Freeman Dyson, Scientific Consensus and Virginia Politics

Freeman Dyson. What’s a “scientific consensus” without him?

by Irfan K. Ali

One of the most brilliant scientists of the 20th century, Freeman Dyson, recently passed away. This most unassuming man hobnobbed with the likes of Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, John von Neumann, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and other giants of science and technology. He was a true giant in the world of science.

The excerpt below from The Institute for Advanced Study (IAS), where he worked until his death at age 96, describes his greatest contribution to science:

In the spring of 1948, Dyson accompanied [Richard] Feynman on a fabled cross-country road trip that culminated in one of the most remarkable breakthroughs of 20th century physics. After being steeped in the work of Feynman for months and spending six weeks listening to Julian Schwinger’s ideas in Ann Arbor, Dyson was able to prove the equivalency of their two competing theories of quantum electrodynamics (QED), which describes how light and matter interact. Dyson recalled the moment of discovery as a “flash of illumination on the Greyhound bus.” He had been traveling alone for more than 48 hours, making his way to Princeton, NJ to begin his first Membership at the Institute for Advanced Study.

Dyson wanted to have nothing to do with the so called “scientific consensus”. Had he lived in the times of Giordano Bruno, a brilliant 17th century scientist, he may have met a similar fate of being burned at the stake for his unapologetic skepticism about the notion of man-made climate change.

“I just think they don’t understand the climate,” he said of climatologists. “Their computer models are full of fudge factors.” To arrive at predictions being made by climate alarmists, models have to include assumptions that CO-2 will cause clouds to form in a way that produces more warming. “The models are extremely oversimplified,” Dyson said. “They don’t represent the clouds in detail at all. They simply use a fudge factor to represent the clouds.”

Dyson was among many scientists that signed the World Climate Declaration. Not being affiliated with business or political interests outside academia, his views are hard to dismiss as biased.

As we wade into a new Carbon Tax era ushered in by a Democratic Party majority in both houses of the General Assembly, it is safe to say that a majority of Virginia legislators who have pushed for the Clean Energy Act (CEA) have very little understanding or desire to learn the actual science surrounding the man-made Climate Change mantra which has become so pervasive among progressives. Sadly, the hundreds of millions in campaign contributions from “environmental” groups that helped elect this majority have done a masterful job of conflating CO2 with pollution. A quick reminder: We humans, too, emit CO2. What’s next, will we be taxed for breathing?

In a recent chat, an environmental lawyer who was active in advocating for a carbon tax shrugged when I mentioned that the CEA may end up adding $24 to $30 a month to electricity bills. His comment was “that’s a small price to pay for a clean environment.”

Firstly, within that comment lies a scientific untruth: Reducing CO2 does not “clean” the air. In fact, Freeman Dyson would be the first to tell you that farming and crop yields around the world have improved as a result of more CO2. Secondly, $24 to $30 a month may be a “small” price to pay for a lawyer earning a comfortable six figure salary, not so for millions of Virginians struggling to make ends meet. In fact, the economic fallout from the Coronavirus will push more and more folks into hardship.

While the CEA endorses and provides subsidies to Dominion Energy to build offshore wind farms, the costs of which are still a work in progress, the reality is that these so called “renewable” energy sources are expensive and in the end, their costs far out weigh any quantifiable benefits. Even if one were to believe CO2 to be a problem, India and China are not about to stop their march towards growing industrial activities and generating far more net CO2 emissions than we, in the U.S. can mitigate.

So, should we Virginians pay the price? Readers can do some online research to see how things have gone in Germany. And if you have the time, here is a link to a film which is quite eye opening – with subtitles and over an hour long but you can skip through and get the gist of the connection between regulations, cost of electricity and way of life – there is a great interview with Freeman Dyson at the 1:09.00 mark of the video and it is in English.

To sum up, as we ponder Virginia’s energy future, I believe it is vital not to demonize fossil fuels. While there is great logic in expanding hydro and nuclear for baseload electricity, the multi-trillion dollar “renewables” industry will continue to show you dated photographs of old coal plants bellowing dark smoke from their stacks to scare you into seeing fossil fuels as evil and solar panels and wind turbines as benevolent. You can stand next to a modern power plant and not see anything other than vapor emitting from the stacks. Nevertheless, your dogma-bound Democratic legislator conflates CO2 with pollution and demands a stop to any use of fossil fuels — likely pushing costs of doing business in Virginia to uncompetitive levels.

If I were a politician contemplating a run, perhaps I would borrow a page from Governor Hogan’s playbook and adopt the slogan: Repeal the breath tax.

Irfan Ali is developer of the Chickahominy Power natural gas-fired facility in Charles City County. He is a self-described “unabashed fan of fossil fuels,” which, he says, have enabled people all over the world to attain a decent level of living and provide reliable and affordable energy to run hospitals, factories and services.

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12 responses to “Freeman Dyson, Scientific Consensus and Virginia Politics

  1. Bravo. Now brace yourselves for the reaction from those who wouldn’t know a message of truth if it bit them on the rump…..

    • An interesting read. Thank you for posting it.

    • Yes, interesting. He makes the point that the predictions in 2005 (he gave that speech in 01/2005) covered a wide range of outcomes, too uncertain to act on. In 2005, that was true. Unfortunately the actual data since then (it’s been 15+ years) tend to confirm the worse-case scenarios from 2005.

      Crichton’s defense of rigorous scientific method as the basis for political action was refreshing. He concluded, by analogy, that action by society to tame the warming trend was not warranted because of the uncertainty: “If you planned to build a house and the builder said, it will cost somewhere between a million and a half and six million dollars, would you proceed? Of course not, you’d get a new builder.” The problem with this logic is, you cannot just get a new set of facts, a new climate science. And even if the cost of a new house is such a wide range, if you must have a new house, do you have any option?

      Today, the range of probability is narrower and the evidence (particularly in Antartica) is confirming the worst fears from 2005. I believe Dr. Crichton was sincere in what he said but would have changed his views today based on the evidence now available.

  2. I’m a believer than we do need natural gas as a bridge fuel but at the same time we should build and use as much non-polluting grid power as we can also.

    And I support having Nukes also so both nukes and gas but we can also
    ADD non-polluting power when it is available and cut down on what we do pollute.

    But we should also recognize that the ” we can’t afford to clean up the environment, it will kill our economy” argument has been around for a long time – since the time the EPA was created under Nixon.

    It was used to justify deadly insecticides, lead in gasoline, coal plants, acid rain, you name it – a long-long list that are now banned and we’re all better for it and it did not kill the economy. In fact our autos no longer pollute with lead at all!

    I guarantee you if you put a hose from your car to your garage – you’d KNOW that – that stuff coming out is REAL and not some wack greenie misinformation!

    I’d guarantee you that if you got YOUR SHARE of the output from a gas generation plant – you’d know it is real also and not some nutty “alarmists” blather. Just take a natural gas backup generator and let it exhaust into your home – and you’ll know it is NOT “clean”.

    Our argument has always been that the cost of cleaning up is too high and the solution to pollution is dilution… i.e. we can dump all that stuff into the environment and it will hardly ding it… what’s the problem?

  3. I am familiar with Freeman Dyson and some of his YouTube videos. Definitely an interesting person.

    Suffice it to say USA is hopelessly divided right now.

    Recent interview with Democrat Warren Buffet the reporter was asking why he is investing in fossil fuels? Isn’t that dead technology with production rapidly diminishing? Buffet tried to say “no” we still need fossil fuels and use probably holding steady (globally).

  4. Well, consider the source. Mr. Ali has a clear financial interest in developing a natural gas power plant that may not be needed.

    I also fail to see the connection with the 96 year-old scientist who is skeptical of climatologists and the state of affairs in Virginia. For every Dyson, you can find an equally capable scientist who is rightly worried about carbon, clean-change and the lack ot action.

    If find this quote of Ali’s offensive: “it safe to say that a majority of Virginia legislators who have pushed for the Clean Energy Act (CEA) have very little understanding or desire to learn the actual science surrounding the man-made Climate Change mantra which has become so pervasive among progressives.”

    Sez who? Al? It doesn’t seem like he’s a scientist either, just an investor. Does Ali have a deeper understanding of this topic? It hardly seems so.

    is safe to say that a majority of Virginia legislators who have pushed for the Clean Energy Act (CEA) have very little understanding or desire to learn the actual science surrounding the man-made Climate Change mantra which has become so pervasive among progressives.

  5. Thank you Irfan Ali for your very fine article posted here, and the articles linked into it. I hope you’ll continue giving us the benefits of your must needed thoughts and experience.

  6. In terms of what is or is not “conceivable”, I’m better if someone predicted a year ago that this could happen to us, that most folks would have dismissed it out of hand as laughable.

    Now – virtually everyone that I know is praying that the GOvt can bail us out… with debt… no small austere govt response… it’s massive, big govt… on steroids and then some.

  7. There are so many false conclusions here ….

    First, there is the writer’s financial interest in maintaining fossil fuel use. Disclosure, I have filed 2 separate complaints against permitting the Chickahominy plant, one based on greatly expanding water withdrawal from the depleted aquifer.

    Second, farming and crops … Increased temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide can stimulate plant growth, but they can also be harmful. People could have limited knowledge because The Hill recently reported … “Trump administration buried reports warning climate change could hurt crops”. WOW!
    Harmful effects include … (EPA- 2017)
    • many weeds, pests, and fungi thrive under warmer temperatures and higher carbon dioxide levels, which could cause problems for farmers’ crops previously unexposed to these species
    • increased carbon dioxide reduces the nutritional value of most food crops. Rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide reduce the concentrations of protein and essential minerals in most plant species, including wheat, soybeans, and rice.
    • world’s oceans are gradually becoming more acidic due to increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). Increasing acidity could harm shellfish by weakening their shells, which need the calcium from seawater to grow. Warmer waters are now causing flooding without rain on the VA. coast.

    Third … “costs far out weigh any quantifiable benefits” for renewable energy … OK then, start with eliminating the coal, oil and gas industries benefit from $5tn dollars a year. That will make even offshore wind cost competitive.

    Fourth “You can stand next to a modern power plant and not see anything other than vapor emitting from the stacks”. I was once told that the best way to find methane, the gas with the most heat trapping value, was to watch the vultures who mistook the leaks for carcasses.

    Finally, ““India and China are not about to stop their march towards growing industrial activities and generating far more net CO2 emissions than we, in the U.S. can mitigate.” Thing is they don’t have to. China is an absolute world leader in emissions, but it also the leader in embracing this transition.
    China is not only driving the global market for renewables, it is leading some research. China’s biggest steel maker has created a special hydrogen project in an effort to accelerate the transition away from the sort of carbon-intensive coking coal that is exported by Australia.
    Germany has been driving the technology disruption globally over the last 20 years. It is true that the way the German power is structured has caused some problems, but in 2019 46% of energy came from renewables with 34% from variable renewable energy.

    So, two ‘now’ facts to close with … In the past year NASA reported the arctic ice reached its lowest winter extent …. and mosquitoes are extending their range both altitude-wise and latitudinaly. Climate change is real and visible today in ways not so clear 15-20 years ago when the quoted naysayers were writing!

  8. Facts in isolation never tell the whole story.
    “increased carbon dioxide reduces the nutritional value of most food crops. Rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide reduce the concentrations of protein and essential minerals in most plant species, including wheat, soybeans, and rice.”

    That’s an incomplete picture: inadequate nitrogen and/or water when grains are forming can reduce the concentrations, however, changes in root structure under higher CO2 can enhance the ability of roots to grow longer and reach subsurface water. If precipitation increases with the CO2, adequate water could allow normal nutritional development. So many variables that can’t be summed up in one negative statement. Like any farming situation, all the factors need to be considered.

    Some interesting studies out there that can open doors to responses to possible impacts from CO2. Here’s three:

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29902235
    Water availability moderates N2 fixation benefit from elevated [CO2 ]: A 2-year free-air

    CO2 enrichment study on lentil (Lens culinaris MEDIK.) in … – PubMed – NCBI
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29859018

    CO2 and nitrogen interaction alters root anatomy, morphology, nitrogen partitioning and photosynthetic acclimation of tomato plants. – PubMed – NCBI
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31290031

  9. Specifics are important, and yes, it’s complicated. …

    My retort that “increased carbon dioxide reduces the nutritional value of most food crops” includes the world ‘most’ and certainly didn’t discuss that the change would be affected by other variables, either on different crops or different other environmental factors. Not sure what that “most” means, and the conclusion appears pretty broad, but it does refute the earlier statement that “farming and crop yields around the world have improved as a result of more CO2.”

    There is a study cited at PubMed.gov that “The effect of free air carbon dioxide enrichment (FACE) and nitrogen fertilisation on the chemical composition and nutritional value of wheat and barley grain.”
    … “Based on these results, future scenarios of climate change would have an impact on the nutritional value of cereal grains.”

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