Biochemist Climate Skeptic in a Laundromat

10 Jun

I just moved states, one reason I haven’t posted here very much recently. We moved from a home to an apartment, which means we now have to do laundry at a laundromat. I went with my wife and two young girls, bringing along a book with the silly goal in mind of actually reading it. Instead, I herded children around for a couple hours. However, as my youngest finally fell asleep in my arms (in such a position that I couldn’t attempt reading anyways) an elderly man approached and struck up a conversation.

He noticed my wife’s shirt which mentioned a state from which he had previously lived. We talked briefly about where we had lived, and why we had moved, which led to a discussion about my new job. Breaking the conventional rules of social conversation, I started talking politics. I mentioned that I was a libertarian, and he said he was a conservative. We talked a bit about politics in general.

At some point he told me his age – 85 this year – and I asked where he had worked previously. He said he was a biochemist who did research at Michigan State and other universities. It isn’t everyday you meet a biochemist (particularly in laundromats), so I began plying him with questions about various things. For an 85 year old man, his mind was very sharp.

Of course, I’d already broached politics, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask about climate change. I thought he might have a unique perspective on the issue, belonging to a sort of older generation of scientists (think Freeman Dyson). I was right. He had some fairly conventional skeptical views on the science behind climate change, believing they have vastly overstated their case and assigned far too much confidence to their knowledge of the future. But it was his view of the chemistry that was interesting.

Now, his statements here are from memory, after all, this was an offhand discussion in a laundromat. So I’m paraphrasing here. And, I asked for his e-mail address, hoping he might write up some remarks and let me post them. But he doesn’t have e-mail. You’ll get the gist of it though.

He was indignant that CO2 was labelled pollution. He told me that carbon is the entire basis for his field, organic chemistry. He said that the carbon which is present in every living thing comes (directly or indirectly) from CO2. In other words, Carbon dioxide allows for carbon-based life, or even more simply, CO2=life. To call this pollution is unthinkable.

While I’m sure many rational people believe this, it is nice to hear a knowledgeable scientist reaffirm it. The next time you hear someone say “carbon pollution”, remember this equation:



Posted by on June 10, 2011 in Uncategorized


2 responses to “Biochemist Climate Skeptic in a Laundromat

  1. John W. Luddite

    November 8, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    That is fucking brilliant. Water is also critical for life. Please go place yourself under several hundred feet of it with some cement boots.

  2. Sam

    November 10, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    Thanks for joining the discussion John.

    I think your point about water being critical for life is pertinent. Can you imagine someone labeling water as pollution? Carbon is just as much pollution as water is, and it is just as important to life.

    As to your suggestion, I’d rather not, though since you claim the Luddite title I’m not surprised at your penchant for violence. Congratulations on being proud of destroying progress.


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