The current issue (June 12) of The New York Review of Books includes by Freeman Dyson, professor of physics emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He reviews two books on global warming: A Question of Balance: Weighing the Options on Global Warming Policies by William Nordhaus; and Global Warming: Looking Beyond Kyoto, edited by Ernesto Zedillo.
Professor Dyson, a renowned theoretical physicist and mathematician famous for his work in, among other things, quantum mechanics, believes in anthropogenic global warming. But he also believes that there is a dangerous tendency among an increasing number of advocates of global warming to be “dogmatic” and shut down the debate. In that context, the concluding three paragraphs of Dyson’s New York Review of Books essay are worth highlighting:
All the books that I have seen about the science and economics of global warming, including the two books under review, miss the main point. The main point is religious rather than scientific. There is a worldwide secular religion which we may call environmentalism, holding that we are stewards of the earth, that despoiling the planet with waste products of our luxurious living is a sin, and that the path of righteousness is to live as frugally as possible. The ethics of environmentalism are being taught to children in kindergartens, schools, and colleges all over the world.
Environmentalism has replaced socialism as the leading secular religion. And the ethics of environmentalism are fundamentally sound. Scientists and economists can agree with Buddhist monks and Christian activists that ruthless destruction of natural habitats is evil and careful preservation of birds and butterflies is good. The worldwide community of environmentalists – most of whom are not scientists – holds the moral high ground, and is guiding human societies toward a hopeful future. Environmentalism, as a religion of hope and respect for nature, is here to stay. This is a religion that we can all share, whether or not we believe that global warming is harmful.
Unfortunately, some members of the environmental movement have also adopted as an article of faith the belief that global warming is the greatest threat to the ecology of our planet. That is one reason why the arguments about global warming have become bitter and passionate. Much of the public has come to believe that anyone who is skeptical about the dangers of global warming is an enemy of the environment. The skeptics now have the difficult task of convincing the public that the opposite is true. Many of the skeptics are passionate environmentalists. They are horrified to see the obsession with global warming distracting public attention from what they see as more serious and more immediate dangers to the planet, including problems of nuclear weaponry, environmental degradation, and social injustice. Whether they turn out to be right or wrong, their arguments on these issues deserve to be heard. [emphasis added]