May 2010

Letter for A Harsh Climate


Climate GraphThanks for the article you wrote on climate change in ASBMB Today (February 2010). I’ve been watching both the scientific press (C&E News, Nature, etc.) and the popular press on this issue, not to mention blogs and the like. Your article was useful and thoughtful— unlike some of the stuff coming from the “science” press.

I now am retired from my deanship at Sacramento State and am working as a fundraiser for the department of global ecology at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Palo Alto, Calif. Our department mainly is concerned with climate change, and our director coordinates the work of Working Group II of the International Panel on Climate Change. So, we are right in the middle of all of this climate change controversy. It’s saddening, because it’s not the way we, as scientists, were taught to think, and the rules of engagement are very foreign to us.

I like your bottom-line analysis of why we should think about climate change, but I have a different one: There is both a firm theoretical basis (going back 100 years to the work of Arrhenius) and firm experimental evidence that as the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases, the temperature increases; the only question is the slope of the line. Everything else is just detail.

The ultimate worry here is how this new attitude toward science may infect other areas of science. We scientists have enjoyed a privileged relationship with the general public, and there is worry that this relationship is changing. Perhaps that is a subject for you for another day…

Marion O’Leary
Carnegie Institution for Science
Stanford, Calif.

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