Heated debate over climate.

Author:Sutterfield, Ragan K.
Position::Correspondence - Letter to the editor

Marcuse had it right--science is no neutral arbiter of truth. That goes for the scientist arguing that humans are a major force in global warming and those who argue they aren't. Thomas Derr ("The Politics of Global Warming," August/September) illustrates this when he says, "it almost seems as if the issue is not in science but in ideology and social psychology."

This being said, even politics pushes up against and responds to reality. No one dreamed up the threat of terrorism one day (though there are those who believe someone did), and no one just decided on a whim that human beings must be contributing to global warming (though there are those who believe someone did). There is substantial evidence that human activity has created or intensified a trend like no other in our history. The majority of climate scientists agree with this. Derr's dissenters are called dissenters for a reason.

This is not to say that the dissenters might not be right. But a look at the history of science makes this possibility doubtful. Sound arguments and insights are more often than not welcomed in the history of science. I doubt that the global-warming dissenters are our Galileos. Galileo was dangerous to the powers of his day because his ideas were accepted so quickly and widely.

Even so, science is a very slow guide to action. It is always revising itself and questioning old research. This fact makes it a valuable way at getting to certain truths and a lousy way to supply the information needed for clear public-policy decisions. What we need instead is a kind of Pascalian wager on the question of global warming.

We must ask, "What if there really is a global-warming catastrophe on the horizon?" Inaction now could have disastrous effects that would create many crises, both economic and natural. On the other hand, what is the worst thing that would happen if we acted as though there really is a catastrophe and then discover there isn't? We would get away from the very dumb energy of fossil fuels. We would reduce the ground-level ozone pollution that creates respiratory problems for many. Women and children might be able to eat fish freely again, once the mercury pollution from coal-burning power plants subsides. In response to the need for new technologies and energy, many new industries would spur economic growth and provide many new jobs. (This is already happening as Silicon Valley sets its eyes on the green frontier.) Derr's claim that we would be pushed...

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