move the antennae to the polar regions to minimize heating of water vapor in the atmosphere, how will the antennae and the transmission grid feel about solar storms and what sort of transmission network would you need to move the electricity to where it is needed?

Perhaps other RC readers can point me toward sensible answers to these questions.

Best regards.

Jim Dukelow

Comment by Jim Dukelow — 12 Feb 2011 @ 1:25 AM

151. Dyson’s hypothesis (that limitless technological inginuity can overcome any obstacle) actually leads to the paradoxal conclusion that we should be very, very careful with what we do on and with this planet.

I’d like to designate this reasoning as the “Dyson Paradox”, and it goes like this :

If human technological ingenuity will eventually enable interstellar travel and build Dyson spheres (or the more practicle Dyson ‘swarm’s) around our sun and nearby stars, then one small step beyond that we would transform and colonise the entire Galaxy, and this would surely be observable.

Since we still see stars at night, and no alien species has (in the past) crunched up our planets and turned them into space habitats, so other species has apparently succeeded in colonizing the entire Galaxy before us. So either the lifetime of all technological civilisations in this Galaxy is limited and technology dies out at some point, or we are an extremely unique in the Galaxy.

If we have limited lifetime, then technological ingenuity apparently has hard upper limits, or technology itself causes civilisations like our to end. And if we are extremely unique in the Galaxy, then, being the only intelligent lifeform in the Galaxy should give us some real prespective on how precious life really is.

Either way, it seems that should be very, very careful with our planet and all it’s life splendor and diversity of species.

And that conclusion is opposite from the hypothesis that we started with. Thus Dyson’s belief is either emperically disproven or it leads to a paradox. Dyson’s paradox.

Lesson learned from the stars : Earth is all we have and likely all we ever will have. Be careful with her.

Comment by Rob — 12 Feb 2011 @ 3:16 AM

152. Rob, your “Dyson’s Paradox” is a restatement of Fermi’s Paradox. And in any case, Dyson’s vision is basically a hallucination. He ignores the fact that we would be bombarded by a constant flux of about 6 cosmic ray particles per square cm per second. These cannot be practically shielded and over a period of months to years would kill us.

Dyson has a talent for ignoring details.

Comment by Ray Ladbury — 12 Feb 2011 @ 8:38 AM

153. Leonard Weinstein: “The third possibility is that Dyson is correct.”

Comment by Ray Ladbury — 12 Feb 2011 @ 8:41 AM

154. Still, I have yet to get a response from the proposers of space based solar (I ask this whenever I encounter them) for why, if energy can be beamed down successfully, this technology could not be used to beam up, over and back down.

Ken, indeed. I have sometimes proposed this for bringing OTEC generated energy from the tropical oceans to consumers.

You have to consider of course that the main selling point of space based solar is that you’re in sunlight 24/7. On the Earth surface, not so. Whether that’s enough of a selling point, given the cost of putting stuff in orbit, is a legitimate point of discussion.

Comment by Martin Vermeer — 12 Feb 2011 @ 8:45 AM

155. “… CO2 extraction from the air may seem like a small engineering problem in comparison.”

Of course, the engineering is a snap. Paying for it is the problem. There Dyson isn’t faced with Man controlling Nature. There we’re faced with Man v Man.

Hand waving and pontificating don’t work.

Comment by Jeffrey Davis — 12 Feb 2011 @ 11:26 AM

156. Ken Fabos at #148 graphically points out a sobering reality that I haven’t seen pointed out much elsewhere: yes, if we are unable to survive here together on our basically friendly planet, we certainly won’t manage to survive in space settlements, where the skill set required is pretty much the same, only much more so.

I am reminded of a story by Asimov (?):

Q: it rains and you’re sheltering under a tree. The rain goes on and on and the tree starts leaking through. What do you do?
A: Find another, still unused tree.

Comment by Martin Vermeer — 12 Feb 2011 @ 11:59 AM

157. Fred Hoyle spent his later years being very successful at diminishing
my respect for him. So when I read a commentary on Hoyle by Dyson, I
expected, if not condemnation, at least some evidence that Dyson had
standards. I was disappointed: Dyson gave Hoyle a free pass. I assumed
at the time that he did it because they were friends. However, now that
my respect for Dyson is going down, I see some sort of pattern.

Comment by Don Lindsay — 12 Feb 2011 @ 12:31 PM

158. Fun fact / Trivia

Spaceship Earth (1982)

A dark ride in EPCOT that takes you through the amazing story of human
communication. From the prehistoric times and the development of language to present
day and future technology this ride accompanied by a wonderful score by Edo Guidotti
that will truly make you feel at the happiest place on Earth..
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0111251/

Survival of Spaceship Earth (1972)

Earth’s environmental crisis–brought about by uncontrolled technological
progress–is endangering life on a global scale. At the core of the threats to the
planet – wars, overpopulation, pollution, and the depletion of natural resources -
is the inadequacy of the nation state to come to terms with the surmounting problems
of twentieth century living. What is urgently needed is the kind of international
cooperation where nation states relinquish part of their sovereignty to a world body
entrusted with the management of mankind’s future.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0278756/

Comment by Prokaryotes — 12 Feb 2011 @ 12:37 PM

159. Jim Dukelow #150: precisely what don’t you know? There is pertinent info here

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space-based_solar_power

and links therein. Basically you are using a rectenna with a power density in the centre of 23 mw/cm^2 in the middle, 10 mW/cm^2 at the edge, and considerably less outside the beam. These intensities have been tested on animals without obvious bad effects. Humans wouldn’t be affected at all, because they would be inside aircraft (if these would be allowed to fly through the beam; unlikely).

(rules for allowable exposure are a bit of a jungle… I found this

http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/cfr_2004/octqtr/47cfr1.1310.htm

where Table 1B seems to say that at 2.45 GHz, 1.0 mW/cm^2 is acceptable for the general population, meaning the rectenna would have to be in a somewhat remote location with nobody living nearby.)

About the local climatic effects, they would be considerably less than those of an equivalent conventional power plant, as the conversion efficiency is around 85% as against 40% or so for conventional. The effect on the ionosphere could be potentially more serious and has not been studied much to my knowledge.

Comment by Martin Vermeer — 12 Feb 2011 @ 12:56 PM

160. Here is my attempt at the pressure in a rotating Dyson sphere problem. The acceleration g is cylindrically symmetric, varying linearly as the distance from the axis of rotation, r*cos(theta), and the potential therefore goes as (r*cos(theta))^2

taking R to be the radius of the sphere, and h to be the radial altitude (R-r)
i eventually get an exponential atmosphere that goes as
constant*exp[(h*cos(theta))^2-(R*sin(theta))^2], the constant being an exponential in the square of the angular frequency of rotation of the sphere, divided by the temperature with the usual mass and Boltzman constants

Comment by sidd — 12 Feb 2011 @ 1:04 PM

161. Jim Dukelow (#150):
The idea of collecting solar power in space and transmitting as microwave to the earth is studied as a down-to-earth technology (not a Dysonian dream) in Japan, e.g. [A web page in JAXA], [A web page in Kyoto University]. I heard that they study such questions about the cost and safety as you raised, and that they design to have an optimum energy flux density high enough to be useful and low enough to be harmless. But I have not got yet details.

Comment by Kooiti Masuda — 12 Feb 2011 @ 1:06 PM

162. 114, SecularAnimist:What Einstein objected to was the idea that concepts like indeterminacy, uncertainty, nonlocality and complementarity were not just aspects of the abstract models but of physical reality itself.

You might be right.

It depends on the degree to which the “model” is presented as “the reality”, or the epistemology as the metaphysics (or ontology), in the presentations of the science. That is a very short sentence for a complex dependency; please forgive me. But even Newton’s first law is ambiguous in this regard: no object moving uniformly in the absence of external force has ever been observed, but the law is for sure a part of an excellent model. So to take the model (which is excellent) as the reality (despite the absence of an object in uniform motion having ever been observed) requires a leap of faith.

I don’t think Einstein was successful at persuading the scientific community that what he meant was what you wrote on his behalf. I think that modern readers mostly consider his work on the subject (such as the EPR paper) either hopelessly obscure or demonstrably wrong.

I don’t really think he should be lumped with Dyson. Dyson is willfully wrong about some empirical facts which he could check.

Comment by Septic Matthew — 12 Feb 2011 @ 1:22 PM

163. Having read the entire thread to #154 I’ve picked out the most interesting (to me) comments and add some of my own:

“Extirpation can work many ways, and one of them is to wipe out the fruits of four billion years of natural selection and replace it with continents covered with hybridized gengineered corn and bananas.” I too fume at the kind of arrogant, calloused “so what!” attitude whenever I read about some hotel or parking lot being proposed on that which is home to a threatened or endangered species.

“Or perhaps because he [Dyson] treats the prospect of human suffering as a phenomena to be observed in the context of the grand sweep of history, rather than something to try and prevent”. Mengele had the same cold philosophy. The end justifies the means (just so long as I’M not one of those made to suffer).

“It often makes me wonder if we’re not confused, if there aren’t two intermingled but separate species of sapient beings on this planet, both of which look identical, even to an extreme similarity in DNA, but which simply have to be different species. There must be some obscure, brief genetic sequence that distinguishes homo sapiens from homo scurra.” I’ve often wondered the same thing. Maybe we are an extension of the strange differences between regular thuggish chimpanzees and the bonobos…

“The chances of colonists surviving long term off earth are nil.” Yep. The technologists, though, like to come back and say “hey, people used to say that man would never fly or travel to the moon but we did” as a way to squelch dissent from the all powerful techno fix.

“It would set us Free of the Earth”. “Free”, if you consider earth to be a prison. What the technological cornucopians willfully fail to realize is the very high level of our dependence upon this planet that we have co-evolved with. We-ARE-the-earth and all it’s species. We are so adapted to it that denied any one of many precise qualities for long and we would begin to suffer and die. Are we going to terraform another planet that thoroughly anytime in the near or even distant future? Highly doubtful. Would anyone really want to trade life on earth for the prison of a Dyson sphere or ringworld?

“The real world of our future is totally dependent on the level of greed of a continually expanding human population exploiting continually declining material resources.” Yep. “To reverse it, I do not believe that any of our global political systems have the capability. External events will be the drivers.” It’s looking that way.

“I should state that I have a great deal of hope for a biotech solution to mop-up carbon dioxide.” I certainly do not. So far all it’s been about is lots of glowing promises, an ever expanding class of super weeds and suicides (in India), and money in the bank for the likes of Monsanto.

“If you average together Dyson and Lovelock, their foibles and craziness will cancel out.” Not by my reckoning. Lovelock say that the earth behaves like a single organism, something that his protege, the respected Lynn Margulis also says. I happen to wonder if the earth may have also evolved a “world mind”. That’s just speculation though.

Comments by Michael K — 9 Feb 2011 @ 1:39 PM. Right. People do tend to get full of themselves, and protective of their “legacy” when that legacy has achieved them adulation. And no one does cheap adulation like the funders of professional skeptics, whether that’s in the field of climate change or creationism.

“(Though geo-engineering seems particularly prone to the grandiose.)” It sure does. It’s like a big game to those who would play around with systems which have co-evolved to a nice working balance.

Comments by Ken Fabos — 11 Feb 2011 @ 4:44 PM. Exactly. I read a sci-fi book once called Voice of the Planet that, if I remember right drew this idea out.

Comments by Kevin McKinney — 11 Feb 2011 @ 9:15 PM. Right.

Comments by Ken Fabos — 11 Feb 2011 @ 11:49 PM. “Anyone imagining that there would be less regulation and more individual freedom within a space habitat is seriously kidding themselves”. That’s one thing you can count on. Any habitat with smaller dimensions and less fragile than the earth will have much more regulation.

“Designing credible, believable castles in the air is a skill. Living in them — isn’t something to count on.” I think we would discover that pretty quickly.

“Either way, it seems that should be very, very careful with our planet and all it’s life splendor and diversity of species…. Lesson learned from the stars : Earth is all we have and likely all we ever will have. Be careful with her.” Well and wisely said.

Comment by Ron R. — 12 Feb 2011 @ 3:12 PM

164. Dyson is actually his own nemesis. By trying to protect the dirty energy industry he is saying that he doesn’t think that we CAN build a better world technologically than that which is based on fossil fuels. And I thought he was supposed to be the optimist.

On second thought maybe he knows we can, it’s just that he’s getting something out of things staying the same. Hmmm.

Comment by Ron R. — 12 Feb 2011 @ 3:21 PM

165. Thanks RC for catching my comments. I thought I’d lost them with the captcha issue. Sorry for the multiple posts.

Comment by Ron R. — 12 Feb 2011 @ 3:42 PM

166. Here’s something else to mull over for those wondering what makes the Dysons tick. Anybody with children will tell you how hazardous it is to try to make any judgment about the parents from what the children are like, but since Brower brought up the interesting Freeman/George dynamic, it is interesting to look at how BOTH Dyson kids in some way simulataneously fell near to and far from the tree. Apropos of that, everybody likes to talk about George, because he lived in a tree and now builds kayaks, but how come we hear so little about Esther? In my view, she may be the most interesting (and almost certainly the most influential) Dyson at all. Check out her activities at http://www.edventure.com/ . And don’t let the name of the site fool you into thinking she does something like arranging kayak adventures.

Comment by raypierre — 12 Feb 2011 @ 6:35 PM

167. I’d like to add one more thing; something that perhaps would be evident to evolutionary biologists. The only way we could survive in space or on another planet for long would be to become something other than homo sapiens, so intimately are we physiologically and psychologically connected to this planet. And since the natural process of evolution would be too slow and clumsy in the short term we would have to be engineered in labs to adapt

What then would we be?

Comment by Ron R. — 12 Feb 2011 @ 9:50 PM

168. #166–

. . .not that there’s anything wrong with kayak adventures, of course!

Thanks for the pointer!

Comment by Kevin McKinney — 12 Feb 2011 @ 11:25 PM

169. 167 Ron R said, “The only way we could survive in space or on another planet for long would be to become something other than homo sapiens, so intimately are we physiologically and psychologically connected to this planet.”

I disagree. A space ark or station would have to be huge in order to incorporate enough shielding to protect enough people to make it worthwhile. Only desirable species would exist and the weather would be perfect, making it easy for people to do what people do, which is adapt to the circumstances.

Comment by RichardC — 12 Feb 2011 @ 11:29 PM

170. > Only desirable species would exist

Oy.

http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMe020092

Comment by Hank Roberts — 13 Feb 2011 @ 12:35 AM

171. I believe the physicist Murray Gell-Mann (elementary particles, Nobel Prize) once remarked that there is a variety of British physicist that would rather be “clever” than right.

Maybe Dyson has a touch of this.

Comment by Neal J. King — 13 Feb 2011 @ 9:39 AM

172. Richard C., It would take 13 cm of aluminum to sheild out half of the galactic cosmic rays. I’d LOVE to see the rocket that launches that bird!

Keep in mind also that all materials eventually degrade in a radiation environment. Also keep in mind the bone loss that occurs in low-gravity environments. Star Trek is science FICTION for a reason.

Comment by Ray Ladbury — 13 Feb 2011 @ 10:15 AM

173. From an evolutionary perspective, we absolutely have to eventually get off this planet and colonize other worlds. Otherwise, in the long term, we are extinct with 100% probability, and not going extinct seems to be the only purpose of out existence.

That, of course, does not mean that it is possible to do so; right now, it looks like it isn’t, but if it is, for all the reasons listed above and many others, it will require knowledge and mastery of the laws of physics and technologies derived from such understanding that are unimaginable right now. We are very far off from such level, and, again, we will likely never reach it as may simply not exist.

But we have to try, and in order to do that, we need time and resources. We are never going to have those if the current civilization collapses, because whatever fraction of humanity survives, will have to live in a ruined world (that may even become completely uninhabitable, depending on how stupid our behavior is in the next decades) with depleted resources and most of the knowledge we have accumulated during the last few centuries gone. And because the resources that allow humans to build the kind of civilizations that build particle accelerators will have been exhausted/dissipated into the environment, that knowledge will never be regenerated, cutting whatever chances we had of leaving the planet.

So the only sane strategy is drastically and urgently reducing the environmental impact and resource consumption to a level that does not make the scenario described above an inevitability, and investing everything into research, with the full realization that that research may take many centuries or even millenia and may never succeed.

The techno-optimists and techno-fixers seem to drastically underestimate all three basic components of the situation – the physical possibility of the proposed technofixes (no amount of ingenuity can get you around the Second law), the amount of effort it will take to make them happen when they are realistically possible, and the speed at which we’re driving towards the cliff. Why extremely smart highly educated people fail to appreciate any of that is a mystery indeed

Comment by Georgi Marinov — 13 Feb 2011 @ 11:42 AM

174. [Response: "No dogma taught by the present civilization seems to form so insuperable an obstacle in the way of a right understanding of the relations which culture sustains to wildness as that which regards the world as made especially for the uses of man...Yet it is taught from century to century as something ever new and precious, and in the resulting darkness the enormous conceit is allowed to go unchallenged." John Muir.---Jim]

That nails it quite well. However, it also reminds me how superficial the discussion about AGW usually is, even when coming from people on the correct side of the fence. AGW is only one part of our global sustainability crisis, with resource depletion (fossil fuels, phosphorus, other minerals and metal ores, fossil aquifers, topsoil, etc.) and ecosystem collapse being just as serious, and all of them being very closely interconnected with each other. So we have to look at the whole picture, not just at one of those problems, and while AGW is a very serious problem on its own, it is actually counterproductive to focus exclusively on it, as “solutions” targeted at only one aspect of the crisis often aren’t really solutions at all when the whole is considered. And the whole picture is much much scarier than even the direst climate change scenarios for the future on their own.

But even then, we would be missing a very essential piece of the puzzle which is our view of our own place in the world, which is the root of our inability to do anything about all of those things listed above. And that has very deep cultural and religious roots, and those are too sacred cows for the vast majority of people to touch on. Until we stop seeing ourselves as “special” and appreciate what our place in the world is and how fragile our existence really is, we have absolutely no chance of adequately addressing those issues. I know that people don’t like to discuss it, but the “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth” sentence is what is at the root of the conservative’s opposition to AGW. And that applies to the thinking of many people who aren’t even religious, simply because our culture is so deeply permeated with that attitude. Now given what the response from the religious fanatics and right wing is to even the feeblest of proposals for AGW legislation and how any adequate measures to prevent global societal collapse are going to be orders of magnitude more drastic, there is absolutely no hope of ever making that happen unless those sociocultural attitudes are thoroughly eradicated. Which is a simply impossible task given how little time there is, but is made even more impossible by the fact that so few people dare to talk about it…

Comment by Georgi Marinov — 13 Feb 2011 @ 12:11 PM

175. Georgi Marinov 13 Feb 2011 at 12:11 PM, nice post.

Ray Ladbury: “It would take 13 cm of aluminum to sheild out half of the galactic cosmic rays. I’d LOVE to see the rocket that launches that bird!”

And think of the natural resources it would take to just to build a sizable Dyson Prison, er, Sphere (I prefer living in open systems to closed ones myself).

I am not against space travel at all. I do hope that we find a way to travel to the stars, or at least to the other planets in our solar system. I’d love to visit them myself if I could. I just have real doubts about long term space travel and it’s effects on us. Maybe this is our future…

http://www.hyper.net/ufo/pics/alien.jpg

I also happen to think (silly me) that it’s, well, kind of crazy to write the earth off when it’s clearly all we have and if simply taken care of it is so well suited to life. Our first priority ought to be earth’s preservation (why does this obvious fact even need defending? Why am I embarrassed to mention it? Why has the idea of conservation changed from a virtue to a vice in the minds of so many?). Anyway, after securing a future for our home planet we can go to the stars. But it simply should not be an either/or situation.

Let’s get our heads out of the sand and tackle overpopulation, resource depletion, habitat destruction, species extinction, air/water/ground pollution and climate change head on. It’s unfortunate that to date no one in any real official capacity seems to even want to talk about these issues (which by itself would go a long way toward fixing things, kind of like an alcoholic admitting he/she actually has a problem), fearing the tea party like backlash of the corporatists and capitalists.

And so we march on like lemmings toward the cliff.

Comment by Ron R. — 13 Feb 2011 @ 3:37 PM

176. Ron R.@163 says “Lovelock say that the earth behaves like a single organism, something that his protege, the respected Lynn Margulis also says.”

Respected or not, Margulis is hardly the ideal referee when it comes to judging the scientific sanity of a position – some of her opinions are also pretty much ‘out there’…

Comment by Gerry Quinn — 14 Feb 2011 @ 8:15 AM

177. RE # 173

Georgi, you said, “From an evolutionary perspective, we absolutely have to eventually get off this planet and colonize other worlds. Otherwise, in the long term, we are extinct with 100% probability, and not going extinct seems to be the only purpose of out existence.”

Matthew said:

Matthew 19:30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

Where are you, in the line. Would you let the poorest get to the head of the line? Or, only the richest?

Anyway, it is a part of the absurdity of human nature to think we will ever leave this planet except in our dreams. Get back to work.

John McCormick

Comment by John McCormick — 14 Feb 2011 @ 10:49 AM

178. John McCormick says:
14 Feb 2011 at 10:49 AM
RE # 173

Where are you, in the line. Would you let the poorest get to the head of the line? Or, only the richest?

I don’t see what what I said has to do with who’s rich and who’s poor? I was talking about the species.

Anyway, it is a part of the absurdity of human nature to think we will ever leave this planet except in our dreams. Get back to work.

I think I clearly stated that space travel Star Trek-style is most likely a physical impossibility. But we are not sure that it is impossible, and that we are obliged to at least try. That means research and lots of it, for which to happen we must absolutely not collapse now because there will be no second chance.

I have had this debate numerous times with various people and for some mysterious to me reason it very often devolves into accusations of elitist bias, putting the rich in front of the poor in the line, etc., even racism, things that are completely irrelevant to the discussion and that simply can not be part of any society that follows from the lines of thought I present anyway. That can only mean that people simply don’t get it all even when you say it as directly as possible.

Which is very sad and discouraging…

Comment by Georgi Marinov — 14 Feb 2011 @ 12:34 PM

179. Gerry Quinn, no doubt there is controversy (what else is new?) and she may be a bit of a scientific maverick (her cooperation vs the traditional competition only ideas as movers in evolution; e.g. plants trade genetic material rather freely).

While I don’t really want to get into a debate about her personally, I think you are being a bit too hard on her. She’s no Velikovsky.

http://www.geo.umass.edu/faculty/margulis/

Comment by Ron R. — 14 Feb 2011 @ 3:15 PM

180. Anyway, it is a part of the absurdity of human nature to think we will ever leave this planet except in our dreams.

A much more compelling statement before July 16, 1969.

Comment by Kevin McKinney — 14 Feb 2011 @ 3:17 PM

181. Interesting thread, with books, bunnies and boats. While I enjoyed the Starship and the Canoe, I’d go nuts in space. Why has no one pointed out how nice kayaks are? My wife and I had a lovely sea kayaking day last weekend here in Trinidad, West Indies. For most environmental scientists, likely preferable to living in a starship. Perhaps Freeman should get out more. But then he would see our increasing temperatures, extreme weather events, acidifying ocean and dying coral, decreasing biodiversity, and the nasty bits of floating oil and garbage we have to paddle the kayak around. Bummer.

Comment by richard peterson — 14 Feb 2011 @ 3:26 PM

182. I am a psychologist (motivation and personality is my field), and while I have hardly done an in depth study of Freeman Dyson, I can offer a few other inputs. I agree that being a fan of technology is a contributing factor; he also likes big, sweeping human actions. But fundamentally I suspect a key driver is his obviously quite strong influence motive. (The literature refers to it — overly negatively — as Power motive.) Dyson is clearly driven by the desire to have an impact on or influence on others — hence his highly public statements and numerous books, some of which are clearly for the general public rather than colleagues. (Cf. David McClelland, if you want to know more about the Three Social Motives; Dyson also shows signs of significant Achievement motive.) I found in my own research that published writers in the popular realm tended to be quite strong in this nonconscious, emotional drive (See my book on writing). These days, you can join the vast numbers of people supporting AGW and join in the research, much of which appears from the outside to be incrementalist and collective rather than dramatic and individualistic, or you can be a contrarian and make a splash and get lots of visibility with no work at all. Please note that I have no brief for this view; I think excitement is wherever you find it. I think Dyson, however, may feel this way: no room for big, exciting experiments or theories where you have to blow something up or do something cosmic to fix the problem — just careful, calculated actions that must be kept in check lest we tilt the balance the wrong way.
And hey, he’s in his eighties. I doubt he really cares to do the serious reading it would take to have an informed opinion. The sad thing is that he probably knows this and doesn’t admit it or want to take a more nuanced view.

Comment by Steve Kelner — 14 Feb 2011 @ 5:52 PM

183. I admit to getting a thrill from the idea of colonising space but I think the reality is going to be uncomfortable and confining as well as very difficult, extremely expensive and facing some serious problems with sustainability; the lessons needed to be learned are probably the ones we face right now here on Earth. And as others have pointed out, failure here over the next few decades will leave us unable to engage in such an exercise into the future.

We currently have economies that can support complex research and development, a population that produces brilliant thinkers and innovators in significant numbers and the social and educational opportunities that means many of them can flourish. There may be lower limits for populations, economic size and resilience and minimum diversity of skills and opportunities that space habitats will struggle to reach or maintain; they may be able to retain a vast amount of stored knowledge and may begin with a good number of the brightest and best but they may risk longer term stasis or decay without something like a global economy underpinning them. Smaller, more easily regulated populations with a strong sense of their vulnerability may avoid some of the disunity and disputation over doing the minimum that’s necessary but there will be costs to longer term viability.

For the next few hundred thousand years when faced with possible human extinction I also suspect that the advantages of space habitats over Dr Strangelove style bunkers could also be debatable.

Isn’t it better to take our existing biosphere’s sustainability much more seriously and at least make an all out effort to avoid permanently messing up what is still, even now, by far the best real estate around?

Comment by Ken Fabos — 14 Feb 2011 @ 7:47 PM

184. #183–

My, Ken, how you persist in saying sensible things!

These considerations may not be the last word, but IMO they are definitely worth pondering, if we take the subject seriously.

Not that there aren’t already enough good reasons to take sustainability seriously.

Comment by Kevin McKinney — 14 Feb 2011 @ 8:34 PM

185. sn’t it better to take our existing biosphere’s sustainability much more seriously and at least make an all out effort to avoid permanently messing up what is still, even now, by far the best real estate around?

Comment by Ken Fabos — 14 Feb 2011

It is not an either/or question and that’s not the argument – the argument is that we have to do absolutely everything possible not to destroy the Earth so that we have some non-zero chance to leave it by the time it becomes uninhabitable for us for natural reasons.

Comment by Georgi Marinov — 15 Feb 2011 @ 3:20 AM

186. Values are not to be found in outer space but inner space. The mess we find ourselves in is a question of values, not technology nor science. Neither technology nor the physical sciences can tell us anything meaningful about values (Heisenberg, Schroedinger, Einstein, De Broglie, Jeans, Planck, Pauli and Eddington all understood this and none had a materialistic worldview.) The evidence all around us, however, is that science and technology is being, and has been, used by the few to exploit the planet’s limited resources for self-centered material gain and power (i.e. economic development) with scant regard for human development. The value drivers for this behavior? Anger, greed, stupidity, desire, jealousy and pride. The antidote is practices that lead to discovering the wisdom and compassion (and capacity for genuine happiness)inherent in all of us.

Comment by Hugh Laue — 15 Feb 2011 @ 2:30 PM

187. Hugh Laue says:
15 Feb 2011 at 2:30 PM
Values are not to be found in outer space but inner space. The mess we find ourselves in is a question of values, not technology nor science. Neither technology nor the physical sciences can tell us anything meaningful about values (Heisenberg, Schroedinger, Einstein, De Broglie, Jeans, Planck, Pauli and Eddington all understood this and none had a materialistic worldview.) The evidence all around us, however, is that science and technology is being, and has been, used by the few to exploit the planet’s limited resources for self-centered material gain and power (i.e. economic development) with scant regard for human development. The value drivers for this behavior? Anger, greed, stupidity, desire, jealousy and pride. The antidote is practices that lead to discovering the wisdom and compassion (and capacity for genuine happiness)inherent in all of us

Actually I think that’s a misguided way of looking at things. Physical sciences can and do tell us a lot about values – they tell us that values are an artificial human construct that has absolutely no meaning in the real world, where what matters is whether you survive or not. The drivers of our behavior are the same evolutionary factors that drive the behavior of most other organisms on this planet – the urge to maximize one’s reproductive success is the major one and it is the direct cause of all the greed, jealousy, etc. you mention.

The reason it is counterproductive to think in terms of those things you mentioned and not in terms of basic biobehavioral terms is that they move the conversation into a completely different plane that pushes us towards different (and invariably inadequate) “solutions” to the problems. All utopian social systems that have been proposed and tried in practice have failed and that was usually because they were designed around a rosy picture of human nature that had little to do with reality.

[Response: There's a whole bunch of things wrong with your arguments here frankly. The idea that the physical sciences "tell us that values are an artificial human construct that has [sic] absolutely no meaning in the real world” is utter nonsense. Values of all kinds have a definite and strong biological basis. Secondly, your view of human nature is distressingly bleak and offers really no hope for anything except constant warfare. Thirdly, Hugh was not talking about building any “utopian social systems”–big straw man there on your part. He was simply mentioning some basic changes in human attitudes that are open to everyone. Fourth, most human societies are way beyond the “red in tooth and claw” survival mode you discuss. Human nature and human society are just a tad more complex than you seem to recognize–Jim]

Comment by Georgi Marinov — 16 Feb 2011 @ 1:02 AM

188. #187 Georgi
“values are an artificial human construct” True. There’s nothing either good or bad but thinking makes is so – Shakespeare”
Science is also a “human construct”
“Your” whole reality is “constructed” (i.e. interpreted and given meaning) in “your” mind.
“Your” response is a “human construct”.
“All utopian social systems that have been proposed and tried in practice have failed and that was usually because they were designed around a rosy picture of human nature that had little to do with reality.”
Examples? But I agree that utopia is impossible – it presupposes common values of what constitutes utopia and the conditions that satisfy such common values.
“where what matters is whether you survive or not” Why does survival matter to you? Why do you value survival above all else (this is what you are implying)? This is the lowest level of Maslow’s heirarchy of needs. The fact that you posted a response to my post logically contradicts that statement of yours. Do you not also want some sort of recognition (social esteem need) for your ideas (ideas – human constructs, and hence your post?
Suggested reading “Quantum Questions” ed Ken Wilber; the mystical writings of the world’s greatest Physicists (the list given in my original post). They understood the limitations of science. Biophysical reality is defined as that which can be measured (using SI units of measurement – agreed upon by convention). You, the measurer (consciousness), exclude yourself from that biophysical reality and it is within your consciousness that a model/image/idea of that reality is constructed. This is true for all our experiences.
All I wanted to point out is that the materialistic worldview is not supported by modern physics. In his essay “In defense of mysticism” Eddington wrote “It will perhaps be said that teh conclusion to be drawn from modern science is that religion first became possible for a reasonable scientific man about the year 1927. If we must consider that tiresome person, the constantly reasonable man, we point out that not merely religion but most ordinary aspects of life first became possible for him in that year. Certain common activities (e,g, falling in love) are, I fancy, still forbidden him. If our expectation should prove well founded that 1927 has seen the final overthrow of strict causality by Heisenberg, Rhor, Born and others, the year will certainly rank as one of the greatest epochs in the development of scientific philosophy. The [apparent conflict between science and religion]will not be averted unless both sides confine themselves to their proper domain, and a discussion which enables us to reach a better understanding as to the boundary should be a contribution towards a state of peace.”
In summary, and very simplistically; human actions are causing climate change; human actions are driven by human intentions; human intentions are directed by human values; it’s a value judgement to regard human caused climate change as “bad” or “good”; even the most base level (survival needs) of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, (a limited psychological model, but one that seems to have found favor in business courses on organisational behavior) says it’s bad; the present economic system is disconnected from biophysical reality and in essence is driven by the values of greed and fear (as will be readily admitted by those who speculate professionally on the stock market).

Comment by Hugh Laue — 16 Feb 2011 @ 5:30 AM

189. #186-188, including inline response–

My take would be that:

1) Values are a human construct, but
2) Human beings are NOT tabulae rasae (‘blank slates’) as posited by some philosophers, since
3) Human perception and cognition are built on biological foundations which significantly condition whatever ethical edifices we may construct for ourselves.

That would imply that human values are limited with respect to ‘artificiality’–as Georgi’s very next sentence implies:

The drivers of our behavior are the same evolutionary factors that drive the behavior of most other organisms on this planet – the urge to maximize one’s reproductive success is the major one and it is the direct cause of all the greed, jealousy, etc. you mention.

Since reproductive success is said to drive human behavior, that’s clearly the operative value–and yet it’s shared with most of rest of the animate realm. NOT so ‘artificial!’

On the other hand, I’m not sure what Eddington et al. have to do with this portion of the argument. If our values–and, BTW, are “Anger, greed, stupidity, desire, jealousy and pride” listed by Hugh as ‘anti-values’ or what? I’m not too clear what the full implications of the term “value driver” are–if our values are a product of rationality based upon biology, then surely the question becomes one of harmonizing contradictions?

Thus, for example, the moralistic condemnation of greed may be more usefully reframed as an imperative to manage the desire for material security–which I take to be the value underlying the sin of greed–in such a way that it does not become self-defeating via a tragedy of the commons, or some (roughly) parallel mechanism. Basically, this line of thought brings us back to enlightened self-interest–though I’m not sure it needs to be *Enlightened* self interest, if you know what I mean.

The imperative to correctly price GHG emissions would presumably fall under this heading writ large: we want to enjoy the benefits of wealth, but not at the price of fouling our own nest irrevocably. So we create (or at least I sure hope we will) a mechanism that harmonizes/balances/mediates the two.

Comment by Kevin McKinney — 16 Feb 2011 @ 11:22 AM

190. Ron R.@179

I didn’t say Margulis was a Velikovsky. However on at least one occasion she has endorsed and promoted research which is generally considered to be somewhat Velikovskian. (I refer to Donald Williamson’s proposal that butterflies arise from the hybridisation of insects and worms.)

Lovelock’s ideas, like everyone else’s, should in any case stand or fall on their own merits. I merely point out that endorsement by Lynn Margulis may not lend them quite the cachet her fame would suggest…

Comment by Gerry Quinn — 16 Feb 2011 @ 12:43 PM

191. [Response: There's a whole bunch of things wrong with your arguments here frankly. The idea that the physical sciences "tell us that values are an artificial human construct that has [sic] absolutely no meaning in the real world” is utter nonsense. Values of all kinds have a definite and strong biological basis.

What you’re saying does not goes exactly against what I said – I said that “values”, in whatever way you define them, reside on a more superficial level than the purely biological drivers of behavior do, therefore it is more useful to focus on the biological part than on the sociological/ideological. That’s true whether values are derived from biological instincts or not, and I by no means agree that all of them they are

Secondly, your view of human nature is distressingly bleak and offers really no hope for anything except constant warfare.

Human history for the most part consists of constant warfare, doesn’t it?

Thirdly, Hugh was not talking about building any “utopian social systems”–big straw man there on your part.

It’s not a straw man at all, I didn’t wrote that with the intention to rebut him as if he was having any utopia in mind, I just wanted to point out that the overtly rosy view of human nature can lead to disaster if people try to build social systems as if it was true. In fact, it is leading to disaster right as we speak.

He was simply mentioning some basic changes in human attitudes that are open to everyone. Fourth, most human societies are way beyond the “red in tooth and claw” survival mode you discuss. Human nature and human society are just a tad more complex than you seem to recognize–Jim]

Depends on what you mean by “beyond the “red in tooth and claw””. Violence (in time of official peace at least) has greatly decreased with the increase in societal complexity, that’s true. But that hasn’t happened as a result of some deep biological change, it has been all social and cultural factors – people were living in much more violent societies mere centuries ago.

But “red in tooth and claw” does not have to be understood only in terms of physical violence – it still drives our behavior even when we’re dressed in expensive suits in corporate boardrooms. Reproductive success in humans has a lot to do with status, so we seek to maximize it; and we also seek to obtain possession of as much resources as possible now in case there aren’t any available in the future. That’s where greed comes from, that’s where social inequality comes from, that’s where our self-destructive behavior comes from. Yes, society is very complex, human beings are very complex, and there are a great many other factors behind their behavior layered on top of the above, but that doesn’t mean that it is not true. All I am saying is that it does nobody any good to keep denying those unpleasant truths about ourselves. I am by no means advocating (and here’s where many people get it completely wrong when one opens this discussion) continuing or escalating that behavior just because it is what we do, I am pointing out that because it is something very maladaptive in the long run, we have to design our social systems so that it is restrained as much as possible, and the first prerequisite for this to happen is recognizing the existence of the problem.

Comment by Georgi Marinov — 16 Feb 2011 @ 1:22 PM

192. > insects and worms

Well, not quite “worms” (fascinating digression, thank you).
A “velvet worm” isn’t a worm, like a “velvet ant” isn’t an ant.

SciAm laughed:
“Velvet worms, which fall between worms and insects on the tree of life, have soft-bodies and superficially resemble caterpillars, particularly the larvae of an early butterfly relative known as Micropterix. Velvet worms have evolved a variety of elaborate fertilization procedures….”

But the mechanism suggested is credible, given how they do transfer gametes. Ewww!

“… velvet worms are lost in a mysterious fog in terms of their exact place in phylogeny with respect to arthropods. Apparently worms with legs, Onychophora are an evolutionary nightmare. Treated for years as a missing link between annelids and arthropods, new research from 2006 reveals a closer association to the latter, particularly Chelicerates….”
http://harkerbio.blogspot.com/2009/03/velvet-worms-evolutionary-enigma.html

Margulis published a suggestion that the idea might be worth looking into (an odd idea, but look at how they reproduce; the mechanism is credible, the idea was testable). I see no parallel to Velikovsky; there’s no way to test Velikovsky. The idea has now been looked into, and hasn’t held up.
http://www.pnas.org/content/106/47/19906.full

So that one notion wasn’t right. Some good work got done. The results may yet be useful toward sorting out the “mysterious fog in terms of their exact place in phylogeny” — negative result, perhaps useful work nevertheless.

Why did I poke at this so much? Well, up above RichardC says that in “A space ark or station …. Only desirable species would exist ….”

So I vote for taking Onychophora with us in the space ark.

Comment by Hank Roberts — 16 Feb 2011 @ 2:48 PM

193. Georgi #173: “From an evolutionary perspective, we absolutely have to eventually get off this planet and colonize other worlds. Otherwise, in the long term, we are extinct with 100% probability, and not going extinct seems to be the only purpose of out existence.”

I would not call this “not going extinct” the “purpose of our existence”, since eventually everything goes anyway. The sun will consume Earth some 4 billion years from now, and the last star in the Universe will fade away some 1000 billion years from now IIRC (Scientific American did an article about the fate of the Universe last year, which project unavoidable doom in the very distant future).

But your point is correct. If we do not get off this planet, we will go extict much sooner than the end of the Universe. That could be by natural phenomena or a self-inflicted catastrophy or stupidity. For natural causes, There are massive meteors and comets out there that can and will eliminate ‘higher’ lifeforms on this planet, or solar burb or nearby super novas or eruptions of super vulcanos. From these natural causes, the super-vulcano eruptions are interesting, since they seem to occur frequently (Yellowstone erupts every 100,000 years or so, and is long overdue). If Yellowstone blows, you can say bye bye to the USA and Canada, and it is likely that only a few homo sapiens would survive the massive global changes it causes. At best it will set us back 10′s of thousands of years, and life as we know it is gone. But it is interesting to note that there are very few, if any, other natural causes that could seriously damage or eliminate our existence on a shorter timeframe than that.

So, if we do not cause our own demise, then we have some 100,000 years to build self-sustainable colonies in space. That means that Nature’s catastrophy tricks are not going to be our main concern in the short term when it comes to ‘survival’ or ‘getting off this planet’.

That leaves self-inflicted extinction, and within the topic of this thread, the AGW argument comes to mind. And there, again, the timeframe is important. Techno-believers like Dyson would argue that the 3 C increase in global temperature over a century is not a problem. We are used to 10 C differences between day and night, we live in places averaging -20 C to +30 C so we can handle some changes in temps. Also, if AGW causes the Greenland ice sheet to melt over the next 1000 years, then we may experience a rise in sea levels of some 7 mm/yr. We are used to tectonic plate movements larger than that, so surely we can adjust without getting extict. And for other AGW effects (such as agricultural stress caused by profound droughts and rainfall/flooding) these can all be accomodated by improving irrigation systems and flood control. At worst, it would increase insurance rates, but surely it would be hard to argue that our species would go extict because of such changes (which also would happen slowly, over decades and centuries).

In short, techno’s (such as Dyson) reason that if we don’t kill each other in some fluke nuclear war or other self-inflicted immediate catastrophy, there is very little reason to assume that homo sapiens would go extinct on the short term. AGW simply moves too slow in their opinion (even in the ‘business as usual’ scenario) too loose sleep over.

That’s why Dyson is not concerned about AGW.

Comment by Rob — 17 Feb 2011 @ 3:41 AM

194. Hank Roberts — 16 Feb 2011 @ 2:48PM

http://www.istockphoto.com/file_thumbview_approve/4796726/2/istockphoto_4796726-thumbs-up-icon.jpg

The scientific mavericks (not, of course, industry hacks like Patrick Michaels) do take a big risk when coming up with unconventional ideas. The attacks can be withering. I’m reminded of Andrew Wakefield here (which is not to say that I necessarily agree with him). Sometimes though the mavericks turn out to be right as in Igancio Chapela and David Quist’s case. Heck, we could throw in Charles Darwin here and maybe every other original thinker.

Interesting thing is Dyson has been a supporter of Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis/theory. It definitely has merit. Many papers have been written in support of it.

I’m not too fond though of Lovelocks’ suggestion that we should just stop trying since there’s nothing we can do to fix things.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_8594000/8594561.stm

Comment by Ron R. — 17 Feb 2011 @ 12:14 PM

195. Dyson has an interesting exchange of emails with Steve Connor of the Independent here http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/letters-to-a-heretic-an-email-conversation-with-climate-change-sceptic-professor-freeman-dyson-2224912.html#disqus_thread

Comment by Andrew Jackson — 27 Feb 2011 @ 7:42 AM

196. The difference between Dyson and true innovators like Darwin is that for Darwin, inspiration was only the beginning of the problem. He then went on to search laboriously for evidence that might contradict his ideas. Thus, Darwin looked at some of the most persistent problems for evolution long before any of his critics–the evolution of the eye, altruism in social insects…

Dyson is interested in making provocative statements and leaving the heavy lifting to others. Moreover, if someone raises an objection to his “vision,” he is intereste only to the extent he can rationalize it away. Darwin built an edifice that has grown into the foundation of modern biology. Dyson is content with castles in the air.

Comment by Ray Ladbury — 27 Feb 2011 @ 10:13 AM

197. Andrew Jackson,
That was disappointing. Dyson has simply lost it.

Comment by Ray Ladbury — 27 Feb 2011 @ 10:22 AM

198. Interesting that the so-called brilliant heretic, when questioned carefully and respectfully about his views, can do no better than to regurgitate several of the usual tired whines.

[Response: That is the real surprise. Why is someone so smart not making an intellectually worthy critique? It's like he's simply dialing his heresy in. - gavin]

Comment by Ric Merritt — 4 Mar 2011 @ 12:43 PM

199. I’m currently reviewing “Gin & Tonic” (and yes, I carefully wash my hand afterwards.) I was struck that they quoted Dyson:

The real world is muddy and messy and full of things that we do not yet understand. It is much easier for a scientist to sit in an air-conditioned building and run computer models, than to put on winter clothes and measure what is really happening outside in the swamps and the clouds. That is why the climate model experts end up believing in their own models.

It’s ironic for Dyson, as I think was mentioned above–but even more so for G & T, who deal with no climate paper more recent than Callendar, and don’t deign to take notice of the numerous measurements of the very back-radiation that they claim “can’t” exist.

Comment by Kevin McKinney — 4 Mar 2011 @ 1:51 PM

200. Dyson + climate – is this applicable?

Comment by Pete Dunkelberg — 6 Mar 2011 @ 3:37 PM

201. Pete @200. Not sure about the bovine excreta.

I may have spent too much of my life with 14 yr old boys and professional philosophers. He strikes me much more as a smart alec. The fact that he **is** so smart makes it worse in my view.

(Much like the more in sorrow than in anger response to that proverbial 14 yr old boy’s writing silly remarks on the algebra exercise – when you _know_ that he could do it if he only set his mind and his energy to the task. The philosophers disagreeing seemingly for the sake of it are just plain irritating.)