Everyone is entitled to their opinion on climate change, although renowned theoretical physicists may be especially persuasive. This post compares quotes from 3 of the most distinguished: Stephen Hawking (much in the news lately since Trump’s election), Freeman Dyson and Richard Feynman. Hawking is an alarmist, Dyson a skeptic and Feynman concerned about scientific integrity.
Stephen Hawking is a phenomenal human being, original thinker on grand design and genuinely concerned about humanity and our planetary home. His own battle with frailty gives weight to his opinions and observations. Thus when he meets with the Pope or Al Gore and warns about future global warming, many people will take his words seriously.
Comments on Climate Change by Stephen Hawking
On May 31, 2016 he said: “A more immediate danger is runaway climate change,” Hawking said. “A rise in ocean temperature would melt the ice-caps, and cause a release of large amounts of carbon dioxide from the ocean floor. Both effects could make our climate like that of Venus, with a temperature of 250 degrees.”
“Six years ago I was warning about pollution and overcrowding, they have gotten worse since then,” Hawking said. “The population has grown by half a billion since our last meeting with no end in sight. At this rate, it will be 11 billion by 2100. Air pollution has increased by 8 percent over the past five years.”
Elsewhere he has said, “I don’t think we will survive another 1,000 years without escaping beyond our fragile planet,” going on express concerns about consuming earth’s natural resources, nuclear war, climate change, genetically-engineered viruses and the rise of artificial intelligence spelling planetary doom.
Those are his opinions, not shared by other equally distinguished theoretical physicists, two examples being Freeman Dyson and Richard Feynman.
Freeman Dyson is best known for his contribution to Quantum Electrodynamics. Quantum Electrodynamics is the field where scientists study the interaction of electromagnetic radiation with electrically charged matter within the framework of relativity and quantum mechanics. Dyson wrote two books on the subject of Quantum Electrodynamics. His books influence many branches of modern day theoretical physics.
In his quest to expand our world of knowledge, properly control nuclear power, and discover more information on quantum electrodynamics, Freeman Dyson has written a large collection of books that explains how he believes that the world should grow more efficiently.
Comments on Climate Change by Freeman Dyson
I was in the business of studying climate change at least 30 years ago before it became fashionable. The idea that global warming is the most important problem facing the world is total nonsense and is doing a lot of harm. It distracts people’s attention from much more serious problems.
When I listen to the public debates about climate change, I am impressed by the enormous gaps in our knowledge, the sparseness of our observations and the superficiality of our theories.
We simply don’t know yet what’s going to happen to the carbon in the atmosphere.
We do not know how much of the environmental change is due to human activities and how much [is due] to long-term natural processes over which we have no control.
Computer models of the climate….[are] a very dubious business if you don’t have good inputs.
To any unprejudiced person reading this account, the facts should be obvious: that the non-climatic effects of carbon dioxide as a sustainer of wildlife and crop plants are enormously beneficial, that the possibly harmful climatic effects of carbon dioxide have been greatly exaggerated, and that the benefits clearly outweigh the possible damage.
The people who are supposed to be experts and who claim to understand the science are precisely the people who are blind to the evidence. Those of my scientific colleagues who believe the prevailing dogma about carbon dioxide will not find Goklany’s evidence convincing. . .That is to me the central mystery of climate science. It is not a scientific mystery but a human mystery. How does it happen that a whole generation of scientific experts is blind to obvious facts?
Richard Feynman revolutionized the field of quantum mechanics through conceiving the Feynman path integral,and by inventing Feynman diagrams for doing relativistic quantum mechanical calculations. Further he won the Nobel prize for his theory of quantum electrodynamics, and finally in particle physics he proposed the parton model to analyze high-energy hadron collisions. He died in 1988 before global warming obsession was popularized, and so his comments apply mainly to how scientific theories should be treated with integrity.
Comments on Scientific Integrity by Richard Feynman
How Science Works: “In general, we look for a new law by the following process. First, we guess it (audience laughter), no, don’t laugh, that’s really true. Then we compute the consequences of the guess, to see what, if this is right, if this law we guess is right, to see what it would imply and then we compare the computation results to nature, or we say compare to experiment or experience, compare it directly with observations to see if it works. If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn’t make any difference how beautiful your guess is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is… If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. That’s all there is to it.”
It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty–a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid–not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked–to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.
Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can–if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong–to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.
Hawking has gone to the dark side, foreseeing disaster from numerous modern developments, and includes climate change without challenging the precepts with his considerable critical intelligence. Dyson has analyzed radiative activity in quantum electrodynamics and sees clearly that effects from humanity’s minuscule addition to the trace gas CO2 does far more good for the biosphere than it does harm. Feynman encourages us not to accept answers claimed to be unquestionable.
This post was inspired by Lubos Motl, who blogged similarly on another issue (here), and Ivar Giaever who has long spoken out against alarmist claims. Two more outstanding physicists who have actually examined global warming claims and found them wanting.