Profile: Dissent in the Maelstrom; November 2001; Scientific American Magazine; by Daniel Grossman; 2 Page(s)
Adviser to senators, think tanks and at least some of the president's men, Richard S. Lindzen holds a special place in today's heated debate about global warming. An award-winning scientist and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, he holds an endowed chair at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is the nation's most prominent and vocal scientist in doubting whether human activities pose any threat at all to the climate. Blunt and acerbic, Lindzen ill-tolerates naivete. So it was with considerable trepidation recently that I parked in the driveway of his suburban home.
A portly man with a bushy beard and a receding hairline, Lindzen ushered me into his living room. Using a succession of cigarettes for emphasis, he explains that he never intended to be outspoken on climate change. It all began in the searing summer of 1988. At a high-profile congressional hearing, physicist James E. Hansen of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies went public with his view: that scientists knew, "with a high degree of confidence," that human activities such as burning fossil fuel were warming the world. Lindzen was shocked by the media accounts that followed. "I thought it was important," he recalls, "to make it clear that the science was at an early and primitive stage and that there was little basis for consensus and much reason for skepticism." What he thought would be a couple of months in the public eye has turned into more than a decade of climate skepticism. "I did feel a moral obligation," he remarks of the early days, "although now it is more a matter of being stuck with a role."