The Earth is tougher than us


in Rants, Science, The environment

Robert Laughlin, a Nobel Prize winner in physics, has been saying some rather dubious things about climate change, and why we supposedly shouldn’t worry about it. I wrote a post about it for BuryCoal.

[Update: 19 July 2010] I also wrote to The Globe and Mail and to The American Scholar, where Laughlin’s claims were first published.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

mek July 19, 2010 at 6:22 pm

After the Globe’s Saturday cover this is really rubbing salt in the wound. At least they printed one letter mocking their total failure to mention climate change in a front-page article reporting on the hottest year ever recorded.

Luboš Motl July 20, 2010 at 1:22 am

Congratulations to being such an intellectual giant who easily beats Robert Laughlin in his analyses of physics, especially the fractional Hall effect.

Or at least, congratulations that you managed to learn how to write. It’s quite a nontrivial achievement for a person at your level of thinking.

. August 16, 2010 at 12:14 pm

“It takes nothing from the beauty and power of the image, though, to point out that it was the photographer, far more than its subject, who was isolated, and that the fragility is an illusion. The planet Earth is a remarkably robust thing, and this strength flows from its ancient and intimate connection to the cosmos beyond. To see the photo this way does not undermine its environmental relevance — but it does recast it.

This unfailing, uninterrupted life demonstrates that the planet is far from fragile. The living Earth is tough on scales it is hard to credit. Life has watched continents crash together and tear themselves apart; skies glowing like bright coals; tropical seas frozen into stillness: it has endured. Slaked in radiation from nearby supernovae, pummeled by asteroids, it has barely faltered and never stopped. Our civilization may be — is — out of balance with its environment; current human ways of life are frighteningly precarious. But to read the fragility of our way of life onto life itself is foolish.

Humans can kill species and diminish ecosystems. Such vandalism poses real dangers to its perpetrators, since human civilization relies on the services some of these ecosystems provide. But at the scale of the planet’s life taken as a whole it is penny-ante stuff. Humanity poses no existential risk to life on Earth, and nor will anything else for hundreds of millions of years. Rich, varied, ever changing — the Earth is all of these. Fragile it is not.”

Milan August 16, 2010 at 12:16 pm


I hope you realize that just because somebody has a great deal of expertise in one subject – such as condensed matter physics – doesn’t mean they speak authoritatively on other subjects, especially those that are largely outside their area of competence.

We shouldn’t defer from arguing with Nobel Prize winners just because they have been awarded that scientific honour. For one thing, we have no reason to be confident that they will be right about everything. For another, it is only by maintaining a questioning attitude that science and human society generally can progress.

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