Saturday, April 18, 2009

Freeman Dyson has some cool ideas

I'm a few weeks behind on posting because I'm planning my upcoming wedding, so sorry about that. This article appeared two weeks ago in the NYT magazine. Freeman Dyson is one of the world's foremost physicists and a famously creative thinker. He has some good ideas that parallel some of my thoughts in the Secret Peace.

For example, he says, "The purpose of thinking about the future is not to predict it but to raise people’s hopes.”

A large part of the article is about the environment, specifically global warming. Unlike the growing consensus, Dyson thinks global warming isn't a problem. He's not a denier; he knows it's happening, and knows it's man-made. He just doesn't think it will be a big problem, and that it's being blown out of proportion.

I totally agree. Global warming is real and is a problem, and if we had no other problems to worry about, global warming would be worth devoting all our resources to. But there are worse things in the world.

When people say global warming will have "bad" consequences, do they mean harmful to humans, or harmful to nature? I believe protecting nature is important, but humanity must take precedence. The wholesale slaughter of nature is useless and should be condemned, but as for preserving species and climates exactly as they are now, is that intrinsically necessary? Nature is ever-changing with or without us.

Helping the environment is not a bad thing, but I believe the motives to do so should dovetail with helping people. Improving air quality increases our health, developing new fuel sources will take oil money away from dictators, and so on.

Here's the logic:
  1. Global warming is only a potential problem, it's not a full-blown problem yet.
  2. It might not turn out to be as drastic as we think.
  3. even if it is drastic, it might be drastic in a good way.
  4. even if it is drastic and bad, though, we can find ways to deal with it.
  5. even if we can't deal with it, we have plenty of worse problems right now to deal with regardless. These problems are real, rather than potential; and more easily solvable, because we already have experience toward solving them.
Protecting the existing biosphere must take a back seat to addressing the evils of war, poverty, and inequality. These should demand our immediate attention.