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The World Environment and Resources Committee


The World Resources Institute. Policy studies, climate change
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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The World Resources Institute has been valuable, and especially when it's co-operated with other organizations. Because policy studies are essential in this area: if you push in one place you're likely to have effects in some very distant place, and you can't do just one thing, as somebody said, so it's essential to have rather careful, well-designed policy studies covering many different fields, many different areas of… many different kinds of subject matter all interlocking, all interacting to try to see what the effects of actions are likely to be, and even then it's only probabilistic, but it's extremely important, before taking action. Of course one shouldn't be paralyzed and trapped into inaction by the fact that there is uncertainty; one must act in the face of some degree of uncertainty. The arguments about doing something about global climate change, for instance, are many of them very silly. Some people want to wait until there is unmistakable scientific evidence of a particular kind of climate change, like global warming, but that's absurd: by that time it's absolutely certain that this will be happening it'll be too late to do anything about it. It's important to take out insurance. We took out trillions and trillions of dollars of insurance against the unlikely but undesirable event that a… a Soviet invasion of Western Europe would have been. In the same way, if we're monkeying with the fundamental parameters of the atmosphere of the only planet we have to live on, we should be rather conservative, and why someone who calls himself or herself a conservative would be against taking out a lot of insurance in this domain, I can't possibly understand. The conservative… the conservative way to do things is to… is to make a considerable effort to reduce greenhouse gases, and reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases and so on.

New York-born physicist Murray Gell-Mann (1929-2019) was known for his creation of the eightfold way, an ordering system for subatomic particles, comparable to the periodic table. His discovery of the omega-minus particle filled a gap in the system, brought the theory wide acceptance and led to Gell-Mann's winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1969.

Listeners: Geoffrey West

Geoffrey West is a Staff Member, Fellow, and Program Manager for High Energy Physics at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He is also a member of The Santa Fe Institute. He is a native of England and was educated at Cambridge University (B.A. 1961). He received his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1966 followed by post-doctoral appointments at Cornell and Harvard Universities. He returned to Stanford as a faculty member in 1970. He left to build and lead the Theoretical High Energy Physics Group at Los Alamos. He has numerous scientific publications including the editing of three books. His primary interest has been in fundamental questions in Physics, especially those concerning the elementary particles and their interactions. His long-term fascination in general scaling phenomena grew out of his work on scaling in quantum chromodynamics and the unification of all forces of nature. In 1996 this evolved into the highly productive collaboration with James Brown and Brian Enquist on the origin of allometric scaling laws in biology and the development of realistic quantitative models that analyse the influence of size on the structural and functional design of organisms.

Tags: World Resources Institute, Western Europe

Duration: 2 minutes, 14 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 29 September 2010