Temperatures rising

In climate-change discussions, two Princeton professors go against the grain

By Mark F. Bernstein ’83
Princeton Alumni Weekly
Published in the March 17, 2010, issue

The issue of climate change, or global warming, has become a rallying cry: The Earth’s surface temperatures are rising due to increased levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, much of it produced by human activity. Unless action is taken, and soon, global warming could cause crops to fail and sea levels to rise, leading to widespread social disruptions and endangering many species of life on the planet. President Obama, who has renewed the American commitment to combating this problem, declared at the recent United Nations climate-change conference in Copenhagen: “Climate change threatens us all.”

That’s one thing scientists agree on, right? Well, not everyone.

In some quarters, climate change has become almost a civic religion. Like any religion it has its priests — Al Gore, perhaps — and its holy books — think Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth or his more provocatively titled best-seller, Earth in the Balance. It also has its heretics — doubters — and not all of them are outside the scientific community. Even among scientists, there are a few who dispute the certainty that global warming is a looming catastrophe. Two of the most vocal dissenters are professors in the Princeton physics department: William Happer *64 and Robert Austin.

One person’s skeptic is another person’s crackpot, of course, and so climate dissenters have come in for much public abuse. Happer, the Cyrus Fogg Bracket Professor of Physics, got into a contretemps with Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, while testifying last year before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Boxer derided Happer’s testimony as “the most extraordinary argument I have ever heard” and warned, “I will fight you.” The exchange, which ended up on YouTube, was seized upon by bloggers on both sides of the debate, many of whom added their own, decidedly ad hominem, comments.

The article continues at PAW.

H/T Tigerhawk

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