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Reflections On Rudy Baum’s Tenure

October 15, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 42

I would be lying if I wrote that I am disappointed at the change in the position of C&EN editor-in-chief (C&EN, Sept. 17, page 3). I owe Rudy Baum thanks for the high percentage of my letters he decided to publish even though they all (except those dealing only with chemistry) opposed his political views. Not that I think that politics does not belong in C&EN, rather that its treatment should not be so one-sided.

Fundamental to Baum’s approach is the implicit assumption that government knows better than private citizens how their money should be spent. This is directly contrary to what experience teaches us and requires government to forcibly appropriate its citizens’ goods, devalue their currency, or both. It is also contrary to democratic principles in that the people vote, not only at the ballot box, but also with their purchases in deciding what gets produced and what does not.

So it is that we are now forced to buy alcohol to burn in our cars and overpriced electricity from windmills and solar panels and to subsidize uneconomical electric automobiles. If independence from Middle East petroleum is indeed in the national interest—and evidence for this is weak—the market would substitute natural gas, and the market would then merely reflect the people’s democratic choice. It is arrogant for self-proclaimed experts to overrule that choice.

It is also arrogant to espouse uncritically the disputed position that the planet is warming as a result of carbon dioxide emissions and that this change represents a clear and present danger for the survival of humankind. The arrogance lies with the implied assumption that we understand all the significant factors affecting Earth’s climate and the results of any change. To any scientist who has spent his or her life trying to understand the universe, this assumption is ludicrous. The universe and all parts of it, physical and biological, are of vastly greater complexity than we can imagine; we have only barely scratched the surface of it. Each time we peel away a skin of the universe/onion we face another skin.

By A. E. Lippman
St. Louis

With sadness I read Baum’s last editorial on climate change (C&EN, Sept. 10, page 3). For more than a decade, Baum has not let us forget this issue. His tenacity and common sense will be sorely missed.

The hostility of ACS members to Baum’s editorials has always puzzled me. Of all scientists, chemists should have the best grasp of the forces causing climate change, as well as a honed ability to evaluate complex experimental observations. Climate change is our civilization’s big chemistry experiment.

What are the underlying origins of this hostility? Do we simply cling to our familiar past, just as Elie Wiesel’s family repeatedly chose to endure the Nazi invaders rather than escape to safety in the mountains (“All Rivers Run to the Sea: Memoirs,” New York City: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995, 53–70)? After all, truly mitigating climate change would upset our sedentary lifestyle, government entitlements, rampant consumerism, and addiction to fossil fuels. Rather than confront this reality, we fantasize that scientists will achieve miraculous breakthroughs that might let us have our cake and eat it too.

Any healthy civilization would simply demand sacrifice in the face of impending disaster. Yet, as in Wiesel’s community, we rationalize away the danger and shun messengers like Baum. We want 100% certainty of danger before taking any action that involves sacrifice.

Baum’s retirement is symbolic. Our watchdogs, reared in the mind-set of surviving the Depression and World War II, are now leaving us. Soon we will be on our own and ill-prepared to confront the hard times ahead. History and religion know well our fate.

By William K. Wilson

I do think that most reasonable scientists believe that Earth is warming, that this has been happening since the last ice age, and that it is still going on. Why? What is our part in it? And why does this cycle seem to repeat? These are the only questions I hear. If you believe the data from sediment and core samples, the evidence that Earth is again warming is clear.

One related problem that I do not hear about is the needed production of water for agriculture. We have seen and experienced this problem this summer (and many times in the past). The drought in the Midwest and other areas has reduced the harvest of essential crops.

Potable water can be easily made in small quantities for human consumption, but the amounts needed for agriculture are immensely greater. Desalination of seawater could provide a substantial amount of demineralized water for this purpose. This water would not poison land that needs constant irrigation. Marginal land could then be used for the food needed by an expanding world population.

What is needed is a massive scale-up of desalinization plants and a massive pipeline infrastructure as we now have for fuel in the U.S. Who will have the foresight to propose this importunate initiative?

By Gary J. Banuk
Hanson, Mass.

It is with great regret that I bid farewell to Baum’s stewardship of C&EN. For the past nine years I have greatly enjoyed the weekly, which, without parallel in the past, kept me abreast with happenings in our industry, science, and business. Excellent and diverse selections of well-written articles were topped with Baum’s editorials, which reminded us all that there is life apart from chemistry and that we should both know of it and care about it.

Thank you for it all.

By Maria A. Wolfram
San Francisco

Congratulations to Baum on his retirement. I have read many of his editorials over the years, and I thank him for the great job he has done. I have especially enjoyed reading the more provocative articles he has written and have often thought that I should write in support of his views. I think that there are many of us who are not elegant writers and therefore have not come to his defense, but we are thankful for what he has brought to ACS.

By Tom Lemke
Pearland, Texas

I have always enjoyed and been enlightened by Baum’s editorials. Of particular interest has been his steadfast support of measures to ameliorate global warming. In 1973 I received a contract at Mitre Corp. (a not-for-profit systems engineering firm) to write a rationale for a major program of research and development in solar energy under the then-new Research Aimed at National Needs Directorate at the National Science Foundation. My report, “Energy Use and Climate” (NSF-RA-N-75-052), was the first published federal report on the dangers to the climate from the continuing combustion of fossil fuels.

The National Academy of Sciences had made available “Understanding Climate Change: A Program for Action” in 1975, and quite a few specialists in the field published papers earlier, notably C. Keeling who had measured CO2 concentrations starting in 1958 atop the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii. My work with W. Roberts, W. Kellogg, S. Schneider, and W. Washington at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and others led me to the conclusion that unless strict measures were taken soon to limit the concentration of CO2 to less than 400 to 420 ppm, the global average temperature of Earth could rise 2 to 3 °C and 10 °C or more at the poles. Note that CO2 concentration in 2012 has reached 390 ppm, and the temperature of Earth is increasing according to the timeline I published 37 years ago.

Why have we as a nation and a world failed to curtail the use of fossil fuels as I and so many others have called for? I have to blame the fossil-fuel lobbyists, the global-warming deniers, and the antiscience politicians who do not want to confront the incredibly solid evidence all around us.

By Richard S. Greeley
St. Davids, Pa.

I would like to express my thanks to Baum for again having the courage to speak out on climate change. We cannot continue to stall by asking for more studies. This is a tactic that is being used by one group of individuals to further their own interests at great risk to the rest of the world.

How bad does it have to get before action is taken? Some say we have already passed the tipping point.

By Ted W. Reid
Lubbock, Texas


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