When the physicist expressed reservations about climate change, he stirred heated controversy. “It doesn’t disturb me at all,” he says.
Question: What has been your reaction to the controversy over your opinions on global warming?
Freeman Dyson: It doesn’t disturb me at all. I always believe in talking to my opponents and staying friends. I mean you know it’s with the people I disagree with the most strongly I’m actually quite friendly with and there is no… It doesn’t make… It doesn’t disturb me if they disagree with me.
Question: Is a moderate position on climate change now considered radical?
Freeman Dyson: Well, I don’t know. It changes from week to week. What I’ve noticed is there has been a strong increase in skepticism and just in the last couple of weeks, and I suppose it has something to do with all these snowstorms we’ve been having. I don’t know, but certainly I’ve seen the politicians becoming much more skeptical just recently. That of course I welcome. I think that actually means they’re recognizing the way things are.
Question: If climate change does cause problems, how might we realistically be able to engineer solutions?
Freeman Dyson: Well there are all sorts of ways. There was a couple of farmers in Minnesota I was just reading about who decided to change from feedlots to grass. They are raising beef. These are farmers who are just raising cows for beef and a certain amount of milk as well, and they decided to switch from feedlots, which is of course the fashionable way of raising cows. You keep them on a very crowded feedlot and feed them on corn, so you’re growing corn to feed to the animals. Instead of that you put them out to grass, but you manage the grass in a clever way with moving fences around, so they actually eat the grass much more evenly. It turns out this pays and it’s, they’re doing extremely well just going back from feedlots to grass and it has a big effect on the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in proportion to the area that they’re using, so it means that if the whole of the Middle West would do this it would make a very substantial difference to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and so that kind of… that’s the sort of practical thing you can do, just sort of managing the land more intelligently, and it’s rather like building dikes around New Orleans. I mean it’s not all that spectacular, but it actually works. So changing from feedlots to grass I think it’s sort of… It’s not… It doesn’t solve the whole problem, but it solves a certain chunk of the problem and there are other things you can do. Doing less ploughing makes a huge difference. Ploughing is one of the main causes of carbon going into the atmosphere because you expose the soil to the atmosphere. It means the carbon gets oxidized and becomes carbon dioxide and floats off into the atmosphere, so if you can farm without ploughing it actually helps, and it doesn’t matter how much coal and oil you’re burning. It still helps.
Recorded March 5th, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen