SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

July 8, 2008

Letter: Cooler heads needed in global warming debate


To the editor:

It would appear that columnist Robert Kelly has been sharply reprimanded for his June 18 piece on global warming ("Contrary to Gore, sky's not falling").

The latest scolding, by the Rev. Jeff Barz-Snell in the July 3 edition ("No denying fact of global climate change," letter to the editor), accuses Mr. Kelly of untruth (I think that means lying) and of immorality.

I must ask both of the combatants in this matter whether or not they have actually read the scientific documents underlying the news accounts (Barz-Snell claims "every single nation's academy of science" agrees with his thesis); or for that matter understand the science underlying Mr. Gore's immortal movie — particularly when they refer to the "facts."

We do know that, due to the Earth's orbit and the tilt and wobble of the axis of the Earth's spin, global warming is occurring as it has many times in the past; and it will continue for some years before the cooling cycle begins and the glaciers take over, also as they have in the past. We are trying very hard to develop computer simulations to predict the contribution our activities are making to the warming, and the going has been difficult. (Try Science magazine, page 28 of Volume 317, July 6, 2007, for a typical report of the struggle.)

These models can't be tested experimentally (unless we can find another planet on which to conduct our experiments) and are tested mostly by fitting them to past behavior, pretty much the same approach as handicapping horse races.

Clearly, these are not "facts." They are computer models. They may be correct or at least lead us to the correct answer, but the earliest model appears to be incorrect. We have also not examined the consequences — human, economic or environmental — of reversing our contribution (whatever it is) to global warming. The unintended consequences of corn-based ethanol on our economy (and even more important on our shrinking water supply) is a good case in point.

In any case, it is not helpful for clergy to condemn those with whom they disagree as immoral or untruthful. (Galileo had that problem — one we don't need to repeat, thank you.)

I would advise the reverend to heed his calling ("Judge not, that ye be judged," as I recall) and all parties to approach the problem with more humility.

ROBERT M. ROSE

Wenham

Editor's note: Robert Rose is a professor of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT with approximately 50 years of experience teaching various scientific disciplines at the graduate and undergraduate levels. He notes, "The opinions expressed above are my own and do not reflect in any way the opinions or policy of MIT or any other institution or organization with which I have been associated."