Stanford University physicist Robert Laughlin says governments – and people generally – should proceed with more humility in dealing with climate change. The Earth, he says, is very old and has suffered grievously: volcanic explosions, floods, meteor impacts, mountain formation “and all manner of other abuses greater than anything people could inflict.” Yet, the Earth is still here. “It’s a survivor.”
Writing in the summer issue of the magazine The American Scholar, Prof. Laughlin offers a profoundly different perspective on climate change. “Common sense tells us that damaging a thing as old as [Earth] is somewhat easier to imagine than it is to accomplish – like invading Russia.” For planet Earth, he says, the crisis of climate change, if crisis it be, will be a walk in the park.
Relax, Prof. Laughlin advises. Let it be. “The geologic record suggests that climate ought not to concern us too much when we gaze into the future,” he says, “not because it’s unimportant but because it’s beyond our power to control.” Whatever humans throw at it, in other words, Earth will fix things in its own time and its own way.
Prof. Laughlin is the co-recipient of the 1998 Nobel Prize for physics. Brilliantly imagined, incisively expressed and vastly entertaining, Prof. Laughlin’s essay on climate change (What the Earth Knows) has been adapted from his forthcoming book on the future of fossil fuels. (His 2008 book, The Crime of Reason, documented pervasive government and corporate “sequestering” of scientific knowledge.)