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Re: The Civil Heretic - Freeman Dyson - Profile - NYTimes.com
From: David Farber <dave () farber net>
Date: Sun, 29 Mar 2009 13:07:58 -0400

Begin forwarded message:

From: Mary Shaw <mary.shaw () gmail com>
Date: March 29, 2009 12:28:35 PM EDT
To: dave () farber net
Cc: ip <ip () v2 listbox com>
Subject: Re: [IP] Re: The Civil Heretic - Freeman Dyson - Profile - NYTimes.com

Dave and Rahul,

I believe that nature is strong and resilient. But I don't believe that nature has any particular bias in favor of the conditions that humans prefer.

Climate change is a large example. A small example is found on the barrier islands off the US Carolina coast. In their natural form the dissipate the force of ocean waves before the waves reach the mainland, and in the course of doing so, they migrate back and forth. As soon as humans put roads and buildings on such an island, we convince ourselves that the natural condition of the island is to be in the location where it was when we build the roads and buildings. Nature does not share this assumption, and humans then engage in a struggle to keep the island in place.

We see this also in spring flooding of the Mississippi River basin. In its natural state, the river has (had) large fertile floodplains that are periodically refreshed by the spring floods. When towns are built beside the river, humans build levees to protect the towns (and sometimes more extensive areas) from flooding. Each levee changes the characteristics of the river, in ways that both increase flood levels nearby and increase the speed of the river. Small wonder that we so often hear of historic high flood levels -- climate change may be affecting the amount of water in the flood, but the manipulation of the river channel with levees and other structures has a much larger effect on actual flood levels.

Mary Shaw

On Sun, Mar 29, 2009 at 8:43 AM, David Farber <dave () farber net> wrote:

From: Rahul Tongia <tongia () cmu edu>
Date: March 28, 2009 11:55:25 PM EDT

Re. climate change, where I am less of an expert than even Freeman Dyson, my impression from discussions with expert is it's not "warming" but the change if not disruption that is the issue. Even if the average rise is only 1 degree, regions that experience much more can be hurt, hard.

I think there is a fundamental issue of what some may call "arrogance" - not the arrogance of models, modelers, science, scientists, etc., but the very idea that we can impact the world so severely means humans are way too powerful, when one would think we are not. Certainly nature is stronger and more resilient than we think.

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