Rise In Carbon Dioxide Threatens Civilisation

The following letter by me appeared in the Albany Times Union on Sunday, July 21.


The letter by Malcolm J. Sherman (“Models don’t show climate emergency,” July 16) claims that global temperatures have not risen since 1998, and that this is not predicted by models of climate change that have raised the alarm about global warming.

There is no real doubt the planet has gotten warmer. Air temperature data fluctuate widely from year to year, and it is possible to identify many short intervals when the temperature is lower at the end than at the beginning. What is important is that the mean over the last 100 years has increased.

The main reason for this is the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, which has gone from about 295 parts per million in 1900 to more than 398 parts per million today. This increase is due to the release of fossil carbon by combustion of fossil fuel, as shown by the lowered ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-12 in the air. Old carbon has lost C-14 due to radioactive decay.

Mr. Sherman’s argument, though based on a misinterpretation of the facts, would preserve the status quo rather than deal with the emerging population and environmental crisis that threatens our civilization.


The Brain is Part of our Biology

David Brooks (“The brain has a mind of its own,” Albany Times Union, June 19) offers up his reaction to what is going on in the field of neuroscience, decrying the supposed claim that the brain is the mind. It’s a straw man: Mr. Brooks names nobody who says that.

A basic tenet of science is that phenomena should be investigated without reference to the supernatural. With the right equipment, neuroscientists can tell with some precision whether a human subject is going to press one or the other of two buttons before that subject is aware of which one it is. This observation indicates that a lot of brain activity goes on without our being aware of it. This should not be very surprising. New ideas fly into our heads; we eat chocolate ice cream but sometimes switch to, say, cherry. Why? We don’t know.

Scientists consider the brain an integrated biological system, in which the laws of physics and chemistry are not violated. Our feeling of being a witness to our lives must arise from the activities of the brain and nervous system, in ways that neuroscientists are working hard to understand. They are not making unfounded claims; otherwise they would not get their papers accepted in peer-reviewed journals.


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