To the editor:
In his Gazette letter of Jan. 4 (“Common sense tells me to question today’s predictions”), Mr. Stefan Schemine refers to letters by me and David Carpenter. Mr. Carpenter has responded to the absurdity of the claim of those “trillions of dollars,” and I also wrote a letter that mentioned the book just published by Professor Mara Prentiss, “Energy Revolution,” which demonstrates how realistic a completely solar economy by 2050 is —not to mention papers by M.Z. Jacobson and C.L. Archer (Saturation wind power potential and its implications for wind energy), R.J. Barthelmie and S.C. Pryor (Potential contribution of wind energy to climate change mitigation) and S. Pfenninger et al. (Potential for concentrating solar power to provide baseload and dispatchable power), among many, many examples of finding renewables cost-effective and technologically feasible.
Mr. Schemine also addresses other aspects of my letter. I see from Mr. Schemine’s total lack of understanding of my points that I have not communicated clearly the important point about science and the lack of ability to prove theories. No civil engineer would ignore basic physics to build a bridge or a building. No electrical engineer would ignore basic physics in building a circuit. That is not because these theories have been proven, but because the theories have not been disproven despite extensive efforts to do so and because all alternative theories have been disproven. If extremely smart people have been unable to disprove a theory after hundreds of years of attempts, meanwhile disproving every other hypothesis clever scientists could think of, it’s important to accept and utilize it as our best current understanding (until it is disproven, if ever).
As to neither of us using Mr. Schemine’s “man-caused catastrophic global climate-change” wording, as I have explained before, climate change results from all effects — natural, such as the sun getting slightly brighter or dimmer, or volcanic eruptions, or orbital changes, as well as human-caused, such as the emission of greenhouse gases from fossil fuel combustion, land-use changes or deforestation. We humans are not somehow separate from the rest of nature.
I do agree that it is possible that we are making a catastrophic mistake, which is why it is so important to have a sort of global insurance policy. We don’t buy homeowner’s insurance because our house definitely will burn down but because if it did burn down, the consequence would be so dire.
In addition, I will point out that there are many ways to judge historic temperatures from pre-industrial times that I point out in my energy textbook. Mr. Schemine seems to think that thermometers from the 1850s after the Industrial Revolution were somehow not capable of measuring temperatures. On the contrary, we have had reliable thermometers since Fahrenheit and Celsius developed them in the late 1600s and early 1700s. When thermometer measurements were recorded for a large enough fraction of the continents and oceans (sometime around 1850 on), Earth’s temperature anomaly could be determined.
Mr. Schemine appears to find a new conspiracy under every rug, but the reality is that if there is a conspiracy, it is being perpetrated by energy companies and media outlets spreading misinformation, not by scientists doing their work and reporting on it.
Editor’s note: The letter writer is an Ohio State University professor of physics.