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Question: How do you currently rate the likelihood of climate catastrophe? 

Freeman Dyson:  Well that’s a big subject, of course, and I mean I don’t like the word catastrophe.  I don’t think there is any catastrophe there, but certainly the climate is changing and that’s important.  It’s always been changing.  There has never been a time when the climate stayed put for any length of time, and so I would say all the evidence we have is that we’re having some effect on the climate.  It’s not clear whether it’s good or bad.  It’s not clear whether it’s going to become a catastrophe or not and as far as I’m concerned it’s very foolish to do anything spectacular to…  What we should be doing is dealing with the problems in detail.  I mean the first thing is we should build dikes around New Orleans, and I mean there are simple practical things we can do which really would help, like building dikes around cities which are exposed to hurricanes or tsunamis and so these kind of practical measures could be enormously helpful.  I mean we’ve seen just in the last few months, we’ve seen two big earthquakes, one in Haiti and one in Chile, and what we’ve seen is that the earthquake in Chile was much larger, but the damage actually was smaller, the reason being that Chileans had taken more trouble to build buildings that would resist earthquakes and so you can… it actually helps enormously to strengthen your buildings.  Of course I mean Chile has the advantage of being a richer country to start with, but it’s a dramatic proof of what you can do.  You can actually take a natural catastrophe and reduce the damage by a factor of 100 or so just by quite simple measures; just by having good building codes and the same is true of climate.  There are all sorts of things we can do in a practical way.  It’s not -- we don’t only have to worry about warming.  We also have to worry about cooling, and it could very well be the climate gets colder.  Nobody knows, and there are many things we should be doing to prepare for that and they’re not all that expensive, but what I think is absurd, what I disagree with very strongly, is the idea that climate is predictable, that we can sort of do things 100 years in advance knowing what is going to happen.  That is just not…  That is just not the way it is.

Recorded March 5th, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen

More from the Big Idea for Monday, March 29 2010

 

Freeman Dyson: Climate Chan...

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