Global Warming Heat

July 15th, 2008

Congratulations to the editors of the BAM for your bravery in taking a balanced approach to the issue of global warming ("The Planet Will Be Fine" May/June). While there is no doubt that the Earth is currently in a warming period, the questions of both the level of human contribution, and our ability to impact this trend by modulating human behavior are, as you point out, much more complex. Most of what we see in both the academic and popular press unquestionably accepts the contentions that humans are a principal causative factor behind global warming, and that this is an extraordinary modern event. BAM, in contrast, by including the pieces about Robley Matthews and Jessica Whiteside, shows that the Brown community is taking a more scientific and rational approach.

In your editorial introduction "Doing Our Part," you point out the challenges of reducing BAM's energy consumption and carbon footprint. Allow me to broaden the perspective. The Internet is rapidly exposing the populations of India and China to appliances and conveniences that Westerners take for granted. In increasing numbers they want access to the same conveniences. In the process, this will rapidly increase demand for both raw materials and energy in both countries, and will increase their per capita energy consumption and carbon footprints. There is no way that their governments will consent to beggaring their populations to support our access to cheap raw materials and energy. Therefore, to insure our own economic future, we must learn and use our technology to maintain our lifestyles while decreasing our energy and raw material consumption, and with this, our impact on the planet.

Sandy McMahon
Pleasanton, Calif.



The problem of global climate change is hard to grasp without a cross-disciplinary approach, and you did a great job of articulating the issues from multiple perspectives. I will definitely give this piece to my students (and, yes, Juilliard students are worried about global climate change).

Given the title on the cover—"Earth Warriors"—it would be interesting to ask the faculty you profiled if they feel they are at war. Is war the best way to address this problem, even metaphorically? The CIA, the United Nations, and the World Bank are already worried that international conflicts will be sparked by competition over such resources as water and arable land. Whole nations like the Maldive Islands and Tuvalu are in danger of disappearing as ocean levels rise. If, as many of the faculty noted, climate change is a problem of culture and politics as well as technology, we should think about our willingness to use organized violence as an instrument of planetary order.

Anthony Lioi '90
Highland Park, N.J.



Congratulations to Professor Emeritus of Geological Sciences Robley Matthews for urging caution in the global warming debate. Both sides might ponder the following observation from Tolstoy: "I know that most men—not only those considered clever, but even those who are clever and capable of understanding the most difficult scientific, mathematical, or philosophical problems, can seldom discern even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as obliges them to admit the falsity of conclusions they have formed, perhaps with much difficulty—conclusions of which they are proud, which they have taught to others, and on which they have built their lives."

It seems to me that we are on a cusp of sorts, perhaps reflecting our own inability to truly fathom the universe, and so are comforted instead by bombast and insistence that matters are as we wish them to be rather than perhaps as they are.

I am making no scholarly claim here, but have been involved in enough research to know that there are no priestly keepers of the "truth."

Philip J. O'Brien '56
New London, N.Y.

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Related Issue
July/August 2008