Brave Thinkers

Illustration by Quickhoney

Name: Freeman Dyson
Job: Professor Emeritus, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton
Why he’s brave: He’s taking a contrarian view on the Kyoto Protocol.
Quote: “I like to express heretical opinions. They might even happen to be true.”


Dyson, a renowned physicist and pioneer in quantum electrodynamics theory, has lately committed a heresy without equal in modern science: questioning climate-change orthodoxy. Dyson doesn’t deny that excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is warming the planet. But he predicts that advances in bio-technology—especially the creation of genetically engineered carbon-eating plants, which he foresees within two decades—will mitigate the damage with a minimum of economic and social disruption. In the meantime, he argues that large-scale carbon-restricting approaches like the Kyoto Protocol are ineffective and disproportionately hurt developing countries like China and India, where the potential to lift millions of people out of poverty now hinges on access to carbon-spewing industries. Such arguments have won him few friends; he describes the interaction between the majority of scientists holding conventional climate-change views and the skeptical minority as a “dialogue of the deaf.” But in Dyson’s case, at least, those arguments have evolved from a lifetime of scientific rigor and intellectual honesty.

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