The Long View 2002-01-24 There is no time like the present

John wasn't a scientist, but rather a bright and well-read lawyer with an interest in science and science fiction. I think this made him a better analyst of trends and fads in science than those on the inside. John wrote extensively on natural philosophy, and the first links to his essays on that subject start to appear in this post. I've heard it said that most scientists eventually turn to philosophy in their old age, and what I would call natural philosophy was a matter of acute interest to my fellow physicists when I was in college. I always appreciated John's point of view on the implications of science.

There Is No Time Like the Present

I was persuaded of the reality of man-made global warming back in the mid-1970s, at much the same time and for much the same reasons that the idea first recommended itself to Al Gore. The notion of the artificial "greenhouse effect" is one of those intuitive, important-if-true ideas that appeal to science buffs. The hypothesis was not new, but in those days the first data were showing up to suggest a secular warming trend. I even remember realizing, or at least hearing, that the most noticeable effect would not be a general rise in surface temperatures, but changes in the mechanical behavior of the atmosphere. Weather patterns would be different. In some regions, global warming could even cause local cooling.

The most alarming prospects that global warming suggested to my liberal-arts-major mind turned out to be phantoms. For instance, there had been some early speculation that a runaway greenhouse effect might occur on Earth, as it had on Venus. The image of an oceanless Earth with a novel atmosphere seemed to chime with Revelation 21:1, 2 (as well as with Arthur C. Clarke's Against the Fall of Night, one of the first books I ever read). I have later learned, though, that Earth is just not close enough to the sun for that to happen. If Earth had a predominantly carbon dioxide atmosphere, as Venus does, the surface temperature would be around 130 degrees Fahrenheit, rather than its current 55 degrees or so. Earth would be a nasty place, but the oceans would not evaporate. (Incidentally, if all the ice on the surface of the Earth melted, the oceans would rise just 220 feet. The film Waterworld was not jut a flop; it was a badly researched flop.)