With this issue of Physics & Society, we kick off a debate concerning one of the main conclusions of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN body which, together with Al Gore, recently won the Nobel Prize for its work concerning climate change research. There is a considerable presence within the scientific community of people who do not agree with the IPCC conclusion that anthropogenic CO2 emissions are very probably likely to be primarily responsible for the global warming that has occurred since the Industrial Revolution. Since the correctness or fallacy of that conclusion has immense implications for public policy and for the future of the biosphere, we thought it appropriate to present a debate within the pages of P&S concerning that conclusion. This editor (JJM) invited several people to contribute articles that were either pro or con. Christopher Monckton responded with this issue's article that argues against the correctness of the IPCC conclusion, and a pair from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, David Hafemeister and Peter Schwartz, responded with this issue's article in favor of the IPCC conclusion. We, the editors of P&S, invite reasoned rebuttals from the authors as well as further contributions from the physics community. Please contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you wish to jump into this fray with comments or articles that are scientific in nature. However, we will not publish articles that are political or polemical in nature. Stick to the science! (JJM)
Whether or not human produced carbon dioxide is a major cause of impending climate change (as is being debated in the two articles of this issue), the issue of energy “production” by our Earth-bound societies must be faced. Fossil fuel supplies may become unavailable in this century – or the next – but in a finite system, obeying the laws of thermodynamics, non-fossil energy sources will have to become available to mankind, sooner or later (within the foreseeable lifetime of our planet). One major energy resource, being much touted again, is that of the fissioning nucleus. Nuclear power faces three major drawbacks in the public eye: the possibilities of devastating accidents; the possibility of ”proliferation” – the diversion of energy resources and technology into weaponry; the problem of protecting present and future generations from “nuclear ashes”- the long-lived radioactive byproducts of power generation by nuclear fission. For the most part, our society has “stuck its head in the sand” regarding these issues, but we have spent a great deal of money exploring one possible means of dealing with the third problem – burying nuclear wastes deep underground (out of site, ergo out of mind). As the News item in this issue summarizes, the Federal government, after the expenditure of billions of dollars, seems to be ready to start sending long-lived wastes to be buried in Nevada. Many people there object – “not in my backyard”! As physicists interested in the impact of physics on society (and the converse), we are obligated to participate intensely in the public debate on this problem of waste disposal as well as the other two. The final resolutions will have to be political but hopefully they will be well informed by knowledge of the physical possibilities as well as constraints. For example, I am unaware of any public discussion about the practical possibilities of decreasing the amount of long-lived nuclear ashes via the use of fast neutron fission reactors for power generation. I hope to see much more discussion of these issues in the future “pages” of this journal. (I put quotation marks about the word “pages” since it now appears that we may no longer be communicating with you via the customary paper pages; what word(s) should we use?) We know that many of our readers are well informed on these topics and hope that they will share their physical insights with the rest of us – please submit articles, commentaries, letters, and enjoy the summer – whether its warmth is in line with past trends or represents a new climate. (AMS)
The Forum on Physics and Society is a place for discussion and disagreement on scientific and policy matters. Our newsletter publishes a combination of non- peer- reviewed technical articles, policy analyses, and opinion. All articles and editorials published in the newsletter solely represent the views of their authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Forum Executive Committee.