Richard A. Muller is a professor of physics at UC Berkeley, and his story (from the New York Times of July 28, 2012) is a great example of science in action. Muller was a public skeptic about climate change who changed his mind because his research didn’t support his skepticism. As a scientist, when his results didn’t support his opinions, he had no alternative but to change his mind, and he did. Publicly. That’s science at its best. The core of the scientific method is that whatever an individual or an organization prefers to believe, truth is that which is demonstrated by repeated observation and measurement.
The global climatic system is dauntingly complex, and we have only begun to understand it. However, a clear consensus has emerged that climate change, whatever its details, truly is happening. By burning fossil fuel deposits and releasing enormous quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in a geological blink of time, we are doing a large-scale experiment in the one and only test tube that is our world. We are taunting Mother Nature, big time. Years will pass before we know the consequences, and they are unlikely all to be good. Trashing the neighborhood is risky. We have no other neighborhood to move to.
Then there are the ethical issues. No one reading this sentence will be alive in a short 100 years from now. We are only passing through, and we pass through very quickly. What world do we want to leave behind? As the Boy Scouts advocate, “Always leave your campsite cleaner than you found it.” Their advice applies to planets as well, particularly when there isn’t a spare one available for our grandchildren and their children. Do we want to be remembered as responsible stewards of our one and only comfy blue dot in the vast void of the Universe, or as the generation that heedlessly (greedily?) drilled, burned, fiddled, and danced…and left the check for the kids?